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June 27, 2012

Underclassmen Challenge loaded across board

MORE: Underclassmen challenge | Player survey

Events such as last weekend's Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge bring together the nation's top prospects primarily from the class of rising seniors. With the trend in college football prompting scholarship offers to go out earlier, however, the junior season of high school football has become the most important in the recruiting process.

The opportunity for underclassmen - those graduating in 2014 and 2015 - to have a national, invite-only showcase of their own will occur next weekend in Dallas, when the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge hits center stage.

Around 200 of the top underclassmen have been invited from around the country to participate in the event July 8 at DeSoto High School. The response from the nation's elite underclassmen to compete in a national showcase of their own has been overwhelming.

Here is a position-by-position look at those registered for the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge:

Quarterbacks

The quarterback position is always one of the earliest to be recruited, and several of the signal-callers heading to Texas already possess a number of Division I offers, even those from the class of 2015. Canadian transplant Michael O'Connor of Chattanooga (Tenn.) Baylor School is just entering his sophomore year of high school, but already boasts offers from Michigan State and Mississippi State. His classmate, Ricky Town of Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure, has also turned a lot of heads early and promises to be one of the most heavily recruited in the 2015 class.

Those two will be joined by a host of 2014 passers, headlined by Burlington (Ky.) Conner's Drew Barker, who comes in with a half dozen offers, including Illinois, Louisville, Purdue and South Carolina, along with Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian's Brandon Dawkins, who holds Notre Dame and Utah offers early.

Running backs

The running back group expected in Dallas boasts a combination of speed and power backs. Gardner (Kan.) Edgerton running back Traevohn Wrench (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) holds four early offers from Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska while Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas' Madre London is drawing strong looks from teams across the SEC and ACC.

A pair of top Cincinnati-area running backs will be in Dallas to compete against the nation's best. Lakota West's Mikel Horton (6-1, 228) was one of the top performers at the Rivals.com/VTO Cincinnati camp back in April, while St. Xavier's C.J. Hilliard (5-11, 185) has an early offer from Indiana.

The Rivals Underclassmen Challenge will also be a great opportunity to get an early glimpse at one of the top projected class of 2015 running backs in the country, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School's Jordan Scarlett.

Wide receiver

The class of 2013 has yet to produce a five-star wide receiver, but we may get an early feel for whether the 2014 class will produce five-star wide receiver talent at the Underclassmen Challenge. Winter Park (Fla.) pass catcher Gabriel McClary and Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor's Keenen Brown both go 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, and each holds multiple scholarship offers.

Mount Pleasant (Texas) wide receiver KD Cannon just picked up an offer from Oklahoma after attending the Sooners' camp to go along with previous offers from Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and West Virginia. That trio will lead a deep group of pass catchers into Dallas looking to make an early impression on the 2014 rankings.

Tight end

The resurgence of the tight end in college football can be seen in the number of offers going out at the position compared with the past five to 10 years. That holds true even in the Class of 2015. Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei tight end Kyle Penniston just finished his freshman year of high school, yet the 6-foot-5, 220-pounder already holds an offer from Florida State.

Several class of 2014 tight ends with early offers will join Penniston in Dallas. They include Westlake (La.) rising junior Jacory Washington and Chatham (Ill.) Glenwood's Daniel Helm.

Offensive line

Based on the early roster, the offensive and defensive line one-on-ones promise to be among the best at the Challenge based on the talent coming to Dallas. Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal's Demetrius Knox just finished a weekend in Atlanta as one of a handful of 2014 prospects invited to participate in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.

Knox will lead an offensive line group that also includes highly touted Tucson (Ariz.) Sabino offensive tackle Andrew Mike and Westerville (Ohio) Central's Nick Richardson. Both Mike and Richardson are already sitting on several scholarship offers.

Defensive line

Adding up the scholarship offers, there may not be a position at the event that is more heavily targeted early than the list of defensive linemen, particularly the defensive tackles. Palm Bay (Fla.) Bayside's Travonte Valentine has already committed to Louisville over offers from the Big Three in Florida, along with Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and others.

But several headed to Dallas have scholarship offer sheets in Valentine's ballpark. Hiawatha (Kan.) defensive tackle Peyton Newell holds a dozen offers from schools across the country, and Arlington (Texas) Martin defensive end Myles Garrett has Arkansas and Minnesota offers early with dozens more schools on his trail.

The state of Wisconsin could have one of their best classes in several years, and it is led by a pair of defensive tackles in Sun Prairie's Craig Evans and Mequon Homestead's Brandon Hines, who will test their skills against the nation's best in Dallas.

Linebacker

Two of the nation's most heavily recruited linebackers in the 2014 class will get a chance to go head-to-head in Dallas. Ponta Vedra (Fla.) standout Dillon Bates and Dallas Carter's Cameron Hampton already have offer lists at or approaching double digits. They lead a linebacker roster that also features several promising class of 2015 prospects, including Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast standout Sherrod Pittman, who boasts early tenders from Florida State and UCF.

Defensive back

The deepest position group at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge could very well be the defensive backfield, based on the roster of prospects at the position. Clemson safety commit Dylan Gardner leads a loaded group from Texas that also includes heavily recruited defensive backs Cedric Dale of Timber Creek and Jamal Adams of Lewisville Hebron.

But the talent coming into Dallas from outside the state is just as strong, with Kennesaw (Ga.) Harrison cornerback Christopher Murphy, Lima (Ohio) Central Catholic safety Darius West and El Cerrito (Calif.) cornerback Adarius Pickett among several that hold early scholarship offers.



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