COLLEGE STATION, TX -- Every summer in the middle of July, some of the top prospects in the state of Texas gather in Aggieland for the Fox Sports Southwest 7-on-7 State Championship, held on the Texas A&M campus. The 2012 edition got kicked off on Thursday with pool play for the Division II schools -- those in the 3A classification and below.
So while the group of prospects on the first day wasn't as star-studded as what will come on Friday and Saturday with Division I play, which starts Friday at 1 pm CST, there were plenty of players to watch on the opening day.
SB Nation Recruiting was roaming the intramural fields and got a first-hand look at some committed and uncommitted prospects in the 2013 and 2014 classes. Here are several who stood out above the rest:
2014 Princeton wide receiver Jakari Dillard -- The day of viewing began with one of the top individual performers these eyes saw, as the 6-4, 185-pounder didn't waste any time making an impact, streaking down the field on a post route and hauling in the pass for a touchdown on the first offensive play of the game for Princeton. He followed it up with another touchdown catch on the following possession, leaping over two defenders to snag the football at its highest point -- an indefensible play at this level, or any other, frankly.
Dillard didn't stop producing either, using his big frame to later secure another catch in the endzone. He consistently caught the football away from his body when it was within his frame, showing strong and natural pass-catching ability, and then used his aerial skills to consistently beat defensive backs even when he couldn't create separation.
Strong both in his first several steps and with his top-end speed (which he said translates to a 4.5 40 time), Dillard sold his double moves well and was particularly effective with a stop and go route that he would hold for just long enough out of his break to get defenders biting. Currently sitting at three offers, that number will increase quickly and significantly this fall.
2013 Houston St. Pius X quarterback Kohl Stewart -- A Texas A&M commit and star baseball player who can top out in the mid-90s with his fastball, Stewart looked like the best quarterback in the Division II pool with his command of the offense and his ability to quickly and decisively go from his first to his second read and beyond, even with the pressure of the four-second clock hanging over his head.
In fact, Stewart rarely took sacks and when he did deliver the football, his accuracy was mostly unwavering and his ability to change speeds excellent. With the arm strength that he uses on the baseball field translating to his efforts with the pigskin, Stewart could make any throw on the field, spinning the football with a tight spiral that made the ball jump out of his hand in person as it does on film.
2015 Celina quarterback Nathan Elliott -- The Bobcat signal-caller burst onto the scene as a freshman last fall by leading an improbable comeback against Plano Prestonwood Christian in his first career start. On Thursday, he lined up under center (almost unheard of in 7-on-7), and appeared to run his high school offense, throwing a variety of passes into the flats rolling both right and left, squaring his shoulders well to the line of scrimmage in either direction.
The major question mark coming in was his ability to make the intermediate throws after benefiting tremendously from play-action passes downfield as a freshman, and he didn't answer those on Thursday, but he did throw a catchable ball by showing various speeds in those short passes to suit the situation.
Given that his father, the strength and conditioning coach at Celina, looks about 6-4 and 230-or-so chiseled pounds, there is plenty of projectable room for growth for the 6-2, 180-pounder, who has already drawn comparisons to Tim Tebow because of his left-handedness and bruising running style. An added bonus to the comparison? Elliott already has a more smooth delivery entering his sophomore season than Tebow does as a pro.
2014 Fort Worth All Saints quarterback Foster Sawyer -- At 6-5 and 215, the pro-style passing prospect is easy to pick out from a distance. While he doesn't spin the football as well as Stewart or go through his reads as quickly, few quarterbacks do at the high school level. His emerging 'Bama bangs and classification as a pocket passer look suited for the SEC, as do his talents, despite the aforementioned caveats emerging in comparison to an older player who is one of the better prospects in his class.
The ball may not pop out of his hand and the spirals weren't perfect, but Sawyer got the ball where he wanted it more often than not, and the arm strength is there to ensure that there aren't parts of the field closed to him as a result of physical liabilities. It's still in the early stages, but it would not be a surprise to see Sawyer emerge as the top pro-style quarterback in his class in the state of Texas.
2014 Fort Worth All Saints offensive tackle Demetrius Knox -- During the last two state tournaments, recruiting analysts buzzed about a Celina lineman who wasn't even participating. After collecting around 40 offers, that lineman, Jake Raulerson, committed to Texas back in February and performed well enough at The Opening to maintain his position right around the top 50 in ESPN's rankings.
On Thursday, there was another lineman out there attracting a similar amount of attention -- Demetrius Knox, who already holds close to 15 offers from around the country, including Ohio State and Alabama, as well as receiving approval from the Texas Longhorns to receive an offer. While many offensive linemen look doughy and unimpressive out of pads, there was no mistaking Knox, who was out there supporting his teammates, and looked like a future offensive tackle by carrying as little bad weight as any elite prospect at his position.
2014 Fort Worth All Saints running back/fullback Daniel Gresham -- The 7-on-7 format isn't conducive to many running backs standing out (mostly scatbacks and all-purpose backs who work extensively as receivers for their high school offenses), there's no doubt that opposing defenders were happy they didn't have to try to actually tackle the 5-11, 230-pound Gresham, whose build can only be described as resembling a tank.
Stay tuned for SB Nation for more evaluations from College Station over the coming days, as well as recruiting updates on the top players in attendance.