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May 30, 2013
MORE: Complete VTO coverage
The first of the VTO Sports Underclassmen series of combines starts this weekend with a two-session day on Saturday at Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek and then moving to the Athletic Performance Center in Raleigh, N.C., for two events on Sunday.
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.
This circuit is designed to showcase prospects from the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017 and will feature combine testing in the 40-yard-dash, pro shuttle, bench press and vertical jump as well as position training and skill development.
Top performers from each location will receive an invitation to the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge presented by Under Armour which will be held at DeSoto (Texas) High on Sunday, July 7.
Odis Lloyd, the co-founder of VTO Sports, said the 10 scheduled events will give a chance at increased exposure to many players around the country.
"This is all about opportunity," he said. "There are so many talented kids in the Southeast and in this region that this is another chance to been seen.
"The events are designed to showcase skills, test physical ability and perform in competition against other talented players."
According to Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell, Lloyd and his partners Terence Lawshe and Vincent Jacobs have been paramount in the discovery of talent in the Carolinas.
Farrell said that there is no coincidence that when the Charlotte-based VTO Sports became a major player in the camp and combine industry, that there were more kids coming out of the area.
"Charlotte has been one of the fastest-growing markets for talent over the last five years and I believe VTO has had a lot to do with that," Farrell said. "There are a lot of good schools producing players but those guys started showcasing it.
"It is only fitting for this series of combines to start in Charlotte and I am sure there will be a lot of talent on the fields."
The early indication is that the young athletes in the area are not missing a chance to be seen.
Class of 2015 defensive back prospects Amari Henderson and Nafees Lyon of Mallard Creek will try to slow down Matthews (N.C.) Butler dual-threat quarterback Anthony Ratliff and Charlotte (N.C.) West Mecklenburg wide receiver Van Smith.
Ratliff and Smith are two of the most decorated players expected to be in attendance.
The 6-foot, 182-pound Ratliff already holds offers from Clemson and Toledo, without much more than mop-up time at his high school. He is following a line of Butler quarterbacks to go to major Division I programs, as Jacob Charest signed with Illinois in the Class of 2008, Class of 2011 Georgia signee Christian LeMay followed him and this past season's starting quarterback Riley Ferguson elected to sign with Tennessee.
Smith is a versatile athlete who has played safety, linebacker, running back and receiver for his high school team. He has offers from Clemson, Duke, Kansas State, Penn State, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest.
Smith rushed 160 times for 1,114 yards and scored 12 touchdowns and added four interceptions on defense. Most impressively, he has a 4.3 grade point average and is expected to run a 4.5 in the 40-yard-dash.
Lloyd said that the players who earn an invite to the Rivals Underclassmen event will have to do more than just run fast.
The history that Lloyd has on the football field makes him qualified to spot talent. He was a captain for the 1988 Arkansas Razorbacks football team that went 10-2 and won the Southwest Conference title. He was given the Gordon Campbell Award as a senior and led the team in pass breakups as a junior.
"You must have flash," he said, "but we aren't going to just be sending the players with the top times to Texas -- that isn't what these camps are about and it isn't what the national event is about. You will need to test well in the 40 and the shuttle, but you have to be in the top of your group in drills and you have to be coachable.
"If kids go through a drill and get it wrong the first time, it is no big deal because they will receive instruction but if they don't take what they have been taught and adjust, it will be noticed."
Farrell said that the timing of these events will give underclassmen dedicated attention.
"This is starting right on the heels of normal camp season," he said. "I think that will benefit some of the younger guys because the rising seniors won't be involved. This will make it so players who aren't finished products won't be overshadowed and they can prove themselves against (similar) competition.
"If you can go out and run a really impressive 40, that will get you noticed and for a player that may be too young to be in contact with or not yet on anyone's radar, it pay immediate dividends."
Those who do shine and play their way to an invitation to Rivals Underclassmen Challenge will have had to earn it.
"Lineman do not run the best 40s and guys with short arms can throw up a lot of weight on bench, so those things do not tell a full story," Lloyd said. "If guys are testing warriors, that is only one component and we want complete packages to come out of each stop. Each kid will have a fair chance to showcase himself and that is the bottom line.
"This is all about opportunity. Who can make the most of it will be seen on the field."
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