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February 14, 2012

Midwest Elite Big Man: What we learned

BEST OF MIDWEST: Top performers

WIXOM, Mich. -Despite being held at 8 a.m. Sunday morning, the Midwest Elite Big Man Camp attracted a large gathering of the top offensive and defensive line talent in the Midwest.

Players went through warm-ups and position-specific drills, but the bulk of the camp - more than 90 minutes worth - went to one-on-one, two-on-one and three-on-two repetitions, giving the nearly 200 prospects in attendance plenty of opportunities to showcase their skills.

Several prospects already familiar to recruiting observers were in attendance, but several unfamiliar linemen also made names for themselves during the four-hour event. Here is a look at what we learned from Sunday's Big Man showcase.

1. McDowell leads the way in 2014

In a year when nearly every state in the Midwest boasts an above average talent pool, the state of Michigan is the one exception with a slightly below average crop in 2013.

Early indications suggest the Great Lakes State will bounce back in a big way in 2014 with Sturgis quarterback Chance Stewart, Grand Rapids Christian wide receiver Drake Harris, Farmington Hills Harrison running back Lorenzo Collins and Detroit Cass Tech wide receiver Damon Webb already serving notice that they are major talents.

The headliner of Michigan's 2014 class, however, very well may be Detroit Loyola defensive end Malik McDowell. At 6-6 and 260 pounds, McDowell dominated Sunday's Midwest Elite Big Man Camp with uncanny speed and agility for a player his size and age. He was faster, stronger and more athletic than nearly every player in attendance, but is nowhere near reaching his potential.

As a junior, McDowell did earn first-team all-state honors in Division 7-8, but he spent a lot of time at the offensive tackle position. His off-seasons are spent on a basketball court, not in a weight room, and that shows as well. Although proportioned well and adequately thick, McDowell does not have the muscle definition of year-round football player. That means he is nowhere near his ceiling, and considering how good he is already, that fact is remarkable.

Like Harris, McDowell is also considered a potential college prospect on the basketball court (though not to the level of Harris, a four-star hoops recruit who already holds offers from Michigan State and Indiana). Football, however, appears to be his route to the college ranks because 6-6, 260 is great size for a defensive end, but not so much for a post player.

Time on the court has no doubt helped develop McDowell's footwork and overall athleticism - traits he displayed in bulk on Sunday.

After talking with the emerging 2014 star, it is obvious he has little idea what is in store for him in the next 24 months before he is able to sign his letter of intent. McDowell is a confident, yet wide-eyed young man who is about to be the focus on a major recruiting battle.

2. Athletic Midwest defensive ends

Tall, athletic defensive ends are more prominent in the Southeast than the Midwest in most classes, but Sunday's Big Man Camp revealed there are several Midwest prospects fitting that mold in the classes of 2013 and 2014.

McDowell, the 6-6, 260-pound sophomore out of Detroit, was not even the biggest defensive end at Sunday's camp. Brishaun Horne of Evansville (Ind.) F.J. Reitz checked in at 6-7 and 263 pounds and showed excellent athleticism in his own right. A 2013 prospect, Horne is still under-the-radar of college coaches, but should draw some attention when the summer camp scene hits.

One of the fastest defensive ends in attendance on Sunday was Brecksville (Ohio) Broadview Heights' Mike Tyler. Listed at 6-5 and 215 pounds, Tyler said he is really focused on adding muscle mass this off-season, but his speed off the edge is sure to attract some attention. He was blowing by all but the most fleet-footed offensive tackles at Sunday's camp.

As the day went on, another rangy defensive end started to make his mark on the camp. 6-6, 275-pound Jalen Thomas played mostly offensive tackle as a junior at Troy (Mich.) Athens, but he lined up at defensive end for Sunday's Big Man Camp and showed potential from that position.

Not all of the top performing defensive ends were in the 6-5 and above range. Shelby (Ohio) pass rusher Dylan Bailey, a 6-4, 230-pounder, is coming off a 58-tackle, five-sack junior campaign. He was a high motor kid who eventually had to play in his undershirt because his combine shirt was ripped off from grappling with offensive linemen. Bailey has speed off the edge and decent strength, though he could easily add bulk to his frame.

Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar's Jarrod Clements was one of the top overall performers of the day. He said his weight is at 260, but he looked closer to 240 with an athletic build.

St. John (Ind.) Lake Central sophomore Gelen Robinson is the son of former Purdue basketball great Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, but does not yet have his father's height. At just over 6-foot he is likely headed for the linebacker position in college, but perhaps those genetics kick in over the next couple years and he grows an additional few inches. As it is, he looks nothing like a basketball player with broad shoulders and a thick frame. He displayed outstanding athleticism and will be a player to watch in the 2014 class.

Most of the defensive ends we saw Sunday were unheralded coming into the camp, but there is plenty of substance in this group that several should emerge as strong Division I prospects in the coming months.

3. Elmer not afraid to compete

Over the years we have seen a number of highly ranked prospects hunker down and never leave their own city limits after making a commitment. On one hand, they already have their college future lined up and do not need to compete for offers any longer. On the other, they are not challenging themselves by competing against the best.

Midland (Mich.) four-star offensive tackle Steve Elmer not only has already made a commitment to Notre Dame, but he also has already been ranked as the No. 49 player in the country and recently was selected to the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

With more than a year left before his high school graduation, Elmer has achieved almost everything a top-flight high school player can off the field, but what he doesn't have is a state championship ring and what he doesn't assume is that anything will be handed to him in college just because he was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school.

Elmer's father said they were in Wixom on Sunday to get the four-star prospect as many reps as they can against top talent. He was tested repeatedly by a strong group of defensive linemen Sunday, led by Detroit Cass Tech defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs and Detroit Loyola defensive end Malik McDowell.

Elmer's off-season work continues next week when he plans to head down to the Best of the Midwest combine in Indianapolis, an event that should also draw a number of the Midwest's top prospects in the 2013 and 2014 classes.

Players who continually show the willingness to test themselves against the best, even after they have made their college commitments, tend to pan out at a higher rate than those who hide from competition as the process progresses. Elmer's effort should warm the hearts of Notre Dame fans, who are set to reap the benefits of his hard work.



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