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Gorman: McKenzie, Nicholson draw 'The Opening' invite

| Saturday, June 8, 2013, 10:27 p.m.

When Shai McKenzie was left off the ESPN150 recruiting rankings, Washington coach Mike Bosnic wondered what it would take for his tailback to improve his stock.

Bosnic asked ESPN regional recruiting analyst Jared Shanker for advice, and Shanker suggested there “would be a lot of eyeballs” at the Nike Football Training Camp in Columbus, Ohio.

Gateway receiver-safety Montae Nicholson also went to Ohio State last Sunday in an effort to improve his national ranking.

McKenzie and Nicholson left with all-expenses-paid invitations to the third annual “The Opening,” a camp for national top-150 prospects from June 30 to July 3 at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. And they did it the old-fashioned way.

“It's a pretty select few,” Shanker said. “As far as the national profile goes, for someone who follows recruiting it will immediately get their attention because it's an elite camp.

“It will give them a really good shot to boost their ranking. If a guy does really well there, you have no choice but to move him up a little bit.”

Nicholson, who already has offers from schools such as Oregon and Stanford, is being recruited mostly as a safety but won Most Valuable Player honors at wide receiver at the Nike camp in Columbus.

“He was impressive,” Shanker said. “If you look at the list of guys there, wide receiver and defensive back were the two strongest positions. He caught two touchdowns in one-on-ones or seven-on-sevens. The few times I watched him as a defensive back, he didn't have the ball thrown his way but still showed the range.”

McKenzie was so impressive that he was regarded as the second-best back at the camp, behind only Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn., a Tennessee recruit. McKenzie shined in pass-blocking drills, using his strength to pancake a pair of linebackers.

“Any time an offensive player does well in those, it's worth noting,” Shanker said.

Shanker also said he saw McKenzie catch a pass out of the backfield and stiff-arm a defender.

What's most impressive about McKenzie and Nicholson is that they missed most of the camp circuit because of track and field, yet were willing to go to a regional camp and compete.

Clairton's Tyler Boyd did the same thing last summer, in an effort to try to earn a fifth star from recruiting services. It didn't propel him to a top-150 ranking but raised his national profile.

McKenzie and Nicholson should be thrilled to have a chance at “The Opening” to close their case for top-150 status.

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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