FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Dozens of coveted college football recruits gathered Sunday at New York Jets practice facilities for the annual installment of The Opening’s New Jersey regional camp. This event has featured several eventual Penn State standouts in the past, including running back Saquon Barkley, receiver Juwan Johnson and cornerback John Reid.
The Nittany Lions were represented by only one verbal commitment — quarterback Taquan Roberson — but a large array of targets competed throughout a long day of action. Land of 10 was live on site and will provide notable highlights from Sunday, including many conversations regarding recruitments, throughout the week ahead.
Based on what we saw and heard at this showcase event, here are five key takeaways from the experience.
Bryan Bresee looks the part of a No. 1 overall prospect
This is the kind of setting in which highly ranked prospects can be exposed, or validate the hype. Bryan Bresee, a defensive lineman from Damascus (Md.) High School, did the latter on Sunday. He overwhelmed older players during drills in the trenches, getting the better of a prized 2019 prospect during matchups in a “Final Five” showdown featuring coaches’ picks as top performers.
Bresee, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, is listed No. 1 overall in 247Sports 2020 rankings. You’ll get no argument here after what I witnessed in New Jersey.
He possesses a rare blend of finesse and power, displaying elite athleticism while approaching 290 pounds. Bresee presents excellent options for a collegiate coaching staff, as he’s capable of dominating in various roles across the defensive front.
Current Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Rashan Gary competed at this camp in a similar early spotlight his sophomore year, and a strong performance then helped solidify his status as a top-ranked recruit in the 2016 class. This felt somewhat similar.
“I thought [my performance] was pretty good going against some high-caliber dudes,” Bresee told Land of 10.
Notre Dame hosted Bresee last week and he holds nearly 30 scholarship offers midway through his high school career. Penn State is certainly in the mix here, while Georgia is set to receive a visit this spring. He attended the Nittany Lions’ 2017 victory over Michigan.
Penn State is in solid position with premier 2020 prospects, including in-state receiver Julian Fleming (No. 2 overall) and Cincinnati tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (No. 7 overall). Fleming likely would’ve competed Sunday but he is recovering from February surgery that repaired a torn labrum in his right hip.
New Nittany Lions target David Ojabo is very compelling
Expect plenty of Jayson Oweh comparisons for newly offered Penn State target David Ojabo. Like Oweh, an incoming Nittany Lions freshman defensive lineman and his teammate at Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.), Ojabo generated plenty of collegiate interest based off his first football season.
The 6-5, 240-pound Nigerian-born junior is approaching 30 offers. Penn State became the latest program to enter this pursuit Saturday, when Ojabo visited Happy Valley alongside Blair Academy coach Jim Saylor and a few teammates, including Oweh.
“He’s coming to Penn State,” Oweh said.
There is clearly still a learning curve in place for Ojabo, whose primary prep sports focus was previously basketball, but the raw talent is apparent. He used Sunday as an opportunity to make more strides in his progression.
“I was taken aback by the amount of talent here but I came here with a mindset of standing out, regardless of my experience,” Ojabo said. “I feel like I did that.”
It was no surprise to see he handled himself well in the testing portion of this event. Ojabo finished the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds and registered a 33.3-inch vertical leap.
It was a whirlwind weekend for the defensive lineman, who described it as “like a dream.” He’ll return to Happy Valley for the Blue-White Game and, although it’s still early in a recruiting process that will continue to expand, Penn State could be hard to beat here.
Penn State targets Antonio Alfano and Caedan Wallace battled
There was some really good action early in the day as defensive and offensive linemen went through 1-on-1 showdowns. The culmination of these reps provided a high point when defensive lineman Antonio Alfano and offensive lineman Caedan Wallace encountered each other.
Considered two of the top overall talents in New Jersey, both linemen landed Penn State offers as underclassmen. Now moving toward their senior seasons, these are marquee names to know as the Nittany Lions build a 2019 class.
Their matchup showcased the kind of physical attributes and competitive attitudes coaches covet. They even added an extra rep after Wallace wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of their first few battles. Alfano was especially emotional after gaining an advantage in the matchup.
“It was a great experience going against Antonio,” Wallace said. “I see us both as really good players, so that opportunity just sharpens the way I play. We both talked about it after the fact, and I think he feels the same way.”
— Todderick Hunt (@TodderickHunt) April 8, 2018
There is a chance these showdowns become a regular occurrence on the Penn State practice field.
Alfano visited State College on Thursday and considers the Nittany Lions a top contender. Wallace, a former high school teammate of Penn State defensive tackle Fred Hansard, estimates he’s been to campus eight times and will be back for the Blue-White Game.
The day ended for both with an invitation to The Opening finals, held in Dallas this summer.
Several Nittany Lions defensive back targets excelled in a deep group
Based on one man’s assessment of Sunday camp action, no position on the field featured more talent than a deep collection of defensive backs. We’ll keep the conversation here strictly to players with Penn State offers, which is easy to do since they were all over the place.
Nick Cross of DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) was outstanding. He made a few impressive plays in downfield coverage when tested and ran in the 4.4-range during 40-yard dash testing. I’ve heard Ohio State is in an enviable spot here but Penn State is in the picture and hosted Cross on campus last month.
Cross was the lone defensive back Sunday invited to The Opening finals.
Connecticut stars Tyler Rudolph and Marquis Wilson also competed, showing off their respective balanced skill sets. Both players plan to use an official visit to Penn State during the Blue-White Game weekend, then commit by mid-summer.
This group, along with a wide range of eventual Power 5 cornerbacks and safeties, presented a serious challenge for quarterbacks and receivers. Expect them to eventually influence game outcomes across the Big Ten and beyond.
Saquon Barkley is (to no one’s surprise) a great Penn State ambassador
Few tools are more important on the recruiting trail than a college football program’s alumni. The Nittany Lions have a proud history of producing NFL players, and running back Saquon Barkley will join that list later this month.
Barkley, a beloved do-it-all force at Penn State during his three-year career, is only weeks away from hearing his name called during the 2018 NFL Draft. It is widely expected he will be selected within the top 10 picks, potentially ending up in New Jersey if the Giants snag him at No. 2 overall.
He was front and center during drills Sunday, encouraging high school athletes who were clearly starstruck. The running back group included his younger brother, Ali Barkley, who is a sophomore at Whitehall (Pa.).
Barkley appeared to be having a blast during cat-and-mouse drills, challenging running backs and linebackers alike during the competition. It was only four years ago that Barkley himself was a participant at The Opening’s New Jersey regional, so this all had a full-circle vibe to it.
It’s clear Barkley’s success has made an impact on Penn State recruiting efforts, especially in the pursuit of premier running back prospects. He couldn’t walk far Sunday without receiving a photo request, which he happily obliged. In fact, I was asked by Nittany Lions tackle target Xavier Truss to snap a picture of him and the Nittany Lions legend.
Barkley won’t make his NFL debut for another five months but he is clearly already among America’s most popular football players. His eagerness to tout the Penn State brand is a plus.
— The Opening (@TheOpening) April 8, 2018