Players ready for The Opening

Vernon Hargreaves III is never one to back down from a challenge. The nation's top-rated cornerback understands he's a target every time he steps on the field.

"The receivers, quarterbacks, etc., they all want to get the best of me," Hargreaves said before his spring game against Tampa Bay Tech last week. "That's why I always have to stay prepared."

One of the summer events Hargreaves (Tampa, Fla./Wharton) is looking forward to the most is The Opening, Nike's annual showcase of the nation's top talent in Beaverton, Ore., from July 5-8. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior expects he'll be a big target there.

"Oh yeah, you're talking about all these top offensive players in the same place," Hargreaves said. "They are definitely going to search me out, and I expect to have a pretty busy week there."

A month before The Opening begins, there is still plenty of work to be done. On Monday wide receiver Darren Carrington (San Diego/Horizon) and offensive lineman Nico Falah (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) were invited to the event. There are still 40-plus more invitations to be handed out before the roster is finalized.

For many prospects, the main objective of the week will be competition. It features hands-on coaching, and last year's event saw NFL stars like Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Ndamukong Suh, Patrick Peterson, Ray Rice and Dwayne Bowe coach participants in a variety of drills and competitions.

With more than 70 members of the ESPN 150 already scheduled to participate, also expect many personal battles to take place.

"A lot of people are wondering why I keep going to events like The Opening now that I'm committed to Penn State," said Camp Hill (Pa.) Cedar Cliff tight end Adam Breneman. "But I want the challenge because even though I'm highly ranked in the ESPN 150, I feel like it's my duty to protect my spot.

"There are going to be a lot of top defenders looking to raise their stock, and that means they will be trying to shut me down and shut the other top offensive players down."

Breneman, the nation's top-rated pass-catching tight end, has no intentions of being shut down next month or next season.

"Anytime I step on the field I'm ready to go, whether it's a game or a camp or a 7-on-7," Breneman said. "I'm really looking forward to The Opening; it's going to be a lot of fun. It's also a chance to work with some of the nation's best quarterbacks. It's exciting to think about. I have talked to some other guys going this year and some guys that participated last year. It's going to be a great time."

Along with the ESPN 150 prospects in the event, there are always a few prospects considered "sleepers" or "under the radar." Tulare (Calif.) Mission Oak athlete Kevin Palma is hoping his performance next month will wake up those who call him a sleeper.

The 6-2, 240-pound junior has offers from UCLA, San Diego State, Oregon State and Nevada but is looking for more, and Palma believes a strong effort at The Opening can answer questions that scouts and coaches have about him.

"My first goal when I go to any event is to show out and prove to those watching that I'm a good football player," Palma said. "There will be a lot of premier prospects there, and it's a chance for me to show that even though I'm from a smaller city, I am as good as the players from Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and the other bigger areas on the West Coast."

Palma, who will work out with the linebackers during this five-day camp, is also looking forward to spending some time in one of the more scenic areas of the Pacific Northwest.

"I'm really exciting about heading to Oregon because I hear everything is very nice and green there," Palma added. "Hopefully I'll get a chance to see some nice things, but I'm going to be there to get some work done and rise to this challenge."

And that's the goal of every player. They all want to rise up to the challenge of facing some of the nation's best players. Ask someone who has been there like RB Altee Tenpenny, who participated in last year's event as a rising junior.

"What I liked most about it is being around players that wanted it as bad as I do so I could be the best I could be," he said.

Even though some prospects won't admit it, at an event like this the rankings do matter and they make a difference.

"Everyone wants to go after No. 1," Hargreaves said. "No one is talking about going after No. 2 or No. 3. The best guy at the camp is the one that everyone wants a piece of."

Breneman says the players at The Opening all want to be higher on the rankings board.

"I am hoping to pump up my rankings when I get there," Breneman said. "There will be other tight ends there, and I want to separate myself from them as much as they want to catch me.

"If you are coming into The Opening at No. 2, you want to be No. 1. If you are coming in as No. 1, you want to erase all doubt."