ATLANTA -- Over 200 high school football players ranging from rising seniors to promising 8th graders were in attendance at the newly renovated Grady Stadium for the Atlanta Under Armour combine.
The quarterback group, led by Alex Nicholson (Meridian, Miss./Northeast Lauderdale), Austin Herink (Cleveland, Tenn./Cleveland), Kevin Johnson (Atlanta, Ga./Pace Academy) and Cole Garvin (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), was one of the strongest position groups at the camp.
"Alex started to grow on me the more we went at it," said Chris Weinke, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State and one of the UA camp quarterbacks coaches. "He probably had the strongest arm out here and he picked up a lot of stuff we were throwing at him. He's a very coachable kid."
Nicholson, 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, plays in a spread attack and values the lessons learned under Weinke.
"It was good to come out here and compete and I learned a lot," Nicholson said. "I thought I did well and I will be better for it."
Nicholson started for the first time last year and he hopes a big season this fall will garner some scholarship offers.
"Teams like Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Tennessee are recruiting me," Nicholson said. "Mississippi State and Tennessee are probably recruiting me the hardest. I don't have any offers but I know these teams want to see me in camp first."
Herink, on the other hand, knows his recruiting won't pick up for another year or two. He currently backs up watch List QB Chad Voytik, a rising senior with scholarship offers from teams like Vanderbilt, Pitt and Mississippi State, but the Class of 2014 prospect is soaking up all the knowledge he can now knowing it will help him down the line.
"It has really helped me playing behind Chad," said Herink, who is 6-0½, 187 pounds and will likely be the starting QB at Cleveland HS for the 20121 season. "He's a great guy to learn from. Sure I would like to start but to be honest, I am learning so much from him and from just watching and listening to him. I feel like I am still getting some great experience that way. He's a great mentor that doesn't treat me like a freshman, more like an older brother."
One of the more intriguing players at this event was Johnson, who is currently in the 8th grade and impressed Weinke.
"He can flat out throw the football," Weinke said. "I mean he can really throw it. He looks guys off and has a very good understanding of the game already. He also has very good fundamentals. He's just young. But I told him if he works hard he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation when it's his time."
Johnson moved to Atlanta from Brooklyn, N.Y. seven months ago. His father, Kevin Johnson, Sr., played at South Carolina a little over a decade ago. Johnson had a "pretty smooth transition" to the Peach State and playing on the 8th grade team and the junior varsity last fall, he threw a combined 22 touchdowns and rushed for six more.
If he was intimidated playing with the older prospects, he didn't show it.
"No, I wasn't," Johnson, 5-9½ and 158 pounds, said. "I thought I threw the ball pretty well today. I learned a lot from the coaches and I will just keep at it."
Johnson, a member of the Class of 2015, will likely be the starting quarterback for Pace Academy, which plays A ball (it goes up to 5A), this fall.
Garvin, a rising sophomore from one of the state's better programs, is a member of the Class of 2014.
"That kid can really spin the ball," Weinke said. "He has great anticipation and a very good understanding of the game."
Nkemdiche teases UA
Sophomore defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was a participant in this UA combine but he was slowed down by a groin injury. The 6-4 and 260 pounder played sparingly throughout the day. He bench pressed 185 pounds 22 times, vertical jumped 32 inches and broad jumped 9-6. In the few one-on-one drills he played in, he dominated.
"When he played he looked damn good," said Kennard Land, one of the UA camp defensive line coaches. "He has so much athletic ability and his potential is unreal. At 260 pounds he shouldn't be able to move like that. You can tell he's an intelligent player already because he plays with some technique. He was setting up his pass rush."
Lang notes several other defensive linemen who stood out, including rising senior Bryan Dorsey (Dahlonega, Ga./Lumpkin County) and rising juniors William Kimmey (College Park, Ga./North Clayton) and Jason Carr (Memphis, Tenn./White Station).
"These guys all remind me of those smaller defensive ends in the NFL that are great speed rushers," Lang said. "I am not saying they are the next Dwight Freeney or anything like that but that's how they are at this level and they all have a chance to be very good high school players and get to the next level. They have speed, athletic ability and are quick off the ball. They have good potential."
Looking for that first offer
Kenneth Towns (Albany, Ga./Westover) was one of the top receivers at the UA combine, but the 6-2, 200-pounder is still looking for his first scholarship offer.
"I hope it's close," Towns said. "Georgia Tech is recruiting me the hardest. Arkansas, Florida and Georgia are also showing interest."
Towns, who carries a 3.5 GPA and has scored a 1400 on the SAT, runs good routes, has soft hands and has good speed. He vertical jumped 31.5 and broad jumped 9-1.
"I have good size and I am able to go get the ball in the air," Towns said. "I get off the line and I think I run routes well. I had a good day today and I think everything was crisp. I caught the ball well and learned some stuff."
Some DBs to keep an eye on
There were some quality guys in the secondary who played well, especially as the combine progressed. Standing out were rising seniors Shikael Villaflor (Jonesboro, Ga.), Juwan Johnson (Garden City, Ga./Robert W. Groves), Jamari Haywood (Winter Garden, Fla./West Orange), and Aaron Trotter (Stephens County, Ga./Stephens County) and rising juniors Demetrius Monday (Eatonton, Ga./Putnam County), Aaron Davis (Luella, Ga./Luella), and Taurean Ferguson (Jonesboro, Ga./Jonesboro).
"Monday is very aggressive out there," said Don Cox, one of the UA camp defensive back coaches. "He's aggressive and plays the ball so well. He can really play.
"This is the third time I have had Villaflor and he gets better and better. He's terrific in zone coverage because he reads so well. He can read so quick off the hash and he can play in press coverage as well.
"Johnson is so quick and he has a great burst. He's fast and has good instincts."
Big Man Challenge
While the skilled players go at it in one-on-ones and 7-on-7, the linemen are put through the "Big Man Challenge". Two players team up to push a sled, flip a giant tire across the field and rope drag at 45 pound weight. This promotes teamwork and also measures strength and endurance. The winners were Jason Carr and Tyler Sweeden (Louisville, Ky./Trinity High School for Boys).
A familiar name
Atlanta Carver coach Darren Myles, Sr. was in attendance of the Atlanta UA combine. If the name sounds familiar his son Darren Myles, Jr. signed with Tennessee in the Class of 2009. Last summer he left the Volunteers and enrolled at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Once again Myles will go through the recruiting process.
"Ole Miss and Kentucky have offered him and so have some other schools," Myles said. "He had a good season. He left Tennessee in June and enrolled the day before school started. He made first team all-region and he will go through the process once again."
Myles, now 6-2 and 200 pounds, was an ESPNU 150 member (No. 38 overall) and the No. 5 ranked safety in the country in 2009.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.