All eyes on The Opening


Some of college football’s elite prospects are soaking up life in Beaverton, Oregon, hosted by Nike and taking part in The Opening. Never heard of it? It’s the now-annual training combine and 7-on-7 tournament that serves as a mecca to the college football recruiting industry.

(Where else is it acceptable to have team names like “Alpha Pro,” “Fly Rush,” and “Lunar Beast?”)

With the Elite 11 quarterback camp taking place at the same time on Nike’s campus, it’s a very good time to be an elite high school athlete—with Nike swag and recruiting analysts doing their best to woo you as you do your best to look excellent in shorts and Dri-FIT. But it’s also a very good chance to get an apples-to-apples look at some of the top prospects in the country, with SPARQ testing all but taking a hammer to the self-reported 40 times and vertical leaps that come along with the YouTube highlights.

Last year, we saw Notre Dame commit C.J. Sanders stand out during the competition, running a blazing sub-4.4 forty time as he made it to the SPARQ Finals. The Irish have three commitments taking place in the festivities at Nikeville, and the early reports all seem to be positive.

A week after pulling a bus in his commitment music video, Irish commitment Parker Boudreaux is backing up that chutzpah with a nice performance in Oregon. Boudreaux was the top-testing offensive lineman at the camp, running a legit 5.1 forty, while also doing very good things in the strength categories.

At 6’4.5″ and 289 pounds, Boudreaux also silenced the questions about his size and length. And his quickness—his 20-yard shuttle time was the best of any lineman in Oregon and would’ve been the best last year as well—gives Harry Hiestand a nice piece of clay to mold moving forward.

If Boudreaux looked the part of a mauler, offensive tackle commit Tommy Kraemer continues to solidify his reputation as one of the country’s best players. Irish 247 published a glowing review of Kraemer’s first day, and at 6’5.5″ and 308 pounds, it sure looks like Notre Dame landed the tackle they needed to add in this recruiting class.

“I liked Tommy Kraemer a lot,” 247Sports Director of Scouting Barton Simmons said. “He’s enormous and they moved a lot of true tackles to guards because when you have so many elite guys, some of those guys have to kick inside, and Kraemer has been one of those guys that has stayed on the edge and looked really good with his feet mirroring quick defensive linemen and has the wide-bodied frame, it takes a lot of geography for a defensive lineman to actually get around him. He’s not a guy that lets guys bully him also. I think he had complete day.

The third Notre Dame commitment at The Opening is running back Tony Jones Jr. Checking in at 5’11” and 210 pounds, Jones has the physique you want out of a power runner, and there’s definitely room to put on 15-20 more pounds once he gets to South Bend.

Jones ran in the high 4.6s—about what you’d expect—and looked good catching the football, per multiple reports. With 5-star Ohio State commitment Kareem Walker missing his flight and nursing a tweaked ankle, there wasn’t a chance to measure Jones against the elite of the elite, but only the freakish 258-pound Devin White ran better among the big backs, so the IMG Academy product had a good opening day.

The Irish are in the hunt for several other prospects. Most look at Canadian receiver/freak athlete Chase Claypool as a possibility to be the next commitment in Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class.

Claypool will announce his intentions on Friday, but on Wednesday he showed off a unique skill-set that should have Irish fans very excited if he indeed decides to head to South Bend. At 6’5.5″ and 214 pounds, Claypool ran a 4.66, while also vertical leaping 35-inches.

While those numbers could make staying at receiver a possibility, Notre Dame’s looked at Claypool with the potential to play safety. He’s also basically a slightly taller, slightly faster, slightly better built version of last year’s 5-star defensive end Keisean Lucier-South, who the Irish chased but he ended up at UCLA, so the possibilities seem endless. There’s been no better coach at just getting a great athlete to campus and then figuring out what to do with him than Brian Kelly, so if the Irish do reel in Claypool, they’ll be getting a very intriguing gem in their recruiting class.

The Irish are also after a pair of elite linebackers. Once again, Notre Dame is back in Fresno, this time chasing after 5-star prospect Caleb Kelly. While most only remember the ones that got away (Deontay Greenberry, Tee Shepard, Michiah Quick), credit Kelly for acknowledging the past and also saying it won’t effect his decision.

“Fresno isn’t some blackhole,” Kelly told Blue & Gold’s Andrew Ivins. “It has just been that everybody has been close. Everybody in Fresno has liked Notre Dame, I mean Tee Shepard he had a chance to go there, and Michiah Quick he was choosing between Notre Dame and Oklahoma, so I mean Notre Dame has been it, but we just haven’t ended up there.”

At 6’4″ and 219 pounds, Kelly has the length and size you want in a linebacker. While he didn’t run the 40, he tested well in other drills and seemed to reinforce his 5-star ranking. He’s trying to get to campus later this month and will also use an official visit to get a look at Notre Dame.


Lastly, Houston linebacker Jeffrey McColloch opened some eyes when he made the SPARQ testing finals. With a 38-inch vertical and a 4.0 agility time, the 4-star linebacker showed some serious explosiveness along with a 230-pound frame. He also revealed that head coach Brian Kelly has taken on some of the recruiting duties with him.

“I talk to the head coach pretty much every day,” McCulloch told Rivals.

He’ll also make a trip to South Bend later this month, family in tow.



Irish commit C.J. Saunders dazzles at The Opening


Some of the top recruits in the country are in Oregon this week, taking part in The Opening, a combine and football camp hosted at the Nike headquarters. For recruitniks, it’s an opportunity to see the top prospects of the cycle compete in a 7-on-7 tournament, as well as go through the Nike SPARQ Rating Championship, an NFL combine-like set of testing events that measure speed and explosiveness.

For Irish fans, The Opening also gave them a closer look at wide receiver C.J. Sanders. And after yesterday’s performance, Sanders will be a much more appreciated recruiting. After entering camp as a modestly-ranked three-star prospect, Sanders will get a huge boost after putting up ridiculous numbers.

Sanders made the SPARQ finals, televised on ESPNU on Tuesday evening. He didn’t win, but it was his work during testing that opened eyes, with the 5-foot-8.5, 175-pounder showing dazzling speed and quickness to go along with impressive strength numbers as well.

Sanders ran a 4.32 40-yard dash in the prelims, just two-hundredths of a second slower than the top time. (His time would’ve been the fastest at last year’s SPARQ testing.) He also put together a ridiculous 3.80 20-yard shuttle time, the best in the entire camp. Throw in a 38.6″ vertical leap and you’ve got yourself a freak athlete.

While the timing system isn’t quite apples to apples with the NFL Combine, Sanders shuttle time would stand as the fastest at the NFL level dating back as far back as the NFL’s website records, when Jason Allen and Brandin Cooks both clocked 3.81 in 2006.

Sanders wasn’t the only Irish prospect who looked impressive. While linemen Jerry Tillery and Tristian Hoge held their own for big men, cornerback Shaun Crawford also put up elite numbers.

Measuring in at 5-foot-8.5 and 170-pounds, Crawford clocked a 4.48 40-yard dash, while leaping 38.8 inches in the vertical. That should more than make up for a lack of height, and Crawford also ran a sub-four second shuttle, making him one of the quickest guys at camp.


Irish recruits representing at “The Opening”

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If you’ve been clamoring for more coverage on “The Opening,” Nike’s foray into the 7-on-7, recruiting world/hype machine, there’s plenty of places on the internet that’ll satisfy your needs. (My personal favorite right now is the Nike official website, where they show actual laser-recorded 40-yard dash times, which helps get rid of some of the fake 40 times and dispel the speed myths that get readily perpetrated.)

While something about the televised, Nike-ization (new word) of the whole thing makes me feel a little slimy, I’d be doing you all a great disservice if I didn’t mention the impressive showing that Irish recruits are having in Beaverton, Oregon.

Irish commitments Justin Ferguson, Deontay Greenberry, Mark Harrell, David Perkins and Tee Shepard have taken their talents to Niketown, and the recruiting world has taken notice. As he’s done throughout the offseason, Greenberry has been a handful in seven-on-seven, and reports out of the combine are confirming that the Irish will be bringing a big time ball-skills guy to campus. Shepard has looked good at both corner and has shown some athleticism at wide receiver as well, measuring in at a legit 6-foot-1, 180-pounds. Harrell measured in at 6-foot-5, 267-pounds (and ran a very lineman like 5.57 40), and Justin Ferguson has looked smooth from a variety of reports.

All that being said, if Irish fans want to be excited about anyone, look no further than South Bend’s own David Perkins. Blazing to an electric 4.50 forty and leading the camp in the powerball toss, Perkins was a national finalist in the SPARQ competition, a cumulative scoring system that takes into account size, speed, 40-time, shuttle run, vertical leap and powerball. It’s pretty clear that the Irish coaching staff didn’t make their scholarship offer to Perkins based on proximity and instead found an elite athlete that could easily see the field at multiple positions.

The Irish are targeting over 20 guys at the camp, with familiar names like Armani Reeves, William Mahone, Sheldon Day, and Zach Banner all making noise. Still, in a combine that’s attracted some of the nation’s best talent, Notre Dame made its presence felt.

“A lot of people are trying to show us love now,” Greenberry told ESPN. “Back a few years ago, people weren’t really high on Notre Dame. But now they see me and Tee representing the school and performing at a high level, and it’s a different reaction.”

Perhaps Shepard had the quote that should have Irish fans most excited.

“It’s exciting because once ND comes back up, it’s over for everyone else,” Shepard said. “We’re going to compete for championships and beat the best every week.”