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March 14, 2013

Rivals Camp Series: Arizona holds its own


MORE: Rivals Camp Series coverage

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.

It looked like a mismatch going in.

But following the first two stops of the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour -- one at Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, and the other at Lake Forest (Calif.) El Toro -- the consensus was Arizona had a representative showing.

Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell attended both camps and came away impressed with Arizona talent.

"This is the best year in Arizona I can ever remember," Farrell said. "The quantity of players in California will always be higher between the two, but at the top end it is a down year in California. To be having this conversation is good for (Arizona)."

Some of the standouts in Arizona were already known commodities.

Host-school offensive lineman Casey Tucker stood out and earned an invitation to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge. His teammate, Qualen Cunningham, showed that he was over his injury, dominating the defensive line group and taking home the position group MVP.

Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain quarterback Kyle Allen was among the best at his position between both venues. Natrell Curtis of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe dominated on the offensive line, grinding opponents into the ground.

And while he sat out with an injury, Jalen Brown of Mountain Pointe was also in attendance -- he had showcased his skills in recent Las Vegas 7-on-7 tournament - and like Curtis received an invitation to the national showcase at the end of the camp series.

Rivals.com regional analyst Rob Cassidy -- who has Arizona as one of his primary assignments and also attended both events -- said he would feel confident in putting the two states' best on the same field.

"It is undeniable that Arizona is comparable, if not better at the top end," he said. "If we went 11-on-11, I think Arizona may win that game.

"It is really a break from years past, when it was just assumed that California would dominate across the board."

Cassidy added that in the past, he would only feel good about lining up the top seven or eight in Arizona against California but this year it is very different.

[ RELATED: Five things we learned at Rivals Camp Series Phoenix]

"There are kids in Arizona that are being overlooked and that usually doesn't happen," he said. "[Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton center] Bryce Holland was out there this weekend and dominated. He has one offer [from Army]. He was awesome."

Adam Gorney, who also covers the West for Rivals.com but is primarily responsible for California, agreed with the assessment.

"It is a combination of California being a little down and Arizona having one of its best years in its history," he said. "If there were a California versus Arizona All-Star game, I am not sure who would win."

Gorney called out several of the players from Arizona as the best from the group he saw on the weekend.

"I thought Kyle Allen was the best quarterback out there," he said. "Natrell Curtis and Casey Tucker were better than any offensive linemen in the state of California that I have seen."

With five players inside the Rivals100, it is a banner year for Arizona but it is still not numerically superior to California, which boasts seven members of the elite level.

The linemen may have stolen the show in Arizona but the skill players raised the bar in California.

"The offensive line group on Saturday was perhaps the strongest overall," Farrell said. "It was clear on Sunday that California still had a major advantage among the skill players.

"That was my big takeaway from the camp on Sunday was that there are a lot of young, talented kids coming up in the Class of 2015 from California."

The Class of 2014 earned its place at the table as four skill players earned an invitation to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge.

Running back Joe Mixon of Oakley (Calif.) Freedom claimed the camp MVP award in California and a trip to the national event. He entered the No. 82 player in the Rivals100 and could push his way higher.

El Cerrito (Calif.) High linebacker Derik Calhoun became the first linebacker to earn an invitation while his teammate Adarius Pickett joined Fresno (Calif.) Central East cornerback Michiah Quick as cornerback invites.

Gorney said that the pair stood out.

"Pickett was the best cornerback I saw this weekend," he said. "And Quick has shown that he can play with anyone in the country."

The first set of events has raised the bar for the remainer of the Rivals Camp Series. It has also drawn a line in the sand between the states.

"As far as high end talent in 2014, Arizona holds its own," Farrell said. "Everyone saw it this weekend."



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