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April 25, 2013
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.
The two most recent stops on the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour came in the Midwest, a region that has been labeled as down for elite talent in the Class of 2014. However, it was those at the top of the rankings who excelled.
West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West played host for the Cincinnati event on Saturday, while Sunday's action took place at O'Fallon (Ill.) High, host of the St. Louis regional. Many of the top prospects showed up and played well.
It was the outstanding performances from players like Allen Lazard, Damon Webb, and Nilijah Ballew -- players who came in with expectations -- which became the headline from the weekend, according to Rivals.com regional analyst Josh Helmholdt.
"Not every camp do you have guys perform like you expect them to," Helmholdt said. "So, it was really good to see that the top guys chose to make the trip, compete, and then perform well.
"There are a small number of Midwest prospects in the Rivals100 -- and really even in the Rivals250 -- because it just isn't a great year across the region. However, there are some guys that we have seen that others haven't, and I think those guys came out and looked really good."
The headliner for the St. Louis camp was Lazard, who made the five-hour trip from Urbandale (Iowa) High to compete. Lazard is the highest ranked receiver in the country and No. 24 overall in the class rankings.
After measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 204 pounds, the Iowa State commit said that his goals for the camp were simple.
"I just want to get better as a player overall," Lazard said. "I get to see what my weaknesses are and see what I can improve on. I want to see what I can do against the best guys in the region."
In addition to impressing the team of analysts, Lazard also earned an invitation to the circuit-ending Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
"He looked like a monster," Helmholdt said of Lazard. "I think he reminded me a lot of (last year's top receiver) Laquon Treadwell."
Helmholdt also said that Lazard's size is reminiscent of the No. 1 overall player from the Class of 2012, Dorial Green-Beckham from Springfield (Mo.) Hillcrest.
The comparison to Treadwell also involved the timing of when his game began to click. Treadwell ended the recruiting process at No. 5 overall in the class rankings and went on to sign with Ole Miss.
"Quon took off at this time last summer and that is what I think can happen for Allen (Lazard)," Helmholdt said. "The question we had coming into the camp was how fast he was -- meaning how quickly he could get on top of the cornerback -- and he was really explosive. His slants and posts were things of beauty, and to see him catch the ball with his hands as well as be a high-point receiver makes him a unique talent."
The only other player to earn an invitation to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge was Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech cornerback -- and Ohio State commit -- Damon Webb.
Webb entered the weekend as the No. 32 prospect in the Rivals100 and the No. 6 prospect at his position.
"I'm hoping to show that I am one of the best corners in the country," he said. "I want to compete and get better."
Helmholdt came away impressed with Webb and compared him to former five-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
"I have seen Damon two dozen times in person and each time he performs," Helmholdt said. "This last time he was always in the receiver's hip pocket, never giving any room to operate. He has ideal size and can flip his hips. He did nothing but help his stock."
Identifying the physical attributes of Lazard and Webb's game was easy, but it was something often listed as an intangible that Helmholdt noted. The desire to compete is what he believes helps separate those that are good and those that can become great.
"The guys who go out and do these events are the ones that pan out because they are the competitors," Helmholdt said. "Guys who run and hide after committing will usually flame out.
"It will be interesting to see where the paths go from here, but showing up and showing willingness to compete and get better is usually an indicator of a player who is ready to do what it takes to reach his potential."
The third member of this talented trio, who also put on a show, was Ballew.
The four-star entered the weekend as the No. 22 ranked safety in the Class of 2014. He plays a position that is often difficult to draw the eyes of analysts.
"He exceeded expectations maybe more than anyone," Helmholdt said of Ballew. "He had a slow start to his recruiting process, so coming in we knew to expect a long, rangy safety, but he stood out in one-on-ones and that is hard to do.
"The camp setting doesn't set up well for a safety, but he was able to perform well in coverage. You could also tell he had been spending the spring in the weight room."
The next two events in the Rivals Camp Series move to the Atlantic East as Newark, N.J., and Pittsburgh take center stage. The circuit then wraps up with one final regional event in Chicago where Helmholdt hopes to be equally impressed.
"I was very pleased with the top guys living up to the expectations," he said. "I am always happy when guys live up to or exceed our expectations."