Run and play -- not the same thing

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- How might Bo Jackson have fared in a Nike SPARQ combine, or, for that matter, Jerry Rice?

Both are legends of American sport and giant figures here on the Nike campus, where Monday night Speedy Noil, an elite prospect from Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, won the SPARQ national championship to cap the first day of competition at The Opening.

Noil, shirtless under the hot Oregon sun in his final of four attempts at the 40-yard dash, clocked in at 4.46 seconds. With that, he secured the title with a four-event, weighted score of 153.9 to edge Ohio State-pledged receiver Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral) and running back Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown), committed to Georgia.

Noil, undecided on a college, posted a mark of 44.1 inches in the vertical leap. He ran the agility shuttle in 3.87 seconds and threw the powerball 41 feet. Those impressive numbers left him just shy of the SPARQ record set at The Opening a year ago by Mike Mitchell, an incoming freshman linebacker at Ohio State.

Athletes the era of Jackson -- who spoke to the high school players at this event Friday -- and Rice never competed in a SPARQ combine.

But that doesn't matter a bit. They are iconic football players, the best in their primes. The fancy tests and index scores amount to little when measuring greatness in the game.

Tuesday begins 7-on-7 competition, a measure of skill that translates more smoothly to real football than a SPARQ combine but falls short in several key areas.

Largely, the players at The Opening recognize the correlation -- or lack thereof -- between great football players and great athletes.

"When you've got pads on, it's different," Chubb said. "Some of these kids, they're just real fast. You put the pads on, and it's a different story. But I think I'm the real deal. I can run the football just like I can come out here and test well."

Chubb's attitude is shared by many.

"There are people here who are just athletes who can do freakish things," said cornerback Adoree' Jackson, No. 5 in the ESPN 300 from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. "You can run a 4.3 40 but not have the technical skills to be able to go get somebody in a game.

"You need to know angle. Intelligence and savvy and experience can go a long way."

That's not to say the SPARQ scores should be discounted. The combine gauges important skills. At multiple positions, premier athletes stand the best chance to develop into the best players.

McLaurin, for example, shined in February at a SPARQ combine in Massillon, Ohio, then in May at a Nike Football Training Camp in Chicago and at Ohio State's prospect camp in June.

Over that time, he went from an unknown prospect with no major-college scholarship offers to a member of the Buckeyes' star-studded class. Nine Ohio State pledges accepted invitations to The Opening.

"Your hear a lot of people talk about speed," said uncommitted receiver Braxton Berrios of Raleigh (N.C.) Leesville Road. "Well, speed is something that shows up on the track. In football, it's something different. It takes cleats and pads to outfit a great football player."

Among more than 150 players at the The Opening, Berrios qualified Monday for the 10-man SPARQ finals. He topped 40 inches in the vertical leap and ran the day's best shuttle, twice timing at 3.81 seconds.

As a slot receiver, Berrios said, the shuttle run means something.

"I work in tight spaces," he said. "That speaks most about my game."

Berrios is assigned to the Field Generals for 7-on-7 play. He'll work with Elite 11 quarterbacks Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova), Morgan Mahalak (Kentfield, Calif./Marin Catholic) and Luke Rubenzer (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro).

Berrios may not want to voice his thoughts to the quarterbacks on the relevance of their play in the 7-on-7 game.

"They don't have a line. They don't have pressure," he said. "Yeah, they have a clock, but that's not anything. It's great for what it is, but I don't think you can ever replicate the game of football."

QB Jacob Park (Goose Creek, S.C./Stratford) won't argue. As a Georgia commit, he expects to face far more arduous tests in the Southeastern Conference than Tuesday and Wednesday at The Opening.

Nevertheless, great athleticism shines through, Park said, at this level and in college and the NFL. Park pointed to ESPN 300 safety Bishard "Budda" Baker of Bellevue, Wash -- a teammate this week on Apocalypse -- as a great athlete who's also a great football player.

"He's just smart," Park said. "He knows the game. He plays both sides of the ball. He's ridiculous on both sides of the ball."

Baker did not make the final group of 10 in the SPARQ testing.

"I still think he's probably the best athlete out here," Park said. "He'll be open every time he runs a route. The No. 1 corner, I honestly don't think can cover Budda Baker."

Perhaps we'll see Tuesday. The top cornerback in attendance at The Opening, Adoree' Jackson said he's eager for the tests of the 7-on-7 game.

Jackson also missed the 10-man SPARQ finals. No problem, he said.

"Some of those skills translate to the football field," Jackson said. "Some of them don't."

One skill that likely does translate: pure speed.

Safety Trey Marshall (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) clocked the best 40-yard dash Monday, 4.34 seconds, electronically timed and run on grass.

"It's a competition," Marshall said. "You want to beat the next guy."

For his part, though, he didn't equate the victory to football stardom.

After all, Jerry Rice never ran the 40 that fast. In fact, Rice, who accumulated 22,895 receiving yards and scored 207 touchdowns in his NFL career, probably wouldn't have scored well in a SPARQ combine.

On the other hand, if Bo Jackson had tested, he might still own the record.