ATLANTA, Ga. - In spite of the fact that two of them call the same state home, when Oklahoma's trio of commitments arrived for the Rivals.com Five-Star Challenge they were each relative strangers. Sure D.J. Ward and Stanvon Taylor had spoken on Twitter and Facebook but were largely unknown to each other but held a relationship that already far surpassed what existed between either and fellow commitment Greg Bryant.
As they departed for their respective hometowns each came away much closer to the other.
In the case of the top two players in the state of Oklahoma, they were, unsurprisingly, placed in the same room together and had roughly 48 hours to get more acquainted with one another.
And while Ward and Bryant didn't get a ton of time to catch up, Taylor and Bryant spent a lot of time around each other during the various events through the weekend.
"When we went to Six Flags (on Saturday night) I sat next to (Bryant) and we talked a lot. He is a really cool guy," Taylor said.
More notable than the continuity they began to build over the course of just two days was the similarities in their performances - with each exceeding expectation by various margins.
In the case of Taylor, he was seen by some as something of a late fix with the Southwest squad simply needing a slot wide receiver - a position at which Taylor figures to be enjoying his final year before heading to Norman to become a cornerback.
However, from the outset it was clear that Taylor saw the event as an opportunity to not only change the perception coming in but just the overall opinion some have of his game. Taylor showed off explosive upfield ability and went head to head with some of the nation's elite corners like Jalen Ramsey, Chris Hawkins, and Kendall Fuller among others and more than held his own.
The Sooner coaching staff has offered, and taken his commitment, at cornerback but there is no doubt that some of the skills that helped him make an impressive showing at wide receiver should translate well to defensive back. Taylor created space with great change of direction and quick precise cuts on his routes. That level of footwork and athleticism should enable him to be a difference maker in the secondary.
And the outgoing athlete actually spent some of his down time talking with some of the cornerbacks about their workouts and technique.
"Those guys are good and I just wanted to speak with them about what they do, little things to make myself better," Taylor, the king of the two-point conversion on Sunday, explained.
While Taylor came in to prove doubters wrong, few came in with any doubts about Bryant; his battle was simply a matter of trying to earn his fifth star and cement himself as one of the country's elite talents.
Many came in with little knowledge of Bryant's background as a cornerback and slot receiver early in his career and were unsure of just how well he'd perform out of the backfield. Needless to say Bryant staggered people with his route-running and natural pass-catching ability. Mix that with the quantities that many knew - great feet and impressive open field moves - and it's no surprise that he was a resounding hit both in one-on-ones as well as Sunday's 7-on-7 competition.
Late in the afternoon Sunday Bryant took a pass over the middle stuttered and froze a Northeast defender and burst on for a touchdown causing one of the bigger eruptions all day from the assembled crowd of family members and coaches.
Speaking of coaches, following his work on Saturday some weren't even sure who Ward was but following a really impressive performance on Sunday he had several of the coaches on hand looking for information with questions of 'Who is No. 13?'.
An obviously elated Ward admitted after his work on Sunday that he got into more counter and secondary moves and felt as though the level of competition started to even out a bit for him on day two in Atlanta. One of the better athletes of the weekend at offensive tackle was Maryland's Derwin Gray and the, now, explosive Ward on back-to-back reps flashed a great first step and burst by Gray to best the four-star Terrapins commitment. Showing that he was more than just speed Ward returned to better Brendan Mahon with a powerful move to the inside.
"(Mahon) got outside and got extended so what am I going to do, keep going outside? I just ran through him because I knew he was off balance," Ward said afterward.
Regardless of what was laid in front of the three emerging friends it's clear that each made a strong impression and could be in line to make a move in the Rivals.com rankings.
Oklahoma's highest ranked non-committed target at the camp was Crete (Ill.) Monee wide receiver Laquon Treadwell who wasn't always dominant on Saturday but during the 7-on-7 work Sunday showed why he is considered one of the nation's elite receiver targets catching one touchdown after another.
Treadwell is somewhat reminiscent of former elite Texas prep receiver Sloan Thomas in his economy of motion and the resulting appearance of ease in his route-running. Treadwell doesn't seem to be doing anything fast or working overly hard but against the best cornerbacks in the country he made one big play after another.
He isn't the type of player to make highlight reel open field moves but for a bigger guy he does a great job in the open field finding creases and gets north and south very quickly. On the day he had some great battles but there is no doubt that Treadwell is more than worthy of his lofty ranking.
*Kenny Lacy may not have the upper body strength to dominate yet but he doesn't lack for the ability to slide his feet and frequently was able to meet speed rushers on the edge. As he gets stronger his initial punch will become more violent and it'll make his job even easier getting square with off-balance defenders. He'll have to continue to work on his hand use, but Lacy showed why some think his upside is as good as any tackle in the region.
*One player who really impressed with his actions as much, if not more, than his play was Fort Valley (Ga.) Peach Country wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect spent most of the first day and a few hours working exclusively at receiver before being moved over to the Southeast secondary during 7-on-7 drills after many of his teammates pulled out citing exhaustion, muscle cramps, and various other ailments. Robinson has a nice frame and is somewhat physically reminiscent of former Sooner Will Peoples, though a more fluid athlete. He says he'll visit Norman before deciding and seems eager to learn more about Oklahoma.
*The Fresno (Calif.) Edison duo of Hatari Byrd and L.J. Moore may have gotten a late start - arriving around midnight Eastern on Saturday morning. But they wasted very little time getting familiar with Byrd impressing a lot of people on Saturday with his range of movement and ability to turn and run with receivers in spite of the frame that screams safety. Meanwhile Moore, a near dead-set cross between corner and safety, showed better feet than one might expect with his frame though at times he struggled with more physical receivers who were able to match his length on the perimeter.
*Finally, three young defensive backs who really made a name for themselves were class of 2014 stars Laurence Jones of Monroe (La.) Neville, Beaumont (Texas) Ozen's Tony Brown, and Jalen Tabor of Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy. Jones is a massive defensive back who looks like a safety but was more than holding his own against elite, and older, receivers - look for him to be among the top handful of defensive backs in the country for his class. Don't expect either Brown or Tabor to be too far behind that with Brown excelling during Saturday's one-on-one events, though he did struggle a bit with the zone schemes the Southwest employed in 7-on-7. Much like Brown, Tabor had a better day Saturday but was very solid on Sunday even making one impressive catch offensively showing off the ball skills and hands that has people talking.
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