New Jersey event showcases top talent from Northeast, mid-Atlantic
Imposing defensive lineman Jamar Lewter lived up to the billing
The offers are coming fast and furious for playmaking tailback Savon Huggins
Damiere Byrd's (4.38 in the 40) was easily the fastest player at the event
Once again, the top talent in the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic converged in central New Jersey for the Premier Showcase, an invite-only event for top juniors and selected underclassmen.
Here's the lowdown on some of the key participants:
Lewter lives up to the billing
Jamar Lewter (Ballou High School, Washington, D.C.) came into the Premier Showcase with a bit of a target on his back as perhaps the top rated defensive lineman at the event. At an imposing 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, Lewter lined up at defensive end in the linemen drills, impressing with his quick feet and burst of speed off the edge. Named the top lineman at the event, Lewter lived up to his billing.
"Lewter is very good, bends well for a big man and has great hands," said Brian Martin, the founder of TEST Sports Clubs, who staffed and operated the Premier Showcase. "Last year, we had Sharrif Floyd at this event and he came away with top big man honors. This year, it was Jamar who, like Floyd, was the most dominant lineman of the event."
And top colleges have been on the Lewter's bandwagon for a while, with offers from Auburn, North Carolina, Pitt, New Mexico and Utah already coming in. He says he is getting 10 letters a day and that coaches are telling him that offers will be coming in soon from other national programs. It has gotten to the point that the native of Washington, D.C. has had his mailman notice the increase of letters into the Lewters' home.
"He told me he is proud of me," Lewter said of the mailman's reaction to the extra postage coming his way.
Unlike most recruits at the event who are tight-lipped in regards to revealing a top program, Lewter said that North Carolina is his early favorite right now and that the program has been utilizing defensive tackle Marvin Austin to help entice him to Chapel Hill. Lewter attends Ballou, the high school program which produced Austin.
"I look at myself and see me filling his shoes there someday," Lewter said of the Tar Heels.
Offers piling up for explosive RB Huggins
Savon Huggins has been on the national radar since his freshman year, and the soon-to-be senior showed why he will be a dominant force for Jersey City's St. Peter's Prep this fall. The running back has been a highly recruited playmaker since his sophomore season, with a rare blend of size and breakaway speed. Huggins impressed with good hands as a receiver in the passing drills, having shown marked improvement in his route running over the past year.
On signing day, Huggins hauled in an offer from Alabama's Nick Saban. This past Friday he got an offer from Notre Dame in the mail. With the offers piling up, Huggins will continue to be one of the most sought-after backfield prospects in the nation. Along with 'Bama and ND, Huggins has received offers from Penn State, Rutgers, Miami and Florida -- but there is currently no leader in the mix.
"Things are going well and I'm excited about everything that has been happening so far," Huggins said. "But right now, I am really just focusing on getting ready for my last season at the Prep."
Huggins also vowed that this year, Prep will beat Don Bosco, the North Jersey program that finished this year as the No. 1 team in the nation according to several polls, including MaxPreps and Rivals.com.
Big-bodied Ebron has plenty of upside
One of the more intriguing prospects at the Premier Showcase had one of the longest trips to the event: Greensboro, N.C.'s Eric Ebron came up to central Jersey a day before the event. Ebron has the look and build of USC wide receiver Kyle Prater, but projects as a tight end. He's 6-5 and 225 pounds, "but I'm still growing," said Ebron. His mom called him on Saturday afternoon before the event with some exciting news.
"My mom got the mail and told me that I just got offers from Alabama and West Virginia," Ebron said. "I was blown away."
Working out with the wide receivers, Ebron had no problems with the physical play of the defensive backs on the field, easily shedding their bumps and showing crisp route running for a player of his size. It was tough to gauge his hands as a number of balls were thrown just out of his grasp, but Ebron looks to be a raw player with a big upside. In addition to the two recent offers from the Crimson Tide and the Mountaineers, he also includes North Carolina, Clemson and Rutgers in his top five. The Scarlet Knights offered him on Friday after his visit and tour.
"They called it the nickel tour, but sure it felt like a dollar to me," Ebron said. "I really liked it and the family atmosphere of all the coaches and the entire place. That's what is most important to me, a strong family atmosphere."
No one on the corner swagger like Vance
Dunbar High School in Washington D.C. has a tradition of sending impact players to the college level, and it appears that Vance Roberts is prepared to continue that tradition.
A compact 5-8 defensive back, Roberts may have been the most physical of all the defenders in one-on-one drills, drawing the ire of several receivers for his aggressive play. Roberts used his hands as well as any defensive back at the Premier Showcase and showed good footwork in recovery and anticipation. Having already received an offer from Syracuse two weeks ago, Roberts is anticipating an offer coming in from Maryland when he visits College Park this Tuesday. A third offer could well be coming in on Feb. 27 during a visit to Wake Forest, another program talking with him regularly.
With Roberts, it all comes down to making his presence known on the field. It's not enough to be seen -- Roberts stands out with long dreadlocks and prominent tattoos on his biceps -- he also engages in plenty of talking and mixes it up on the field with the best of them, no matter the size.
"I think a wide receiver can smell fear, and I don't want them to smell that on me," the diminutive Roberts said. "If you mix it up, you take it to them. You don't want to sit back, you want to jam them early."
Byrd takes flight
Easily the fastest player at the event this year was Damiere Byrd of Timber Creek, New Jersey. An athlete who could play in the slot or as a defensive back, Byrd ran a 4.38 time in the 40 at the U.S. Army National Combine in early January, the fastest time at the event for top juniors. What made his fast feet more impressive is that the turf field at the Alamodome is notoriously slow.
Right now, Byrd holds six offers in hand: Stanford, South Carolina, Rutgers, Duke, Maryland and Connecticut. He hopes to visit every program that has offered him by this spring, having already gone to three.
"[South Carolina] is a great campus, and I really liked it down there. Obviously the weather is great down there and not like up here in Jersey. Rutgers -- its home. It is close and I like that my family and friends could come to see me play," Byrd said. "UConn is a different campus then the others, more out in the country in the mountains and the valleys. I think I passed some haunted houses out there when we went out to visit."
Byrd said that he is hearing from several other top programs, including Ohio State, Cal, Oregon and Florida. The Gators are using an enticing recruiting line to attract his attention.
"They think I can come in and play for them in like a Percy Harvin-type role," said Byrd, who said he'd prefer to play offense in college.
Deion Barnes, a powerfully built defensive prospect from Northeast High School in Philadelphia, recently returned from a visit to South Carolina that he termed as "really good." The Gamecocks appear to be the leader for this lineman who showed good speed off the end coupled with his impressive frame. ... Despite having some tendinitis that shelved him for the event, Pottsgrove, Pa.'s Terrell Chestnut still attended the event. The running back holds offers from Pitt, Rutgers and West Virginia and said he too is getting a heavy amount of interest from South Carolina. ... DeMatha High School is a dominant program in Maryland, and Darrien Harris looks to be a good prospect. Harris did well as a defensive back in drills and ran crisp routes as a wide receiver when he switched to the offensive side of the ball. ... Another south Jersey product, Devon Cajuste of Holly Cross, occasionally struggled against physical defensive backs, but the wide receiver showed good hands on several occasions and reacted well to underthrown balls. ... Several VIP's were on hand for the event, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman and former Rutgers product Jeremy Zuttah, who carefully watched his younger brother Jonathan perform -- the younger Zuttah is not as tall as his NFL brother, but showed very good technique at the event. In addition, Florida-bound Sharrif Floyd, who participated last year, showed up to support a teammate in the event. Former four-star recruit Logan Ryan of Rutgers and Scarlet Knights' starting quarterback Tom Savage were also taking in the Premier Showcase from the sideline. "I really don't miss the pressure of these events," Savage said. ... Kyshoen Jarrett from East Stroudsburg, Pa., impressed in the secondary at the event. On Monday, he hauled in an offer from Temple, his fifth offer so far ... The youngest athlete at the event was Philadelphia's Marquis Edwards, a freshman who started this season for the always strong Northeast program. Edwards played in the FBU Youth All-American Bowl last year (an event for top middle school talent) and physically looked like he belonged at this event.