ATLANTA - Social media led him to this spot, and after a journey that stretched more than 5,000 miles with just two hours of sleep, Scott Pagano arrived in Atlanta prepared to back up his bold statements.
Facebook and Twitter helped Pagano state his case that he's the No. 1 high school defensive tackle in his class, and deserved a spot in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. But the Honolulu (Hawaii) Moanalua High star had just 48 hours to prepare for a trip from the islands to the Deep South.
Position: Defensive tackle
High school: Honolulu (Hawaii) Moanalua
Rating: Four stars (No. 6 defensive tackle and No. 104 overall prospect in 2013 class)
College choice: Undecided
Notable: Pagano said LSU and Florida (he was wearing a Florida hat on Friday) are his current leaders. He has received offers from well over 40 FBS programs.
Quotable: "His tape shows a defensive tackle who's mean and menacing and wants to just destroy offensive linemen and get in the backfield. He doesn't play scared at all. He's never timid. He's incredibly aggressive. He just looks like a powerful kid who can really dominate any offensive line in the country. That's how good he is on film. Obviously, there's a hesitation because he's playing kids who aren't all Division I prospects. Our opinion might be a little skewed on him because of that. That's why having him [at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge] is such a valuable tool for us. We're going to be able to see him against the best offensive linemen in the country. Having him here is tremendous as far as really getting a true valuation of him as a player."
- Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney
Pagano is joining 100 of the nation's top incoming high school senior prospects and some select underclassmen Saturday and Sunday at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. None of the others will have traveled any farther. Few will have been invited any later.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Pagano said. "You can't turn stuff like this down."
Pagano received his invitation to the camp Tuesday afternoon, several weeks after most of the other invitees and only about 48 hours before he had to board a plane to the mainland. He arrived in Atlanta on Friday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, or 1:30 a.m. Hawaii time.
He didn't get much time to rest during his cross-country flight. Think of how tough it is to feel comfortable enough to doze off in a cramped airport seat. Now imagine how much tougher it must be for someone who's 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
"I got maybe two hours [of sleep] on the plane," Pagano said, "but I'm glad to be here."
The camp begins Saturday at 9:30 a.m., about 26 hours after the completion of Pagano's journey. He intended to get as much sleep as possible Friday, but he knows he won't be nearly as rested as the other campers this weekend.
Maybe his adrenaline will counteract his exhaustion.
"I already know that's going to be a problem," said Pagano, an undecided four-star prospect who was wearing a Florida hat and the Gators along with LSU as his top schools. "That's why I was at first concerned coming into this - the lack of sleep. Hopefully, I'll feel good by [Saturday]. I'll just do what I do."
The events that led to Pagano's invitation began on Facebook.
Pagano is ranked as the No. 6 defensive tackle and No. 104 overall prospect in the 2013 class. He wants to be considered the No. 1 defensive tackle in his class, a position currently held by Vienna (Ga.) Dooly County's Montravius Adams.
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Adams, ranked 10th among all 2013 prospects regardless of position, recently compared himself favorably to Loganville (Ga.) Grayson defensive end and Clemson commit Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1 overall 2013 recruit. "I think I can do anything he can do - just better," Adams told Rivals.com last week.
After seeing that quote, Pagano sent Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell a Facebook message in which he said he knew he was better than Adams. At Pagano's request, Farrell tweeted the recruit's comment.
"It impressed me he's such a straightforward kid and such a competitor," Farrell said. "He felt he was left out in Hawaii when all these mainland players get opportunities he doesn't get."
So Farrell asked Pagano on Tuesday night if he wanted to attend the inaugural Five-Star Challenge, which was only four days away. The last-minute invitation meant that Pagano would have to start packing for Atlanta almost as soon as he received the call.
"I thought it was a million-to-one shot," Farrell said.
Pagano wanted to accept the invitation. He hoped to prove he was as good as the more highly touted defensive tackles who play on the mainland and therefore get a chance to perform in front of coaches or analysts more often.
But first he had to win over his parents.
Jennifer Pagano had just finished riding her horse on the other side of the island Tuesday afternoon when she called home to check on her family. When she heard a strange tone in her husband's voice, she knew something was up. That's when Scott Pagano Sr. mentioned that their son wanted to go to Atlanta.
"I said, 'You're out of your mind,' " Jennifer Pagano said. "There's no way. Absolutely not. Of course, my mom instincts kick in and I'm like, 'No, what if he gets hurt. What if this? What if that?' "
After she returned home, Pagano made his case and brought up all the pros and cons. Yes, he'd have to travel across the country. Yes, the six-hour difference in the time zone between Atlanta and Hawaii could tire him. But this also offered him a rare chance to test himself against other elite players in his class.
"It was pretty tough on my mom because I'm so young still," Pagano said. "She doesn't want me going anywhere without her. Luckily, we have family in South Carolina. They'll be down there as well - my cousin and my uncle and aunt will be there. That will be good for me. She didn't want me to get hurt, but I'll be OK. I'll just compete and do what I do."
Pagano eventually won his mom over.
"I can't take an opportunity away from him," Jennifer Pagano said. "He's just worked too hard. He's worked too hard on and off the field. He's an amazing kid outside of football. He comes home, and he has an 8-year-old sister (Maddison) who worships him. He throws her up on his shoulders and bounces her around his shoulders. The sun rises and sets on her big brother in her eyes. You just can't say no. I had both of them -- Scott Sr. and Jr. - presenting their cases to me. I couldn't tell them no."
Pagano's family situation has limited his opportunities to face off against other elite prospects at combines or camps on the mainland. Pagano, the son of a U.S. Navy lieutenant, was born in San Diego but moved to Hawaii at the age of seven.
His biggest showcase thus far was in the Dallas Nike Camp earlier this year. He gets an even bigger opportunity this weekend.
"It's going to be interesting to see," Rivals.com West recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said. "Is this a kid who looks really good on film against weaker competition, or is this a kid who can come in here and really dominate a camp at this level? There's still a little bit of a question mark on him just because we haven't seen a lot of him yet."
Pagano finally has a chance to answer those questions.
Just by traveling here, he already has made quite a statement.
Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.
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