Commentary

Inaugural 'Under the Lights' shines

Former Trojans Keyshawn Johnson, Brian Kelly pleased with first 7 on 7 tourney

Updated: June 22, 2011, 5:27 PM ET
By Sean Ceglinsky | ESPNLA.com

CARSON, Calif. -- Scouts from all over the country flocked to the inaugural Under The Lights 7-on-7 passing tournament at the Home Depot Center this past weekend.

Presented by Big Man On Campus and sponsored by Under Armour, the new event promised to have several of the nation's top prospects in attendance, and it lived up to its billing.

[+] EnlargeUnder the Lights, 7 on 7 tournament
Courtesy WeAreSC.comThe inaugural Under the Lights 7 on 7 tournament went well, and organizer Keyshawn Johnson (right) predicts only bigger and better for it.
"The anticipation, the buildup has been tremendous for this tournament," said Keyshawn Johnson, an NFL analyst for ESPN, former NFL veteran and USC product who is the mastermind behind the BMOC brand, along with another former Trojan Brian Kelly. "Our goal was to bring together some of the top recruits in the country and let them settle things on the field.

"This tournament was stacked with talent. We're going to do things again next year and hope to expand all over the West Coast. With Under Armour as a sponsor and behind us, we think this thing is going to take off. It already has. Expect big things in the future.''

Mind you, it's next to impossible to list all of the talent in attendance over the course of the two-day tournament. That said, it's time to take a look at some of the prospects who left a lasting impression.

Payton puts in some work

ESPNU 150 wide receiver Jordan Payton (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) was a man on one of those proverbial missions. The 6-foot-2 and 200-plus pounder from the class of 2012 played as if he had something to prove against his many talented peers.

Cornerbacks and safeties wouldn't let Payton out of their collective sight. Nevertheless, he found a way to make an impact, similar to the way he has done so many times in the past.

"I know I have a target on my back, but that makes me want to go harder,'' Payton said. "This tournament is great because there's a lot of good competition, good players you don't get see on an everyday basis. This was a time for me to showcase my talents. I think I did a good job.''

The USC commit is the nation's No. 19 player at his position and No. 146 recruit overall.

The Trojans landed a verbal pledge from him in March 2010. That fact, however, has done little, or nothing, to deter prospective schools from actively pursuing him.

Payton has scholarship offers fro, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma. Miami and Arkansas also have stayed in contact with him.

"I'm committed to USC, and I like the Trojans, but I'm not sure they're the best fit for me right now,'' Payton said. "I'm looking around to see what other schools stand out to me.''

Plenty of Pac-12 Conference programs have offered Payton, most notably Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington. Boise State and Tennessee also must be considered players in Payton's recruitment.

Small frame, big-time game

Listed at 5-10 and 160 pounds, measurements which appear to be generous, Robert Lewis (South Gate, Calif./South East) is often overlooked.

Make no mistake about it, though. The diminutive running back from the 2012 class makes up for the lack of stature with a number of other redeeming physical qualities. All signs point to many of his opponents agreeing with such a statement after seeing Lewis in action from start to finish. Seemingly no one could figure out a way to slow him down.

The fact Lewis, an SMU commit, put together a solid effort should not come as a major surprise. It's not as if he is a complete unknown on the national landscape. We are, after all, talking about someone who's a member of the ESPNU 150.

Appropriately, Lewis is ranked as the country's No. 12 player at his position, a notch below top-tier ball carriers such as Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C./Millbrook), Rushel Shell (Aliquippa, Pa./Hopewell), Johnathan Gray (Aledo, Texas/Aledo) and Alex Ross (Jenks, Okla./Jenks).

Given time and some steady improvement, Lewis could end up being mentioned among the best around considering schools from all over the country continue keeping tabs on him.

"I committed to SMU, but I'm listening to all of the colleges out there,'' Lewis said. "It's still early in the process, I think things are going to get bigger and better for me.''

Pac-12 Conference programs are all over him, which best explains his offer from Oregon. And if the Ducks are interested, there is a good chance their rivals will follow suit.

Not surprisingly, Arizona and UCLA, along with USC and Washington, have recently expressed varied levels of interest in Lewis, although no offers have been made.

Colorado and Utah have both offered. The same can be said for Idaho, New Mexico State and Mississippi. All told, he has eight scholarships from which to choose.

In the last month, or so, he also has talked to Fresno State and Nebraska.

Bottom line: Colleges don't appear to be overly concerned with his size.

"I know what I can do, and I think these other schools are starting to figure it out,'' Lewis said. "My plan is to take things slow, start taking some visits soon, and see what happens.''

Johnson is no joke

Johnny Johnson (Fresno, Calif./San Joaquin Memorial) may be a bit young. The up-and-coming 2013 recruit, however, did not let his age and inexperience factor into the way he played once the ball was snapped during a standout effort at the Under The Lights tournament.

The 5-10, 175-pound defensive back didn't back down from the challenge when he lined up on the other side of scrimmage from Payton. Difficult tests against Darreus Rogers (Carson, Calif./Carson) and Bryce Treggs (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) followed.

Never one to be intimidated, Johnson managed to hold his own.

In doing so, he opened up some eyes. Come to think of it, Johnson has been doing that for quite some time now, especially with regards to college coaches and scouts.

"An event like this means a whole lot to me, I've been pumped up since we got started,'' Johnson said. "It's a chance to show what I've got in front of some important people. My mentality is that I'm the best player out here. If you don't think that way, you won't be successful."

So far, so good.

It appears as if things are going according to plan, thus far anyway.

He recently received his first scholarship offer, from Colorado State.

More than a few Pac-12 Conference schools have contacted him lately, including Oregon and USC. Neither has offered, but it's early. Arizona, UCLA and Washington are among the others interested.