BEAVERTON, Oregon — It comes as little surprise to see Alabama as one of the main programs represented with a number of talented prospects participating in The Opening.
Seven members of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 class were on hand—led by 5-star running back and the nation’s top overall prospect, Najee Harris.
Four-star quarterback commit Tua Tagovailoa was one of a handful of passers competing for the coveted Elite 11 MVP award, while Harris and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood were fighting to prove their status as elite prospects at their respective positions.
Additionally, a handful of uncommitted prospects who have heavy interest in potentially playing for Tide head coach Nick Saban were on hand.
What were the biggest takeaways for Tide fans from the event?
Let’s take a look at a few of them here.
Tagovailoa Captures Elite 11 MVP
No quarterback entered The Opening with as much momentum than Tagovailoa.
The Alabama commit was impressive at the Elite 11 last month, and he carried his stellar play over to the big stage in Oregon—capturing the Elite 11 MVP in the process.
He’s the second Tide pledge in the last three years to capture the award, joining current Tide passer Blake Barnett, who won it in 2014.
The 6’1”, 215-pounder gushed over his experience at the event and noted the benefits of learning pro-style concepts from the Elite 11 coaching staff.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to become a quarterback. [Elite 11 head] Coach [Trent] Dilfer always says that when you come into this process into Elite 11, you are just someone who throws the ball,” Tagovailoa said. “You are not a quarterback because you don’t know what it takes to be a quarterback. Your reads and what you need to watch on film, it’s all about the details of the position.”
Tagovailoa steadily improved as the tournament went on and found a rhythm playing on Team Vapor Speed—which happened to be loaded with a number of his future teammates.
“[Winning MVP] means a lot,” Tagovailoa told Bleacher Report. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience as well as journey. Being able to get the MVP, all glory goes to God with that. It was a team effort, and it couldn’t have been done if the receivers didn’t catch passes and the defense didn’t get us the ball back.”
Another highlight of the event for him was hanging out with five of his future teammates.
“It’s been a blessing throughout the whole process being able to compete and be with the guys that you are going to be with for the next four years of your life. It gives you security,” Tagovailoa said. “These guys are so big and athletic. To have a guy like Alex blocking for you, it makes things so much easier. Having Najee in the backfield—he’s a great pass-blocker who can run and catch—it makes our backfield so dangerous.”
Harris Cements No. 1 Spot
Harris entered the week with a target on his back considering he’s the top overall prospect in the country.
Another dominant showing makes it highly unlikely he will relinquish that spot.
Harris said he’s spent a good chunk of his offseason studying some of the greatest rushers to ever play the game.
“I look at everybody,” Harris told Bleacher Report. “I look at Adrian Peterson, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Jim Brown. From old school to new school. Guys like Marcus Dupree to the guys now. All of those running backs I named, they are all different. You take a guy like Adrian Peterson, he’s so fast out of his cuts and he’s very elusive. Same thing with Barry Sanders. Walter Payton had vision. I just try to take those small details and put it into my game.”
While Harris said he hasn’t completely shut down his recruitment, he did note that he enjoyed bonding with the contingent of Tide commits he hung out with during the week.
“We are all turned up,” Harris said. “I like all of those guys, man. We just love to compete, and we are all good.”
In particular, his bond with one fellow Tide pledge stands out.
“My relationship with Tua, it’s amazing, actually,” Harris said. “He’s actually teaching me about other stuff not related to football. Tua is really somebody important to me.”
He will now turn his focus to his senior season at Antioch High School in California—where he’s rushed for more than 5,000 yards and 59 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
Even with all that he’s accomplished to this point in his career, don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.
“I just don’t want to be satisfied with my game,” Harris said. “I’m always wanting to work on my game and just keep trying to improve.”
With seven of the nation’s top 10 offensive tackles present for the competition this week, there was plenty of room for players in that group to make a statement and compete to rise in the rankings.
One player who relished that challenge and performed well throughout the week was 5-star Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood.
The nation’s No. 5 offensive tackle and the No. 20 player overall in the 2017 cycle was dominant and earned a spot among the final five in the offensive line group.
He spoke on his play and his main goals for the week competing against the nation’s top defensive linemen.
“[I want to focus on] polishing up my technique and just being a sponge,” Leatherwood said. “I want to absorb all I can and apply it to my game to be a better athlete. I just want to learn to compete and be coachable. I just want to take everything in and learn from the outstanding coaches they have here for us.”
If that wasn’t enough, the 6’6”, 315-pounder also spearheaded a group of Crimson Tide commits who defeated all comers in a tug-of-war competition following Friday’s practice.
His play throughout the week made a case for him to be rated as the nation’s top offensive tackle in the 2017 cycle.
He did note that he plans to still take some unofficial visits, but he’s firm to the Tide at the moment.
In fact, while he wasn’t dominating the action in the trenches, he was actively trying to help grow the Tide’s 2017 class.
“There’s a lot of dudes I’m trying to recruit to join us,” he said. “Trey Smith, Cesar Ruiz and Nico Collins and a bunch of other guys I’m trying to get to join the Tide.”
He also enjoyed bonding with the other players in the Tide’s class who were on hand to compete with him during the week.
“We have a great group of dudes,” Leatherwood said. “They are great athletes, but more important than that, they are great kids with great personalities, and they are great guys to be around.”
WR Board Coming into Focus
Alabama is looking to sign potentially three or four wide receivers in the 2017 cycle.
The Tide only have one pure receiver currently committed in 4-star Tyrell Shavers.
The 6’6”, 202-pound Texas native pledged to Saban and his staff less than a month ago. Still, he insists his recruitment is done.
“It’s definitely over,” Shavers said. “I’m only going to take my official visit to Alabama.”
Also an accomplished baseball player, Shavers—who is an outfielder and pitcher on the diamond—said he hopes to play both sports while he’s in Tuscaloosa.
“Yes, I do [want to play baseball],” Shavers said. “The last [baseball coach] got fired, but they just got a new [baseball coach]. I’m going to talk to him soon.”
Additionally, the Tide are involved with a handful of talented pass-catchers such as 4-stars Devonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy and Omar Manning.
For his part, Tagovailoa is actively recruiting Jeudy after the two connected early and often during Vapor Speed’s run to the tournament title.
“[Jeudy is] awesome,” Tagovailoa said. “That relationship couldn’t have started if I didn’t feed him the ball or if the coaches didn’t call plays for him.”
However, Smith may be the first of that group to make his choice since he’s scheduled to announce on Aug. 15.
While schools such as LSU are courting him, Smith admits the Tide are pushing hardest for his services—including the pitches he gets from his peers.
“It’s mainly the Alabama guys who are coming after me the hardest,” Smith said. “VanDarius Cowan, he really comes after me hard. So does Alex Leatherwood.”
The 6’1”, 160-pounder also said one current Tide standout and another former Tide great are among the receivers he’s been studying on film in the offseason.
“Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones,” Smith said. “I’ve been really looking into their games and trying to pick things I can use in my game.”
With Shavers solidly in the fold and the Tide appearing to be in good shape with Smith, the Alabama’s receiver class is shaping up to be another stellar group headed to Tuscaloosa.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
Read more Alabama Crimson Tide Football news on BleacherReport.com