Sights and Sounds from the Nike Opening Atlanta Regional

by - Senior Writer -
Zerrick Cooper takes aim during Sunday's session
Zerrick Cooper takes aim during Sunday's session

BUFORD, GA – Clemson was a clear and constant presence Sunday afternoon in Buford, Ga., as over 500 of the region’s top prospects took part in the The Opening Nike Football Atlanta Regional at Buford High School.

Eleven players – including two prospects on Clemson’s list – were invited to The Opening in Beaverton, Oregon, later this summer. Offensive lineman E.J. Price out of Lawrenceville (GA) Archer and defensive lineman Antwaun Jackson out of Ellenwood (GA) Cedar Grove each received invites to the July event, and Jackson was named the camp’s most valuable defensive lineman.

Another Clemson prospect out of Archer is defensive back Jamyest Williams, who earned the camp’s most valuable defensive back honor. All three prospects are high on the Tigers, and we will have interviews with all three that will run this week.

Now, onto the sights and sounds of the event, which was held in what was either a steady drizzle or a steady downpour Sunday morning and afternoon. During a break in between sessions I walked over to one of the Gatorade tents to get out of the weather, and one of the coaches that was working the event asked where I worked. When I mentioned Clemson, he had some interesting comments I will pass on.

The coach said, “It must be a different feel for guys like you and the Clemson coaches these days.” When I asked why, he responded, “I can remember four or five years ago and really even just a few years ago that Clemson was one of those teams scratching to get at those top-tier teams. They would try and get one or two great players in a recruiting cycle and wonder how they could be like FSU or Bama or Ohio St. Now they are FSU and Bama and Ohio St. – they are one of those teams other teams are scratching to get to. All of these kids know the paw and I have to be honest, they are better at recruiting these in-state kids in Georgia than Georgia’s coaching staff.”

*Powder Springs (GA) McEachern 5-star defensive tackle Julian RochesterJulian Rochester
Defensive Tackle
6-6, 280
Powder Springs, GA

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was at the event but had his left arm in a sling after tweaking his shoulder lifting 350 pounds this past week. We were talking to Rochester – who insists that Clemson is still very much in the mix along with Georgia and Auburn – when another player walked by and took a jab at Rochester’s obvious maturity, saying, “Dang Julian, you so old you should be paying child support.” Rochester just smiled and kept right on with the interview.

*5-star defensive back Saivion SmithSaivion Smith
6-2, 175
St. Petersburg, FL

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was in attendance with his Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy teammates, and following his verbal to LSU last month was wearing his LSU gear. Smith told me that Clemson was a very close second to LSU and that Les Miles has given him permission to take his official visits next fall and Clemson will definitely be one of those visits.

Smith also had one of the more interesting moments at the regional, getting into a minor but loud verbal altercation with Starkville (MS) 4-star receiver A.J. Brown. Smith got close to Brown prior to the start of a drill and Brown – who won the camp’s most outstanding receiver award – voiced his displeasure. It led to a lot of pointing and yelling, and then Brown beat Smith down the sideline for a touchdown. Smith congratulated Brown, and then looked for every opportunity to match up against him the rest of the afternoon. Both players won their fair share.

*Price was in the “All Star Matchups” between the offensive and defensive lines, and each player went up against the opposition three times. In between reps, Price’s opponent started shivering and commenting that he was cold, and Price immediately started barking at the helpless lineman, “Cold? You are cold? How can you be cold when you are about to go up against me?” After that, it was non-stop smack talk throughout the entire drill and Price definitely stood out.

*2016 Clemson commits T.J. ChaseT.J. Chase
Wide Receiver
6-2, 175
Plant City, FL

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– the 4-star out of IMG – and 4-star quarterback Zerrick CooperZerrick Cooper
6-5, 200
Jonesboro, GA

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out of Jonesboro (GA) were able to spend time together during the event and even hooked up on a nice pass play during the skeletons. Chase said that Cooper “was putting everything on the money.” Cooper was wearing a bulky brace on his right knee but said he was getting used to it and would probably wear it until mid-season next fall.

We spoke with former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer about Cooper, and he said that Cooper’s ceiling was as high as anybody in the country. Dilfer said he wants Cooper to attend the Nike Regional in Charlotte in May where he can work with him again. We will run the full interview with Dilfer later this week, but he did say that Cooper reminds him physically of Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, but said Cooper is further along physically at this point.

As for Chase, there is really just one word that I can use to describe him and that is ‘smooth.’ Everything he does looks graceful and he can eat up ground in a hurry. He was also easy to spot in his orange Clemson shorts and orange gloves, which he said he bought last time he was in Clemson. He plans to be on campus for the spring game, as does Cooper.

Defensive back Jamyest Williams was impressive Sunday

*Jamyest Williams was impressive during the skeleton sessions, and I was surprised at just how physical he could be. He says Clemson is right there in his lead group, and he hopes to make it in for the spring game.

*ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Charles Wiley told us that Ole Miss and Clemson are currently in the lead for his services, and I asked him if he feels like he could be the next Vic Beasley. He responded that he feels like his game mirrors that of Shaq Lawson, and that he watched Lawson exclusively during his last visit. Wiley was one of the stars during the drills.

We will have more insights and interviews this week, along with a photo gallery.

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