Santa Ana Mater Dei’s offensive linemen, a great quarterback class from the state continuing to shine and some players making a name for themselves in a competitive setting among top recruits from all over the West Coast are just a few of the best things we saw on Saturday at El Cerrito High at the annual Nike football camp for Northern California.
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The official name is “The Opening” but if one has been going to the annual stop in the Bay Area of the national tour of football camps & combines put on by the folks from Torrance-based Student Sports for many years, it’s hard not to just keep calling it “the NorCal Nike camp.”
For only the second time since the Nike camps began — the first one ever held was at Napa High in 1993 — it had to be missed by Cal-Hi Sports last year since it was held in early March (smack dab in the middle of the CIF state boys and girls basketball playoffs). This year’s Bay Area stop for the national tour was Saturday at El Cerrito High on a cool, crisp afternoon that felt more like a fall weekend going to a game at nearby Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
It’s the last chance that Class of 2020 and 2021 (and even 2022) players from west coast states had of earning an invite to The Opening or the Elite 11 national quarterback camp, which will be held together this year at the end of June in Dallas, and it’s just a great way for top projected recruits (and some just starting to get launched) to compete against each other and get better from a first-class group of coaches.
Here are some of the top takeaways that we learned from the long day at El Cerrito:
1. While two-time defending CIF Open Division state champ Mater Dei of Santa Ana has had a couple of prominent players transfer out in recent weeks (DBs Elias Ricks & Darion Green-Warren), the Monarchs may make up for that with a monstrous offensive line.
There were four linemen from Mater Dei who came to El Cerrito and all four were among the best of the day, including offensive line MVP Tai Marks. As Marks explained, one of the reasons for the players doing so well is that they’ve all been running every morning and losing weight.
“We’ve been doing this for the last four months,” said Marks, who was listed at 6-3, 315 pounds last season. “I’ve lost about 20 or 30 pounds. This is the first time I’ve ever been MVP at a camp. I could have done better, but felt better today strength-wise.”
The MD foursome included former all-state sophomore Myles Murao, who wasn’t first team all-state junior (2nd team) mainly because he missed the last half of last season with a knee injury. Murao (6-3, 280) indicated he’s back to full strength on Saturday. The Opening coaches saw that as well and had issued Myles with an invite to Dallas by the end of the night.
George Miki-Han, who was on the all-state sophomore team last season, worked out at center and guard and also looked a lot lighter than the 320 pounds he was listed at previously.
Sefita Tupe Jr. was wearing defensive line colors but also took reps on offense and joined with his three teammates in winning almost all of their one-on-one battles. Sefita was shown at 6-1, 287 last season.
2. California’s quarterback class for 2020 shows no signs of slowing down.
Twitter blew up during the week before this year’s NorCal Nike camp with the college commitments of highly recruited D.J. Uigalelei of St. John Bosco (Bellflower) and Jay Butterfield of Liberty (Brentwood). D.J. picked Clemson with Butterfield announcing for Oregon. Both players were ripping it up pretty strongly on most of their throws on Saturday in hopes of landing invites to the Elite 11 quarterback camp.
As D.J.’s father told us earlier in the day, it’s been a goal of his son and the family to be in the Elite 11 since they first saw video of it nearly 10 years ago. Uigalelei, considered by many to the top quarterback prospect in the nation, got that invite later on Saturday night. He also went through the four tests to get a Football Rating and came up with one of the top 20 scores of the day (109.08). There was only one player from any position who weighed more than D.J. who did better.
Butterfield, who led Liberty to the CIF D1-A state title last season, will hopefully get his invite soon.
The other California QB who did get an Elite 11 invite on Saturday night was the camp MVP, Ethan Garbers from Corona del Mar (Newport Beach). Garbers, who passed for 4,135 yards and 55 TDs last season and who has committed to Washington, was on target all day.
Two of the other top-recruited California quarterbacks who we noticed had some impressive throws were Carl Richardson of Salinas and Ben Gulbranson of Newbury Park. Incoming junior Tyler Buchner from Bishop’s of La Jolla, who missed most of last season with an injury, hung well with 2020 standouts as well.
The class also has a lot of depth with some others who we jotted down as having some solid reps. We couldn’t see everyone but on that list would be Robert Coleman of Vista Murrieta, Daniel Susac of Carmichael Jesuit and Kingston Hala of Paramount.
3. Raleek Brown’s position as one of the top Class of 2022 running back prospects in the nation is deserved.
Although he plays at a school not far from our Stockton office, we hadn’t had the chance to see Edison of Stockton’s Raleek Brown perform in any way shape or form on a football field until Saturday. We’d heard about him and if we did a State Freshman of the Year honor he would have been one of the top contenders after he rushed for 1,688 yards and had 18 TDs last season.
Because he’s not that big, Brown could still end up as a slot receiver prospect much like Stockton Lincoln grad Brandin Cooks of the Los Angeles Rams, but without question he has big-time outside speed, his side-to-side quickness and feet are beyond exceptional and he wanted to get as many reps as possible before tweaking his right knee. Brown didn’t get to do a final rep or two in the one-on-ones with the linebackers, but did enough earlier that the coaches named him as the running backs MVP.
“No, I didn’t expect to be MVP, but I expected to be one of them,” said Brown, who gets some coaching at Edison from former NFL receiver Lavelle Hawkins (another previous MVP from the Nike camp along with Cooks). “I feel I am representing the city out here and am glad at keeping in going (MVPs).”
Among other running backs who attended the event were Kendall Milton of Clovis Buchanan, Elelyon Noa of La Mesa Helix, Cameron Skattebo of Rio Linda and Shamar Garrett of Concord De La Salle.
Milton has been the most highly regarded Class of 2020 running back in the state since his freshman season and was outstanding at the camp, too, including the posting of a 116.13 Football Rating. By the end of the night, he also had gotten his invite to The Opening finals in Dallas.
4. Bakersfield High’s new spread offense should be fun to watch with receiver Isaac Jernigan getting balls in space.
One piece of advice we always give to any athletes going to a Nike camp is to wear some article of clothing that makes it so much easier for the various college recruiting service analysts and reporters, led by Greg Biggins and Brandon Huffman of 247 Sports, to follow that athlete as they go through all of the drills and in the one-on-one matchups. It could be as simple as wearing a baseball cap or it could be pink socks or red wristbads.
For Bakersfield receiver Isaac Jernigan, it was wearing lime-green tights. But Jernigan might have stood out regardless. He was one of the fastest players who tested and his Football Rating of 122.28 was the highest of all of the California players who were there and was third best overall. Jernigan also ended the day being named MVP of the receivers.
“Heck, yeah, coming here today helped,” said Jernigan, who played alongside older brother Isaiah (now at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo) with the Drillers last season. “My mind-set was to dominate everyone in front of me. And the outcome to be MVP is pretty amazing for me.”
Jernigan added that the transition at Bakersfield under new head coach Michael Stewart (the former NFL defensive back) has been going “pretty well” and that he’s really looking forward to being part of a new spread offense.
“Personally, I want to have 1,200 receiving yards and by the middle of the season have offers from the rest of the Pac-12. Arizona, Arizona State and USC have done that so far,” he said. “My first official trip will be June 21st to Nevada.”
5. John Humphrey and John Humphreys are two different players and both of them are very good.
The MVP of the defensive backs was John Humphrey from Muir of Pasadena, who we didn’t know a lot about coming into the day but there was good reason for that. He only played five games last season due to a transfer from La Canada.
Humphrey began the day getting one of the top 25 Football Ratings with a score of 106.26 based on his size, 40-yard dash time, shuttle run time, power ball throw and vertical jump. He ended providing shutdown coverage on most of his one-on-one reps.
“Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of work to get ready for this,” Humphrey said. “On my jams, I wanted t be aggressive and confident I could get the job done.”
Humphrey added that he hoped his strong showing would result in more D1 college offers. He isn’t someone who is going to be launched by a Nike camp, however, since he said he already had offers from Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon State, San Jose State and Southern Mississippi.
Humphrey also added that he was hoping to get to try to go one-on-one with Corona del Mar of Newport Beach receiver John Humphreys. That didn’t happen and would have indeed been fun to watch. John Humphreys is a player we did know a lot about coming into the day because he has committed to Stanford and he threatened the single season state touchdown catch record last season. He finished with 28 and also caught 103 passes for 1,783 yards. With John Humphreys (who was among the top receivers of the day as well and had a 115.65 Football Rating) once again catching passes from Ethan Garbers this season, that state record may be his after all.
The other MVPs of the day went to players from outside of California, including defensive lineman Brandon Buckner of Chandler, Arizona, and linebacker Bryan Certain from Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas.
Other players from California who had top 25 Football Rankings were TE Brock Bowers of Napa (118.59), DE Mason Mastrov from Campolindo of Moraga (113.88), LB Connor Shay of Danville Monte Vista (111.81), QB Carson Yates of San Jose Leland (109.68), WR Jared Gipson of Stockton St. Mary’s (109.41), DB Trey Paster of Atwater Buhach Colony (108.84) and WR Grant Daley of Concord De La Salle (107.82).