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August 9, 2007

Rivals100 Rising Stars

In six years, Pete Carroll has turned USC into a national recruiting power, but little did he know that his Rising Star Camp would have the power to affect national recruiting rankings.

What was built as an arena for scholarship battles has quickly become a stage for players to garner national media exposure and recognition. The latest Rivals100 reflects that trend.

"I've been to camps all across the country, and what I like about USC's camp is that there was no time for messing around," said Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Jeremy Crabtree. "They get into the important parts of camp quickly. It's all about the challenging, competitive aspects at USC.

"They get into 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills a lot. That's great because when you host the best players in the West and in the country, guys want to test themselves. That's exactly what Patrick Johnson did."

Now rated the nation's No. 1 cornerback, Patrick Johnson of Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely was a star before he arrived at USC in June. However, after completely dominating the Rising Star Camp, Johnson's five-stars headed for Polaris.

Johnson announced his presence at the camp with a 4.38 40-yard dash. If that didn't open the eyes of every spectator in attendance, Johnson's play certainly did. With a dominating performance in every aspect of the camp, his talent and athletic ability clearly showed why he's one of the most elite prospects in America.

"He told the USC coaches, 'bring your best receiver out here, so I can lock him down'," said Crabtree. "That's what's great about Patrick. We had several opportunities to see him play and he loves to go one-on-one, rep after rep with the best guys on the field.

"That's exactly what we got to see at USC. You don't get that at other camps, so it was a once in a lifetime opportunity experience for us to see the best players in the country test themselves.

"We saw Johnson's size and toughness in press coverage separate him from the other top corners in the country. When you combine that with his speed and his ball skills, he's one of the most complete cornerbacks we've seen in the past few years."

Johnson has all the physical tools you could ask for, and the 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback proved to be too much to handle during one on ones.

It's clear that the wide receiver has the advantage during one on one passing drills, so whenever you see a cornerback hold his own, it's impressive. Johnson embarrassed each wide receiver he faced. Johnson locked up every player he defended, including four-star playmaker Joe Adams from Little Rock (Ark).

Fast forward to Trojan Ball, an intramural style football game played for fun to alleviate the stress of the constant drills and workouts. Most kids seem to take this opportunity to joke around and have fun, but for Johnson, Trojan Ball was another opportunity to show why he was the best football player on the field.

A highly regarded recruit with an obvious NFL future, playing his hardest to win a meaningless game. Not only did Johnson make the spectacular plays look easy, he ended up catching the winning touchdown in the Trojan Ball championship game. Johnson went from being ranked the nation's No. 23 player to the nation's No. 3 player after the camp.

Matt Kalil of Anaheim (Calif.) Servite headed into the camp ranked as the nation's No. 3 offensive tackle. However, after a flawless performance against several of the region's best defensive lineman, Kalil also saw a boost in his five-star ranking.

Now rated as the No. 6 player in the nation, Kalil left his stamp of greatness at the Rising Star Camp. Ending the camp circuit just as he started it, Kalil's first challenge came during the NIKE Camp in April. Called out by his opponents, the nation's No. 1 ranked offensive tackle solidified his five-star ranking.

However, at the Rising Star Camp, Kalil took his pummeling of defensive linemen to another level. Once considered a good pass blocker at 6-foot-7, 280-pounds, he now projects as the nation's premiere left tackle. In fact, Kalil's performance allowed him to leap frog a future teammate in the Rivals100.

While Tyron Smith of Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde didn't get a ratings boost after the Rising Star Camp, it was obvious that his performance cemented his spot as a top 15 prospect nationally.

Smith has not been a stranger around USC's campus the last few years. From earning NIKE Camp MVP honors as a sophomore, and again a year later as a junior, Smith made his way back to USC for a third time at the Rising Star Camp.

Once again, he left onlookers in awe of his physical appearance and athletic ability for an offensive tackle. Sporting a 7-foot wing span, eight-pack abs and the athletic ability of a skill position player, Smith has the natural ability to keep any pass rusher at bay whether they use speed or power.

Like Patrick Johnson, Smith wasn't satisfied with dominating one on one drills. Smith also took the Trojan Ball tournament personally, showing all in attendance why there's five stars attached to his recruiting profile.

Smith, who stands 6-foot-6, 265-pounds, is easy to spot in a crowd. Going up against the skill position players in Trojan Ball, Smith stood out like a sore thumb, but it wasn't because of his height and weight. Hauling in touchdown passes with one hand, Smith was his team's best receiver. How many times can you say that about an offensive lineman?

Smith, who's still just 16-years-old, looks to have one of the highest ceilings of any player in the 2008 class.

While Armond Armstead of Elk Grove (Calif.) Pleasant Grove doesn't sport an eight-pack, his ranking also leans on upside. Weighing 250-pounds at this time last year, Armstead put on 40-pounds in 2006. Introducing his new frame at the Palo Alto NIKE Camp in May, Armstead impressed the USC coaching staff enough to earn an invite to the Trojans' lineman camp.

Performing well as a defensive end and tackle, USC wasn't completely sold on Armstead's potential. Returning to the Rising Star Camp, the 6-foot-4, 287-pound defensive lineman rose to the level of competition stacked in the trenches.

One-on-one against Daniel Campbell, a Rivals250 selection, Armstead bull rushed the top ranked guard 6-feet below the practice field sod. That play, along with an eagerness to prove his potential as a pass rusher, earned Armstead a USC scholarship offer and a spot in the Rivals100.

"Armond came into the Rising Star Camp in better shape than he was at the NIKE Camp," said Crabtree. "It could've been because he was preparing for the season, or it could've been because of AAU basketball . . . regardless, he was ready for that camp.

"He wanted to be challenged and he wanted to prove that he deserved a scholarship from USC. That competitiveness really jumped out at me. He came up rep after rep, and they put him up against every guy he wanted to go against.

"You watch his basketball highlights, which are really impressive, you see his quickness and agility translate to football. That's something, and his potential didn't get overlooked at the camp."

Armstead enters the Rivals100 as the nation No. 68 ranked player.

Ironically, a player who dropped in the Rivals100, but still retained his five-star ranking because of the Rising Star Camp was D.J. Shoemate of Anaheim (Calif.) Servite. Rated as the nation's No. 22 athlete, Shoemate dropped from his No. 17 ranking after the camp.

However, his performance proved to be a positive. After suffering a second fracture to his foot early last season, the Rising Star Camp provided many onlookers with their first glimpse of Shoemate since 2005.

"You want to see him get out there Friday night before you say he's back 100-percent, but seeing him out there at USC definitely proved he's more than on the right track to recovering.

"He could've been in a little better shape, but it was still early for him. Coach (Troy) Thomas at Servite will kill him with two-a-days, so he'll be ready. The main thing is that he's taking the right steps to being that special player we all know he will be for the Trojans."



Out of the 13 recruits committed to USC this year, 10 appear in the Rivals250. Eight of those players attended the Rising Star Camp.

Matt Meyer of Stockton (Calif.) Lincoln quietly moved up the Rivals250 with his camp cameo. Previously ranked as an offensive tackle, Meyer had the opportunity to shine as a guard at the Rising Star Camp, which led to his recent ascent through the Rivals250. Coming in at No. 20 in the state rankings three months ago, Meyer's size, smarts and surly attitude toward defenders propelled him to No. 11 in the state, No. 102 in the country post-camp.

Celina (Texas) defensive back D'Anton Lynn did not make the latest Rivals250, but he will add a fourth-star to his name after his camp performance. Lynn only played six games last season, which made his participation in the camp crucial to his evaluation. Earning scholarship offers from USC and Florida since, Lynn has become the definition of a rising star.

Stay tuned to USCFootball.com for the latest on Rivals.com recruiting rankings.


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