ALLEN, Texas -- It wasn't hard to pick out Norman (Ok.) North quarterback David Cornwell from the crowd over the weekend at the Dallas Elite 11 regional camp on Saturday and the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp on Sunday.
After all, Cornwell stood head and shoulders above his competition, both literally and figuratively, taller than most of the other quarterbacks at all of 6-5, his throws unmistakeable in their velocity, tight spin, and pure jump from his cannon of a right arm.
How good was Cornwell on the whole? Good enough for Elite 11 coach Trent Dilfer to tell SB Nation Recruiting after Sunday's event that the Oklahoma product reminds him some of Ben Roethlisberger as a big quarterback with better-than-average athleticism and the strongest of arms.
"He's obviously very talented," Dilfer had said on Saturday. "He's so physical and he makes some hard stuff look really easy. For a giant man, he moves very efficiently -- I wouldn't call him sudden, but he's very efficient. He's an athletic kid and he's going to be a good player."
Following the completion of the NFTC, Cornwell was named the overall MVP of the event, invited to The Opening, and was selected as the first member of the 2013 Elite 11 group, one that will be smaller this year than it has been in years past.
The only real surprise? That the invite didn't happen on Saturday, though the higher standards for receiving one likely had a lot to do with that.
Cornwell was both excited and humbled by the selection.
"It's a great feeling to be the first selected," said the 6-5, 230-pounder. "Obviously it was tough; you don't take it for granted by saying that you're going to come out here and get an invite. No, you work, coach Dilfer is very tough to get an invite from, a really great guy and thorough with his evaluations. I love working with him."
Cornwell said that the ability to throw against live competition on Sunday helped to make the difference and earn that coveted spot in the finals.
"Today we had better competition," he said. "The cornerbacks were out here, some of the best in the country, and really good receivers. Letting him see me throw in one-on-ones I think was what really sealed the deal."
After the long day on Saturday and taking so many reps, Cornwell had to battle through some soreness, but was able to let his talent shine through.
"I was a little sore when I came out today because coach Dilfer kicked my butt yesterday. I just wanted to come out here, do my job, throw how I throw, and obviously I impressed him."
The pro-style quarterback prospect with excellent athleticism for his size has also impressed a number of colleges, earning scholarship offers from the likes of Auburn, Alabama, Missouri, Miami, Tennessee, UCLA, and Virginia Tech.
Cornwell admitted that he knows his top four schools already, but doesn't want to reveal them. The majority of them are from the SEC, however, a fact that he was willing to acknowledge. Given that his list only holds four schools, the odds are then high that three of them hail from the nation's top conference.
Auburn, Alabama, and Tennessee are all SEC schools that have received visits from Cornwell and all three have a chance to end up in his final four, with non-SEC programs like UCLA, Virginia Tech, and possibly Michigan in the mix, though the Wolverines have not yet offered. The Hokies are set to receive a visit in the near future.
What hasn't been a secret in Cornwell's recruitment is that he has a strong affinity for the SEC.
"That's where a lot of the great players go, a lot of great talent down there in the SEC. It's tough to turn down all the schools down there," he said.
He was willing to talk extensively about Alabama, a school that looks like a perfect fit for his talents as a quarterback who can stretch the field vertically with his arm strength and make all the NFL throws.
"It's a great school. I'm really, really comfortable with those guys. It's a great option and I'm going to say this: If it does come down to it, it would be tough to say no to Alabama. It can be done, but it would be tough -- that school has everything."
"Nick Saban gets it going, has you working every day, and I think that's what it takes."
While some quarterbacks prefer to play in one of the fast-paced spread offenses that allow them to put up insane number, Cornwell has a nuanced understanding of how the Alabama attack is more than just a run-first offense that asks nothing more of a quarterback than to manage the game.
"It's good. It can be a game manager position, but you can take over the game. You watch AJ McCarron in the title game and it's not just a game manager. He made throws that some guys can't make. Watching him in practice, he can tear it up."
"In practice at Alabama, you're going against the best. Coach Saban's defensive mind is insane, but he also realizes that the quarterbacks have talent and spends time with them."
Cornwell brought up the national championship game against Notre Dame back in January himself and it seems that the offensive strategy in the game had an impact on him, as Saban and his offensive staff noticed some holes in the Irish defense and used the arm talent of McCarron to exploit them ruthlessly.
"It was good. Seeing those big tight ends go up and get the ball, the deep throws. They're not afraid to throw the ball," he pointed out.
"A lot of games they have big leads, so they just run to the ball to save their guys for the next week because it's a grind in the SEC. In the sense of a pro-style offense, it will get you ready for the NFL. Also, if guys leave, it's coach Saban's system, so you're still in it, still have the same stuff."
Cornwell is also trying to set up a visit to see his hometown Oklahoma Sooners, a visit he plans to make at some point during spring practice. He characterized the communication with the staff as occurring from "time to time," though the Sooners have yet to extend an offer to the massively talented signal-caller and could have trouble making up ground this late in the process even if they do decide to back off from their all-in strategy with fellow Oklahoma passer Justice Hansen.
The Oklahoma practice will be an important visit for Cornwell. As he noted, if you don't enjoy watching practice, how could you enjoy actually practicing at that school?
Some like to say that prospects coming out of high school should commit to a program instead of a coach. After all, in the transient world of college football, head coaches can come and go quickly.
For a prospect like Cornwell, who can choose a top program that has relatively more stability than at most places around the country, perhaps that consideration isn't as strong.
The Oklahoma native and one-time Florida resident was quick to say that the top priority for him in his recruitment is his relationship with the coaching staff, particularly the offensive coordinator, using the phrase "conjoined at the hip" to describe how close a player needs to be with his coaches.
Of course, the simple fact that it is so difficult to say no to Nick Saban could end up being the only thing that matters in the end.
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