TALLAHASEE, Fla. – He heard the whispers. He knew people were talking about him, but he didn't let the glares and the pointing distract him. The high school coaches and parents on the sidelines were asking the same question – who was this muscled up kid that was dominating every facet of the camp? By the time Sunday's NIKE Training Camp on Florida State University's campus in Tallahassee was over, they had their answer.
Meet Jacksonville (Fla.) Wolfson defensive end Rodney Gnat, one of the best defensive ends in the state of Florida that nobody's heard of.
Gnat, who is 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, started the day off running an electronically timed 40-yard dash time that was in the 4.6-second range. He then continued that impressive display in the drill portion of the camp when he was fluid, mobile, had great technique and showed amazing ability to change direction.
He was just getting started.
When the one-on-one portion of the camp arrived Gnat took on all comers. Instead of standing in one line and waiting his turn, Gnat sought out competition and moved from line to line, challenging anybody that wanted a piece of him.
The only problem, they couldn't touch him.
Would be blockers either whiffed as Gnat would blow by them on a speed rush or they couldn't stop him on the bull rush when he would use his amazing lower-body strength to get to the quarterback.
Sure others camp into the camp with more attention and more accolades, but by the time he walked off the field Sunday, Gnat proved that he also belonged with the best of the best in the Sunshine State.
"I sure hope this puts me on the map," Gnat said.
"I'm mainly getting stuff now from UConn and UCF, and they're both offering me. But if this helps me get more attention and helps me get a criminal justice degree from somebody then I'll be excited. That'd be great."
What's even more impressive is that Gnat said he tore the camp up on a half-empty tank of gas. He spent a lot of time on Saturday night with his family at his sister's graduation from Florida A&M. His brother plays baseball at the school also, so the family reunion didn't allow him to be totally rested. If that's what he's like when he's running low on sleep, just imagine what he's like fully re-charged.
"At the beginning I felt I was a little sluggish because I got in a little late," Gnat said. "Really I forced it at first and was trying to do my best. I think after I got into the groove of things, I did an adequate enough to be one of the top people here."
Adequate is such an average word for such an amazing performance.
"My main game is speed and coming off the corner to catch the quarterback from the backside," Gnat said. "Mainly I'm just a team player, though. I just do whatever I can to help my team out."
And that's another reason that makes Gnat an intriguing prospect. His stats from his junior season are hardly eye-popping as he had only 10 sacks and 30 solo stops. He said he credits the low numbers to people running away from him.
"A lot of teams in Jacksonville run the Wing-T, so they always misdirection toward me and run away from me," he said. "I had to learn how to be patient and help my team out in any way that I can. That's what something like this great camp can also help me out with.
"I learned a lot on fundamentals and some of the speed requirements to help my game. I learned how to better utilize my talents as a defensive end. Not only will that help me, but I think it'll benefit my team also."
With all of the questions about who the freak from Jacksonville were answered, another questions arises – who's going to be the lucky team to land Gnat down the road? That's a question that'll be answered soon enough but one that would have never been asked had it not been for a dominating performance at the NIKE camp.