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CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour got its start Saturday just outside of Phoenix, and it did not disappoint.
The first stop on the 15-camp circuit had the spotlight on players from a dozen states as they made their way to Hamilton High in the Valley of the Sun.
The willingness for players to make the trip was a shock to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell.
"I have been covering regional camps forever and it is pretty much if you can drive there you will go there, but this was incredible," Farrell said. "When people started telling me they would book flights to come from Washington, Idaho, all over, I knew we were onto something great."
Pre-camp registration numbers for the invitation-only experience had 169 players from Arizona, 27 from California -- where the camp series moves on Sunday -- 26 from Nevada, 11 from Utah, eight from Kansas, seven from Nevada, six from Washington, five from Colorado, two each from Idaho, Oregon and Texas, and a lone participant from South Dakota.
Farrell said the talent did not disappoint and, among the groups, the quarterbacks stood out.
"This was a really great group," Farrell said. "We knew that coming in, but it was still great to see some of the best guys from out here side-by-side."
Entering the event, the showdown between Brandon Dawkins and Kyle Allen was supposed to take center stage. The two are separated by just two spots in the Rivals250 rankings -- Dawkins at No. 134 and Allen just behind him -- but it was a younger player who had the attention of the analysts.
Farrell took note of Spokane (Wash.) Shadle Park signal-caller Brett Rypien.
Rypien, a pro-style player, is the nephew of Super Bowl MVP quarterback Mark Rypien.
Farrell said the bloodline -- and the coaching -- was apparent.
"He has a lot of polish for a young kid," Farrell said. "He really does everything well, and that is something that stands out.
"It isn't all that surprising because of the tutelage he would get from his uncle. His drops, his footwork and his accuracy are things that are usually slower to develop, but kids and relatives of former players tend to have those fundamentals locked in early because they get drilled on it from the best, and that was the case with Brett."
As a sophomore, Rypien set the Washington state passing record, throwing for 3,573 yards in a season, beating the previous record -- held by his uncle -- by nearly 1,400 yards. He capped his year with a 577-yard performance in a playoff loss.
Farrell said the first stop of the new Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour gave him a lot to look forward to as players came to compete for a spot in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge and, ultimately, the Under Armour All-America Game.
"This was an interesting and risky geographical location for us to start with," Farrell said. "I have to admit I am overwhelmed with the start. In all of my years doing this, I don't remember there ever being one this big and this deep in Arizona.
"I would be happy if we can get a turnout and a performance like this at all the other locations."
Earning their way
Part of the allure of the Rivals Camp Series is the opportunity for athletes to play their way into the Rivals Five-Star Challenge, the national Rivals.com event at the end of the camp circuit season.
Of the 200-plus players in attendance, four were awarded the opportunity to take the next step.
Nathan Starks of Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman played his way into an invitation on Saturday with a performance that impressed the Rivals.com analysts.
"He came into the camp looking the part," Farrell said. "He had a great body and a really well-rounded skill set."
Starks, who said he compares his game to former Oklahoma Sooners back DeMarco Murray, was honored by the opportunity.
"It is always great to be recognized," he said. "I can't wait to show what I can do."
Three Arizona-based players will join Starks at the invitation-only, elite camp.
Jalen Brown of Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe was unable to participate in the event, but he was in attendance to support his teammate and friend Natrell Curtis.
Both were awarded an invitation to the national event.
Curtis earned the offensive MVP award from his guard position by impressing Rivals.com analysts.
"Every kid he went against ended up in the dirt," Farrell said. "He plays nasty, and I like that."
Curtis, the 6-foot-3, 333-pound player, said his game Saturday was how he always plays.
"I just do what I do," he said. "I did what I had to do today, and that is what I will do at the next event and all this season."
Host-school player Casey Tucker also was awarded an opportunity to play in the season-ending event. It is a repeat trip for him after he played in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge in Atlanta last summer as a rising junior.
He said he was excited to have the chance to do it again.
"I was the young guy last year, and I learned a lot from that," he said. "I look forward to going back and doing better."
Falcon (Colo.) High athlete Kalen Ballage entered the Rivals Camp Series with nine offers and limited exposure. That will change.
The 6-foot-2, 212-pound player was playing running back at the camp and turned heads all day. He was in the discussion for the skill position player of the camp award.
Ballage has half of his offers on offense and half as a linebacker. He said he would play either position in college so long as he has the opportunity.
"I just love football," Ballage said. "Being here and being recognized is living the dream for me. I know I have to keep working hard and good things will happen."
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