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June 2, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the National High School Sports Analyst for Rivals. Email him your questions and comments at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
As a state on the rise, New Jersey is slowing building its reputation for quality high school football. Recent success of former players in the NFL draft helped boost the stock for what has largely been perceived as a middle-tier football state.
Current stars, such as Voorhees (N.J.) Eastern cornerback Eli Woodard say that the state still has a couple more steps to take but overall competition is improving.
"People still feel like Jersey isn't that great and that the players aren't all that great," he said. "We aren't Texas or California but we are getting a lot of guys in the NFL and we have a lot of athletes playing good football. It is getting better for sure."
He also thinks that the limitations in competition force him to take part in more summer camps to prepare him for the next level.
"Even as the state improves you aren't going to see 6-feet-5 kids that run a 4.4 (in the 40-yard dash) at the local level," he said. "If you want to be prepared you have to get out in the summer."
The Ohio State commit will be doing just that as he will be one of 100 players to take part in the invitation-only Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge this June 22-24 at Lakewood Stadium in South Atlanta.
Woodard will enter the inaugural event as the No. 4 cornerback and the No. 19 overall player in the country.
With the full team of Rivals.com analysts and videographers on hand, each of those are rankings that he could improve on - but wouldn't upset him if he doesn't.
"I am not concerned about that stuff at all," he said. "I am going there to compete and prepare me for this season and the future.
"I am excited to get down there and get going."
Woodard said that he hopes all the top receivers in the country decide to come to play because that is what he is expecting for an exclusive camp such as the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
"It excites me to go against the best so I hope they all come," he said. "The better competition the better I am going to play. I get up for it. It pushes me."
The 6-1, 185-pound corner said that he didn't pay too much attention to who was committed to come to the camp but at a cursory glance he saw a wide gap in the height of the receiver group.
It is that mix of players that thinks will make for an interesting weekend.
"Colleges are looking for bigger cornerbacks that can still run and cover," he said. "I think I have the size and the speed, and I am confident going against anyone.
"There are some receivers that are like 5-foot-9 or under 6-feet that I know I can run with and they won't have the arms to get over the top of me. And the bigger guys I know I can outrun and I have my reach too so that is an advantage."
"These are the kids I am going to be going against in college so it is a little bit of a fast forward for me," he said. "I am focused on this season and I want to win a title but this camp will prepare me for the future and make me better for right now, too."
Mike Farrell's take
Woodard is impressive in games and he was very impressive at the recent NIKE camp. He has a knack for knocking the ball out of an opponent's hands at the last moment, something you just don't teach. He's a big cornerback and he is especially good in tight coverage like red zone situations. The big question is, is Woodard better than his future teammate Cameron Burrows, as a pure cornerback. We could get our answer in Atlanta.