- Jamie Newberg, RecruitingNation
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Day 1 of the of the Gridiron Kings is in the books and the players are prepared for tomorrow's 7-on-7 competition that will match up the country's four regions -- Southeast, Southwest, West and Midwest – to determine a champion. There are 64 players in all and they represent some of the elite football talent in the country. In fact, 22 ESPNU 150 prospects are in this event.
One of the most impressive offensive players in today's practice session was Texas Tech quarterback commitment Michael Brewer (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis). He will lead the Southwest squad and Brewer's plan is to lead them to the championship.
"This is awesome," Brewer said. "There are some incredible athletes out here that are so talented. Sure it will take a bit to get used to everyone. But I think if I am patient this offense will be great tomorrow. We can win this whole thing."
The West squad had a few surprise standouts in quarterback Michael Bercovici (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft) and wide receiver Brandin Cooks (Stockton, Calif.Lincoln). Bercovici, an Arizona State commitment, has a lively and accurate arm. This kid can really throw the football.
"Man, this is by far the most exciting thing I have ever been a part of," Bercovici said. "There are so many elite players and I have to have my game on. These 7-on-7s are so much fun and one of my favorite things to do. Look at our roster; we are loaded at receiver and tight end. It's the best group of guys I have ever had to work with. I just have to make the right reads and get these guys the ball."
Perhaps the one guy on the West team who is most eye-catching is tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Gig Harbor, Wash./Gig Harbor). He has unreal size (6-foot-6 and 245 pounds), a great frame and good hands. He will be a load to handle defensively and looks like one of the best offensive players here.
Other standouts today were Southeast tight end Nick O'Leary (West Palm Beach, Fla./Dywer); Southeast safety Karlos Williams (Davenport, Fla./Ridge Community); Southeast running back Demetrius Hart (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Hart); Southwest running back Hershcel Sims (Abilene, Texas/Abilene); Southwest cornerback Quandre Diggs (Angelton, Texas/Angleton); Southwest wide receiver Jaxon Shipley (Brownwood, Texas/Brownwood); Midwest linebackers Curtis Grant (Richmond, Va./Hermitage), Travis Hughes (Virginia Beach, Va./Kempsville) and Conner Crowell (Waldorf, Md./North Point); and Midwest wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw).
"It's been real fun out here," Arnett said. "We are just trying to call get a feel for the quarterback. There's so much competition. But I feel confident and I am playing well."
There were several players that were no shows. The highest-rated prospect that elected not to participate was five-star athlete James Wilder (Tampa, Fla./Plant). He was replaced by USC commitment Kent Turene (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla./Boyd Anderson). One other member of the Southeast pulled out as well: quarterback Philip Ely (Tampa, Fla./Plant). In for Ely is Clemson quarterback commitment Tony McNeal (Chester, S.C./Chester). As you can imagine, McNeal was excited to get the call.
"At first I was struggling," McNeal said. "I was just trying to get used to everyone's speed out here. These guys are all so fast. But I started throwing better as the day went on. Also this is my first competition since my ACL surgery. The knee feels good and so does the arm. I am just so excited to here and to quarterback the Southeast."
The Southwest got hit hard as athlete Brandon Carter (Euless, Texas/Trinity), tight end Chris Barnett (Dallas/Trinity), wide receivers Jarvis Landry (Lutcher, La./Lutcher) and Donte Moncrief (Raleigh, Miss./Raliegh) and safety Sheroid Evans (Sugar Land, Texas/Dulles) all are missing this event. Their replacements are Shipley, wide receiver Ja'Juan Story (Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast Tech), and safety Franklin Shannon (Dallas/Skyline). Cameron Clear (Memphis, Tenn./Central) will join the Southwest team tomorrow. Despite the losses the Southwest team is not slipping, as Shipley and Story were very impressive today.
"Jaxon is incredibly quick and runs such polished routes," Brewer said. "He's also got great hands and a super first step. Story got here late but this guy is tall and rangy. He can jump and is physical. They were both really good today."
Shipley is glad that Landry bowed out of the event. Now he can show everyone what he can do.
"Yeah. I just love to compete," Shipley said. "That's my mindset and these guys are the best in the country."
Story is happy as well although he is playing for the Southwest team not the Southeast team.
"I just want to win. Yeah I am from Florida and I should be on the Southeast team. But it doesn't matter to me. I want to go out there and have fun, compete, win and show everyone my talent."
Florida lands Cali linebacker
Standout linebacker Rahim Cassell (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) is in attendance at the Gridiron Kings. Last night this three-star linebacker prospect was in Gainesville for the University of Florida's Friday Night Lights. Cassell (6-1, 208 pounds) publicly committed to the Gators about six weeks ago. He says he made it official yesterday once he got on campus for the first time.
"Yeah, I committed to Florida," Cassell said. "The coaches wanted me to see the school first so I came by. Friday Night Lights was real cool. The coaches are great and I heard some of them speak with some speeches. That was pretty cool. I loved seeing the Swamp.
"One of the reasons I picked Florida is that Florida plays fast. So it's official now. I am a Florida Gator."
Cassell picked Florida over Oregon.
Other news and notes
Speaking of Oregon, four-star receiver Tacoi Sumler (Miami, Fla./Columbus) told me that Oregon is his current leader over Stanford, Wake Forest and Cincinnati … Wide receiver Arnett says that USC leads Tennessee, Cal, Michigan State and Iowa … Waisome will announce next month between Florida State, Florida, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.