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March 13, 2013

Rivals Camp Series Phoenix: Five things We Learned

MORE: Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The first weekend of the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour wrapped up Sunday, and many top storylines emerged from the events. Here are Five Things We Learned from the camp at Hamilton High that featured many top prospects from Arizona.

1. Wavering on pledge?

Casey Tucker earned an invite to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge, but his dominance on the field didn't sneak up on anybody. There's a reason he's garnered recruiting attention from every corner of the country, after all.

What did take some off-guard, however, was the fact that he's starting to waver on his pledge to USC. The Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton tackle plans to take other visits. He was also overheard answering a fellow camper with "sort of" when asked if he was still committed to the Trojans.

"I'm still looking around and making sure it's the right decision," Tucker said on Sunday. "I'm still talking to coaches and stuff, making sure I get all my visits in. We'll see how that goes."

How USC, which underperformed a year ago, starts the 2013 season will be paramount to recruiting. It will certainly affect its ability to hang on to Tucker, but that's just the start.

2. Man of his word

Falcon (Colo.) athlete Kalen Ballage showed up in Phoenix and said the event would be his "coming-out party." It's an easy thing to say, but Ballage followed through on his words.

It's hard to play the no-respect card when you're carrying around 10 scholarship offers, but Ballage has every reason to do so. There's no hyperbole in saying Ballage boasts the body of a BCS-level player as a junior in high school. People were asking "who's that?" during registration, and the guy responsible for the hype had yet to step on the field. The word "freak" is woefully overused in recruiting and should be avoided at all costs, but it actually fits here.

Ballage carries speed to complement his frame, and his cuts are sharp. He participated as a running back at the camp but could just as easily play linebacker in college. After seeing him go toe-to-toe with some highly ranked players, it's clear that the junior has (at least) four-star talent. Given the right exposure, he should rack up more than 30 offers.

3. Kansas can compete out West

Speaking of the ol' no-respect card, people in the flyover states have cornered the market on playing it. What a group of Kansas players showed in Phoenix, however, helps validate the argument.

Three Kansas-based players in particular grabbed some of the spotlight. The most impressive of the group was 6-foot-5 tight end DeAndre Goolsby. Goolsby's performance wasn't much of a shock because he arrived in Arizona as a four-star prospect. The work turned in by quarterback Landon Root and safety Travis Young was more surprising.

Young showed impressive acceleration and closing speed. He made a few remarkable plays on jump balls during one-on-ones and was every bit as athletic as many of his West Coast counterparts.

As for Root, he didn't finish the day as part of the top tier of quarterbacks. Rivals250 member Kyle Allen and decorated 2015 signal-caller Brett Rypien looked more polished. That said, the Wichita Collegiate junior was solidly in the second group and showed himself to be more than capable of playing high-level college football. His size, pocket mobility and accuracy on deep passes, opened a few eyes in the desert.

4. Natrell smash

Look, there's reason to doubt Natrell Curtis.

He isn't built like an Adonis and admits that he needs to drop some weight before his senior season. Then, you see him play.

Curtis was nothing short of dominant in Phoenix. He manhandled defensive linemen all afternoon and finished every rep he took. Curtis has the kind of mean streak that coaches love in linemen. He put most of his opponents into the ground. And on the rare occasion that he didn't, he finished with a nasty shove.

Curtis walked away from the camp with the offensive line MVP trophy and an invitation to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge. If he drops 10 pounds or so, there's really no telling what he could become.

5. He had a point

Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain quarterback Kyle Allen was disappointed with his ranking when the initial Rivasl250 for 2014 was released. Upon seeing it, he took to Twitter to announce his displeasure and vowed to prove doubters wrong.

And when the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour came to Phoenix, Allen made good on his word. At the event, it was clear that Allen had grown an inch or two and developed his craft. He was, by far, the best quarterback present. Allen's arm strength has never been in question, but it was clear that his accuracy had improved. He connected on more than a few difficult fade routes and had wide receivers buzzing about how much working with helped them improve.

Allen is a candidate for a significant bump in the next set of rankings. He has little left to prove at this juncture.



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