Lorain County football players work hard for individual accolades such as All-Ohio recognition, the Golden Helmet award and Division I college scholarships.
But Avon’s Ross Douglas became the first area athlete to earn an invitation to The Opening — a four-day combine sponsored by Nike and run by ESPN that only the top 150 players in the nation are asked to attend.
“It’s a chance for the top guys to get an elevated experience to show off their abilities and their willingness to compete,” said Brian Stumpf, senior director of football events at ESPN High School. “The 150 guys will compete in a SPARQ national championship and the top 10 will advance to the finals where they will crown the nation’s top athlete.
“On the final two days of the event, the guys will be drafted onto 7-on-7 teams and compete in pool play and then in a bracket tournament.”
The event will take place July 5-8 at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. An athlete had to compete in a Nike combine or training camp to qualify for the event.
The SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) rating for the event uses four events — the 40-yard dash, the 20-yard shuttle run, the vertical jump and the kneeling powerball throw.
Douglas’ performance — 4.50 in the 40, 4.09 in the shuttle, 33.2 inches in the vertical and 35.5 in the powerball — gave him the No. 45 SPARQ rating in the nation at 107.07.
“I was completely in the zone,” Douglas said. “I was unsure how I was going to do going into the combine, but I was prepared and I went in there and balled out.”
Douglas was unable to compete at the closest Nike combine — in Massillon on March 17 — because he had a partially torn hamstring that needed more time to heal. So he traveled to New York City for the Nike combine on April 28 and won the event’s Top Performer Award.
“That was a great accolade,” he said. “That shows that all the hard work has paid off. I wasn’t 100 percent at the combine, so I know I can run even faster than those times.”
Douglas, who stands 5-feet-10 and weighs 181 pounds, was the starting running back and cornerback on an Avon Eagles team that advanced to the Division II state championship game last season. He ran 121 times for 670 yards — 5.5 yards per carry — and nine touchdowns, and caught five passes for 63 yards and a score. On defense, he had 20 tackles, six passes defensed and an interception.
Douglas’ performance earned him a spot on the All-Ohio third team after his junior season.
“I know we’re going to have a target on our back as a team, because we did well last year and we’ve won the (West Shore) conference the past few years,” Douglas said. “I don’t know what the (opposing) coaches are thinking, but if they do throw it my way I’m going to make them pay for it … I do know that.”
Defensive back is the position Douglas is competing in at The Opening, and it’s the position Penn State offered him a scholarship to play. Douglas had 15 Division I offers — including fellow Big Ten schools Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin — before choosing the Nittany Lions in February.
“A lot of people disappear after they commit,” Douglas said. “I think Penn State is happy they got me. I was a known quantity then, but not known like I am now. I hope they are saying, ‘We got him at the right time.’”
Nike will pay for Douglas’ flight to Oregon and his hotel during the event, and he said he’s heard from others that the company will provide “all types of equipment.”
The attendees will get top training and advice by some of the biggest names in the sport. In last year’s inaugural event, NFL stars like Jerry Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Ndamukong Suh, Patrick Peterson, Ray Rice and Dwayne Bowe coached participants in a variety of drills and competitions.
“I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations,” Douglas said of getting an invitation to the event. “People who attended it last year have told me that it’ll be the time of my life. So I’m pretty excited about it.”
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