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April 11, 2013
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
The Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour turned the corner this weekend and is more than halfway complete.
The stops at Hoover (Ala.) High just southwest of Birmingham and Marietta (Ga.) High due north of Atlanta were two of the most star-laden of the first eight locations. With all of the talent on the field, a position group that generally is overlooked in a camp setting took center stage.
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell was among the many evaluators who came away lauding the linebacker play at the two stops.
"Alabama and Georgia are the two most true representatives of what SEC country can produce at the linebacker position," Farrell said. "The players we saw this weekend were big, strong, fast and rangy.
"Florida and Louisiana will produce more long and lean players at the position -- guys who translate better to rush ends -- but the kids in Georgia and Alabama were stereotypes for what you see in the SEC."
Of those who stood out, three rose above the rest to earn invitations to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour.
Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan will return to the event that he participated in as a junior last year. He will be joined by Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's prospect Tre Williams and Montgomery (Ala.) Carver standout Shaun Dion Hamilton.
Each impressed analysts.
Rivals.com regional analyst Woody Wommack took particular notice of McMillan.
"Raekwon had a lot to prove and did a great job on the field," Wommack said. "He was initially a five-star, but we dropped him in the last evaluation because he was just getting too big. We didn't know if he would be able to play the position if he pushed past 250 or 260 pounds, but he came in looking great.
"He looked like he did when we first saw him -- that Patrick Willis-type player. He is a guy who can cover if needed but won't be mistaken for a lockdown corner or anything and loves to lay big hits."
What separated these players, according to Farrell, were their lower bodies and athleticism.
"They have such strong legs, and you can see they are working on being big but not bulky," Farrell said.
"Each of them could run, and with the raw ability to make plays they all would be considered high-ceiling players."
McMillan is ranked No. 16 in the Rivals100. Williams is just behind him at No. 35, and Hamilton is No. 173.
Farrell said Hamilton reminded him of former five-star player Reuben Foster. He expects all three to move up in the rankings.
The two camps were expected to be among the most impressive in the event circuit, and neither disappointed.
Wommack said the depth at other positions on the weekend was impressive but that the top-end talent at linebacker was his takeaway.
"There were more raw numbers in the secondary, but at the highest level it is hard not to notice what that group did," Wommack said. "When you consider that it is very hard for a linebacker to stand out and get noticed, we all were impressed by that group and that says something."
The Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour is a noncontact event, and many linebackers cannot showcase the tackling aspect of their game. That's a part that is most impactful for many of the players.
"When you are having to line up against 5-foot-10, 170-pound scatbacks and cover the whole field, it is tough," Wommack said. "Not being able to stuff the run or make a hit goes against all of the natural instincts of the position, so it is an automatic disadvantage."
Even players who did not earn invitations to the circuit-ending event turned the heads of the analysts.
Petera Wilson of Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven, Darius Smith, a 2015 prospect from Florence (Ala.) High, and Darrell Williams of host school Hoover (Ala.) High were named among the top 10 players from the Birmingham stop.
Marietta (Ga.) High linebacker Tyrell Tomlin nearly took home the MVP award for the linebackers in Atlanta. Barnesville (Ga.) Lamar County prospect Lawrence Austin, Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove, and class of 2015 player Robert Muschamp of Rome (Ga.) Darlington were linebackers named among the top 17 performers Sunday.
"As a whole, it was the story of the weekend," Farrell said. "The two states were so well represented at linebacker, and it wasn't just the guys who were known commodities; there were a lot of players who turned heads."
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