The Opening Atlanta: Clemson prospects and commits stand out in cold conditions


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Kevin Harris works out Sunday at Buford High School
Kevin Harris works out Sunday at Buford High School

BUFORD, GA – Happy Sunday night to everyone. Hopefully, you’re finished with the NCAA Tournament and 60 minutes for the evening and we can talk recruiting.

The Opening Regional in the Atlanta area was held Sunday, and we made our way to Buford High School for the chilly festivities. It wasn’t just cold, it was windy and cold and parents, players and media alike complained about the chilly conditions. It was also an event loaded with talent, perhaps the most talent we’ve seen in Atlanta.

We watched two Clemson commits – tight end Jaelyn Lay and athlete Brannon Spector – and both were impressive.

I’ll start with Lay. This was the first time I’ve seen him in person, and my first thought was “wow.” He is a legitimate 6-6, 230 pounds and isn’t just a gangly teen. He’s thick. He had a rough start to the day catching the ball – the conditions as we mentioned were brutal – but he rebounded strong and overall had a good day. He runs good routes and has the ability to create separation.

He might still be a bit of a project at this point, but the tools are there.

I haven’t seen Spector in a competitive situation since head coach Dabo Swinney’s high school camp last June, and he’s improved. He’s a bit faster (he logged a 4.61 40-yard dash in cold conditions without really warming up) and he looks stronger. He’s competitive in his routes, fights for the ball and runs great routes. He was a standout.

NOTABLES

Defensive end Kevin Harris (Grayson) was an early standout with his quickness on the snap. He is electric right off the snap, and he was talkative and demonstrative during the session. I look at Harris and see a guy that could play outside linebacker or defensive end, even though his height suggests playing end at some point.

I asked him about Clemson – the Tigers seemed to be a frontrunner early, but Harris released a top three of LSU, Alabama and Miami recently. He told me that Clemson backed off in recruiting him, and even though they still talk he doesn’t know what it will take to get Clemson back in the mix. More on Harris and that conversation later this week.

Five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean continues to impress with his size and athleticism as a middle linebacker. He told me that defensive coordinator Brent Venables tells him he would use him as a MIKE and would love to see him blitz. He was excellent in coverage. He hasn’t visited Clemson – he’s visited schools like Alabama and LSU three or four times – and Clemson’s coaches want to get him on campus at least once. More on him later in the week.

Four-star and 2020 quarterback Harrison Bailey was, in my eyes, the top quarterback Sunday. He has a big frame, a powerful arm and he cut through the wind to make some tremendous throws. He can also throw with touch when he has to. He’s the No. 2-ranked pro-style passer in the 2020 class, and he told me that Clemson is one of his top schools and he talks with quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter on a regular basis.

He was coy about a list of favorites.

Nine players were invited to The Opening finals, which will be held in Texas instead of Oregon this year. The leader of that group was 5-star defensive end Nolan Smith out of IMG. Smith is a Georgia commit, but he told me that former teammates Xavier Thomas and Mike Jones did a video call with him this week.

His testing numbers were off the chart - he had a Nike Football Rating of 141.18 which included a 4.51 laser-timed 40-yard dash, a 4.15 shuttle, 39-6 vertical leap and a 44-feet, 5-inch power ball toss, all of which rank either in the 98th or 99th percentile nationally. He was the defensive MVP, and with good reason.

As for Clemson, he indicated that the Tigers never get far from his thoughts. More on him Monday morning.

Also headed to The Opening Finals to be held in Dallas in late June is LSU offensive guard commit Kardell Thomas, offensive lineman Clay Webb, Dean, 4-star linebacker Kalen DeLoach, Georgia's five-star receiver commits Dominick Blaylock and Jadon Haselwood, cornerback Christian Williams and cornerback Chester Kimbrough who came into the day as a three-star recruit but had the best performance in 1-on-1s of all the defensive backs.

We had a conversation with DeLoach, and he’s another one that says playing for Venables will be a factor when it comes to choosing a school.

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