ANN ARBOR - The nation's largest indoor football practice facility hosted 350 prospects from across the Midwest on Sunday.
The University of Michigan's Glick Fieldhouse was the site of the Michigan Football Showcase, put on by the Sound Mind, Sound Body Football Academy. The Showcase featured prospects from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. By day's end, the elite prospects certainly rose to the top and several backed up their already impressive offer lists.
Chief among the elite performers on Sunday was Saginaw, Mich., wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett. The 6-0, 170-pound Arnett picked up his 14th offer of the recruiting process this past week from Oklahoma, and he showed up at the Showcase decked out in Sooners' gear. Arnett then went out and displayed the skills that have earned him those 14 early offers.
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"Everyone knew after the first catch that I was here to play," Arnett said. "I haven't caught a ball in two months because I haven't been working out in football. I had a point to prove today and that is that I'm still the best receiver in the state and in the Midwest."
Arnett almost did not make it in for the Showcase because he is the starting point guard on a 14-6 Saginaw High basketball team that had a 4 p.m. practice scheduled for Sunday afternoon. He was only able to stay for the one-on-one portion of the event, but that was all he needed to display his dominance.
In a combine setting Arnett is going to get open on almost every route. He knows how to set up defensive backs with double moves and he has the speed to exploit any gap in coverage.
U.S. Army first team all-combine performer Justice Hayes of Grand Blanc, Mich., was another elite talent who dominated his sessions at the Michigan Showcase. The 5-10, 175-pound ball carrier's ability to get in and out of his cuts and explode past defenders made him unstoppable in the one-on-one sessions. For Hayes, though, Sunday's event was less about impressing onlookers than it was about staying ahead of his competition.
"I'm not really trying to show out, I'm just trying to stay in football shape and stay competitive," Hayes said. "I just want to stay in a competitive mode and have fun out here."
Hayes holds a total of 12 scholarship offers, with his latest coming from Syracuse. Michigan has also offered Hayes, and he relished the opportunity to work out in their new practice facility.
"I've been down here a couple times, but every time I come down here it seems like it gets better," Hayes said. "Today was my first time actually playing [in Glick Fieldhouse], so that is kind of special to me."
Pickerington (Ohio) Central safety Eilar Hardy came to Sunday's Showcase in great shape, looking bigger than his listed 6-0 and 170 pounds. Hardy is also into double digits in scholarship offers, but he never shies away from an opportunity to compete.
"This was just for exposure, to have fun and come out and compete with the best," Hardy said. "I think I did pretty good, I just need to get more reps in and keep working hard."
Safeties are usually at a disadvantage in one-on-one competitions because they are essentially playing a cornerback role. The Michigan Showcase, however, featured both a one-on-one and seven-on-seven competition, allowing Hardy to display his skills in both Man and Zone Coverage.
"In the one-on-ones, you just have to compete and if a receiver gets the best of you one play, you have to go back the next time and go hard again," Hardy said.
Defensive Backs and Receivers Hold Spirited Competition
The skill positions on both sides of the football were deep with talent at Sunday's Showcase. Besides Arnett and Hardy, plenty of prospects either lived up to their billing or showed they were worthy of receiving additional attention.
Michigan cornerback commitments Delonte Hollowell of Detroit Cass Tech and Greg Brown of Fremont (Ohio) Ross both worked out at Sunday's Showcase and both had solid performances. Hollowell regularly stepped up to the challenge put forth by Arnett, and while he did not come out on top in most battles, he did as well as any defensive back in attendance at checking the Saginaw receiver.
Highland Park, Mich., athlete Raymon Taylor, who just added offers from Wisconsin and Indiana, also had a fair bit of success guarding Arnett. The 5-11, 170-pound Taylor could legitimately be either a wide receiver or cornerback on the next level, and he worked both sides on Sunday. Against Arnett he opted to play bump coverage at the line of scrimmage, which worked well on some reps and not so well on others.
Other defensive backs who posted strong performances on Sunday included Madison Heights (Mich.) Madison's Valdez Showers, Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers' Kenny Mullen, Detroit Cass Tech's Kishon Wilcher, Maple Heights, Ohio's Michael Hollins, Minnetonka's (Minn.) James Farrow and Twinsburg, Ohio safety Aaron Macer.
Across the line of scrimmage, the wide receiver group gave the defensive backs all they could handle. Combines set up ideally for Maple Heights, Ohio, wide receiver Shaquille Washington, who once again showed his speed and agility at the Michigan Showcase. The 5-8, 147-pound receiver does not always catch everything thrown his way, but he always seems to be wide open.
Birmingham (Mich.) Seaholm's Shawn Conway was virtually unknown before he was offered by, and subsequently committed to, Michigan last weekend. The 6-4, 183-pound Conway showed why the Wolverines were so high on his abilities at Sunday's Showcase. He is a silky smooth receiver with a good burst off the line of scrimmage and great leaping ability.
Other wide receivers who impressed with their performances on Sunday include Cleveland Glenville's Dana Day and Frank Clark, Detroit Country Day's Kenny Knight, Highland Park's Jermal Hosley and Detroit Central's Jalyn Massenberg.
Byrant Tops Among Linemen
Several prospects from the Chicago area made the drive to Ann Arbor to participate in Sunday's Michigan Showcase, but none had a better day than Simeon High offensive guard Chris Bryant. The 6-5, 330-pound Bryant is a big, barrel-chested young man with tremendous upper body strength. His first punch devastated defensive linemen, and his second punch usually put them to the turf.
"I wanted to show what they teach us back at Chicago Simeon, like our footwork and our hand work," Bryant said. "There's definitely more I need to work on, but I liked coming out here for the competition. This is the best in the Midwest and I saw exactly how I compared to other people. I think I did well staying low and punching out, but I need to work on my footwork a little more."
Bryant is not the lightest on his feet, but he does not play heavy-footed either. He has good enough footwork to keep his body in front of defensive lineman and utilize his devastating punch. Kansas, Illinois and Eastern Michigan have already offered Bryant, though Miami-FL, Ohio State, Michigan State and Arizona are also showing interest.
The next best offensive lineman at the event was Walled Lake (Mich.) Central's Bryan Bell. The 6-5, 270-pound Bell does not have the upper body strength of Bryant, but he maintains a solid base and is very technically sound. He won almost all of his one-on-one matchups against defensive linemen on Sunday.
The only defensive linemen in attendance who could challenge the likes of Bryant and Bell was 6-4, 267-pound Muskegon (Mich.) defensive end Damon Knox. Knox possesses excellent size for a defensive end and he has a quick first step. Coming from West Michigan, Knox is not well known on the recruiting scene yet, but he is starting to get his first taste of interest from schools like Illinois, Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU and Georgia.
"I came because I wanted to see how the competition was and how hard I was going to have to work to be as successful as the other guys out here," Knox said. "I think I did pretty good, but I could always do better."
Running Backs and Linebackers
Although combines do not show the attributes that best define running backs and linebackers - hitting and the ability to take hits - several prospects at those positions nevertheless had strong showings.
Chagrin Falls (Ohio) Kenton linebacker Percy Johnson recently moved from the Detroit area, but he was back in his former home state on Sunday for the showcase and picked up where he left off after a tremendous junior season. The 6-1, 220-pound Johnson is known for his big-hit ability, but he showed he can play Man Coverage as well during his performance Sunday.
Avon, Ind., linebacker Armonze Daniel is a great looking prospect at 6-4 and 210 pounds. He is rangy and has good speed to go along with his size. Detroit Southeastern linebacker Ed Davis was a lesser known prospect coming into the event, but the 6-4, 215-pounder was one of the top performers at his position. He has the frame to grow into an outside linebacker, but runs like a safety at his current weight.
Running back/linebacker one-on-ones always favor the offensive players in combine settings, and several running backs exploited that advantage at the Showcase. Justice Hayes was the top overall performer at the position, but other highly-touted prospects also had strong showings.
Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger's Remound Wright came into Sunday's event with five offers to his credit - Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana and Ball State. Wright is one of the shorter running back prospects in the country, but he makes up for his lack of height with great explosion and agility. He is a very accomplished receiver out of the backfield as well, and he dominated his one-on-one matchups.
"I heard that the best athletes in Michigan would be here, and I just wanted to come show that I am the best running back in the Midwest," Wright said. "There was some good competition, but I am very happy with my overall performance. I think I did my best and that's all I can ask."
Inkster, Mich., running back Da'Shawn Bell ran out of the spread offense as a junior, so he is used to being utilized in the passing game and his comfort level was high on Sunday in Ann Arbor. Bell does not yet hold any offers, but his junior year production and ability to compete with the top prospects at his position, as he showed Sunday, will eventually have programs knocking on his door.
Underclassmen Arrive in Ann Arbor
If the headline from Sunday's Michigan Showcase was elite prospects backing up their rankings, the subtitle had to be the number of 2012 prospects who announced their arrival on the recruiting scene with impressive performances. Some of the most physically impressive prospects in attendance on Sunday were actually still in their sophomore years of high school.
Detroit Cass Tech sophomore Royce Jenkins-Stone has been drumming up attention since this past fall. The 6-2, 215-pound Jenkins-Stone has the body of a linebacker with the speed of a safety and he showed his range of abilities by running with both the linebackers and receivers on Sunday.
Cass Tech has additional Division 1 prospects in the 2012 class, one of whom is cornerback Terry Richardson. Like Jenkins-Stone, Richardson ran plays on both offense and defense, but he looks like he will be the next great Cass Tech cornerback, following in the footsteps of Hollowell, Oregon-bound Dior Mathis and former top 100 cornerback Boubacar Cissoko.
Another two-way talent in the 2012 class is Detroit Crockett's Marcellous McElrath. The 6-0, 218-pound McElrath is a running back and linebacker, and he has the speed and size to be dominant at both positions.
Yet another standout was Detroit King defensive back/wide receiver Dennis Norfleet. At 5-10 and 170 pounds, Norfleet could play slot receiver or cornerback, and he looked adept at both positions on Sunday. High school coaches in the Detroit Public School League have raved about Norfleet's ability for almost a year now, and with more performances like the one he had on Sunday, the entire Midwest will soon know his name.