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December 15, 2001
With six backers ranked in the top 50 and two of the top three middle linebackers in the nation, the N.C./S.C. Shrine Bowl is shaping up to be a linebacking showcase.
The two players that everyone will be watching are Ricardo Hurley (Greenwood, S.C.) and A.J. Nicholson (Mount Tabor, N.C. pictured). Hurley and Nicholson are ranked No. 1 and No. 3 respectively in the Rivals100 rankings for middle linebackers. This tandem will provide enough highlights to fill any linebacking fan's needs, but I'm also going to throw the No. 16-ranked outside linebacker, Omar Gaither, into the headliners. After watching Gaither during drills, it's obvious that he's a step above a supporting role.
Two minutes into practice and it's obvious why Hurley is ranked No. 1 at his position and No. 17 overall. At 6-3, 235 pound, Hurley displayed cornerback speed along with keen awareness to make plays in the backfield time after time during drills. If a blocker is able to hustle into position, Hurley also has the strength to fend off or go through people. A new-age linebacker who combines size, speed and strength, Hurley has listed South Carolina as a slight leader over Tennessee, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Florida State. With visits to Georgia, Georgia Tech and Tennessee coming up in January, it's clear that the race for Hurley is just beginning to heat up.
Nicholson is as solid of a prospect that I've seen this year. With speed to match Hurley (although Hurley appeared quicker off the ball), a noticeable understanding of the position and a 6-2 frame which has room to expand, Nicholson will be a huge signing for one lucky college. That lucky college may well be the University of Texas. Nicholson visited the Longhorns back and mid-November and was still talking about it during practice. While on the sidelines, Nicholson gave fellow Shrine Bowl players A.J. Davis and Gaither an enthusiastic short speech on "How things are in Texas." Nicholson also confirmed Texas as his favorite, but said he will still take trips to Miami, Florida State, Tennessee and North Carolina or Georgia.
Gaither, an outside linebacker, shined during practice displaying the quickness and athleticism found in elite recruits. He looked muscular, but skinny at 6-2, 210 and has shoulders that could hold 20 more pounds easily. Gaither did not show any signs of backing off of his commitment to Tennessee.
The Supporting Cast
Patrick Lowery - At 6-2, 227 pounds, he is similar to Worsley in size and speed. Though Lowery's upside is not as blatant, he will still be a solid contributor in college. Lowery has offers Duke and East Carolina, but should get some looks from bigger schools after a productive senior season.
Lorenzo Pickett - Speaking of East Carolina, Pickett has already committed to the Pirates. The 6-2, 200 pound backer is a little raw, but could turn into an instant contributor. If East Carolina can get Lowery, the Pirates will have a solid foundation for the future of their linebacking corp.
Cory Groover - Another Clemson commit ranks 54 in the nation among outside linebackers. Groover has ravaged opposing backfields utilizing his 6-3, 240 size to stop plays head-on and used his 4.6 speed to chase down anything going the other way.
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