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July 11, 2012
Dallas Jackson is the High School Football analyst for Rivals.com. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
DeSOTO, Texas -- Following a grueling five hours in the sweltering heat, nearly 200 of the best underclassmen high school football players walked off the field at DeSoto (Texas) High with a better knowledge of where they stood.
The Rivals 100 Underclassmen Challenge was deemed an overwhelming success and Claude Mathis was proud to be a part of the one-day, fast-paced, event.
Mathis is the head coach at DeSoto, and having his school being the epicenter of the largest collection of talent for the Classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 was special.
"We felt blessed just to be asked let alone be involved in such a major event," he said. "When I took this idea to my administrator (Pam DeBorde), she immediately gave it the green light.
"She is amazing that way, but it is like that from top to bottom in our community. The kids are committed the same way their parents are and the same way our administration is."
Rivals.com Southwest Regional analyst Brian Perroni agreed.
Perroni, who lives in Houston, said that the level of passion for football in Texas is unmatched nationally and it is something that helped make the event special -- not just for the Texas players, but those who traveled from other states to be at the inaugural Underclassmen Challenge.
"Football in the state of Texas is a completely different experience than anywhere else," Perroni said. "I think the kids from out of state were able to see that firsthand at DeSoto. You have a stadium that seats 10,000 people with field turf and, to folks in Texas, that's sort of run-of-the-mill stuff. In fact, the DeSoto folks were replacing the turf the next day because they thought it was too old. I think it was a good snapshot for those outside the state to see what the 'Friday Night Lights' experience was all about."
Competing in the event were nine players from DeSoto.
Desmon White, a 5-feet-6 146-pound rising junior quarterback, said that mixing in his teammates with the best from around the country was an opportunity he may not have had if the event wasn't held at his home stadium.
"I think we are lucky to have been able to get out there for this event," he said. "Coach Mathis is always pushing us to work hard and he works hard for us. Getting this to be held here, at our stadium, was great."
Mathis believes that all nine of his players he asked to compete will be receiving Div. I offers.
Perroni takes it a step further and believes that all off the players who were on the field will be considered for Div. I offers.
"The camp had around 190 players in attendance and almost all, if not all, will be BCS-level prospects," he said. "The defensive back and wide receiver groups were incredibly deep and, when we do rankings next year, you will see that a ton of four-star prospects were there at those positions. The offensive line group was also really strong and you had a kid from Nebraska in D.J. Foster come in and dominate."
Perroni also gave Mathis credit for changing the culture of the school.
"Mathis came from Austin LBJ a few years back and, while DeSoto has always had athlete like Von Miller and Cyrus Gray, he turned them into a football powerhouse," he said. "DeSoto now regularly makes deep runs in the Class 5A playoffs and is always a Top 10 team in the state. Kids that just played basketball or track before now want to come out and play football."
Running the event for Rivals.com was its camp partner, VTO Sports. Perroni credits the team assembled for the success, adding that the event allowed many players to shine as well as pushing some participants' backs against the wall.
"The camp was incredibly well-run and I think it gave kids a dose of college ball when they started off with agility work and were run ragged by the VTO coaches," Perroni said. "I think some of them expected to come in, showcase themselves for a few reps and bask in the glory. That was not the case as they had to put in a ton of work. Just like at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge (in Atlanta), it was a wakeup call to some of these kids and they definitely appreciated it when the camp was over."
White was among those who felt like much was gained.
"I had to work hard out there," he said. "It was a great experience to line up next to guys and see what they did right and did wrong. I will definitely be taking some things and adding them to my game."
The extra coaching that his players received was another part of the reason why Mathis wanted this event on his campus.
"All of the kids that were invited have upside," he said. "Some need to be pushed harder than others and some needed to see where they are and are not in the process. We can only do so much by ourselves, but having players from all over, as well as coaches from all over, gave these guys a taste of what will be expected from them and what they need to work on."
As each player, coach and analyst took away something different from the Rivals 100 Underclassmen Challenge, Perroni added that the true measure will not be known until these players come through their graduating class.
"It was a great experience overall," he said. "It will be fun to look back at it in two years and just marvel at all the big-time signees that were in attendance."
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