ATLANTA – The Rivals Underclassmen Challenge was held here Friday and there were a lot of memorable performances in this edition of the Gorney Awards:
YOUNG GUN: Jaden O’Neal
It’s hard to believe O’Neal is not even in high school because the 2026 prospect is so advanced physically and from a skill perspective. Recently transferring into Los Alamitos, Calif., to back up USC five-star commit Malachi Nelson next season, O’Neal looks ready to go with a live arm, great accuracy, confidence and all the tools to be special over the coming years. California is quarterback country and O’Neal is lining up to be one of the next great ones.
BUZZWORTHY: Winston Watkins
Not only was the 2025 receiver super explosive throughout his routes and more dynamic than most anybody at the event, the Texas A&M commit was also seen wearing Clemson gloves. After a recent visit, that got some antennas up but the word is a recent offer from Ohio State might be even more intriguing at this point if any team can flip him from the Aggies. Both with his attire and with his performance, Watkins had people talking.
BODYGUARD: Jonathan Daniels
Daniels was impressive at the New Orleans regional camp and then stepped it up even more at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge by winning reps inside and outside, using great footwork to dominate defensive linemen and consistently frustrating people with excellent hands. The 2024 offensive guard has great skills and is a physical presence who has seen his recruitment take off recently – and for good reason.
YOUNG BUCK: Douglas Utu
The Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman offensive lineman had some travel issues getting to Atlanta and defensive linemen probably wish he would’ve turned around and gone back home. The 2025 prospect is so technically sound and so strong for someone so young that he has a really high ceiling as someone who could play inside or outside. With his dominant performance, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was in the 2023 class.
TOUGH GUY: Sammy Brown
Brown did not come to the Underclassmen Challenge to sit around. He ran in the Fastest 40 competition and surprisingly won his heat before getting edged in the final. Then the 2024 four-star linebacker from Jefferson, Ga., went to the bench press competition where he pumped out 15 reps, more than some offensive and defensive linemen. Then he won the King of the Hill award for a linebacker in blitz packages. Brown came to compete and he won a lot and deserves recognition for it.
THE COVER UP: Earl Kulp
Khristian Dunbar-Hawkins was so good at defensive back that he had to win the position MVP there but Kulp was not that far behind. What stood out so much about the 2024 cornerback from Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas was his ability to shadow receivers, his length to poke away passes and he never got fooled by any receivers trying to pull double or triple moves. Kulp is already No. 140 in the 2024 class but he could move even higher after this performance.
DOG FACTOR: Jordan Anderson
Anderson wanted every rep he could possibly take. He was talking it up with the quarterbacks to set up routes. He was yapping with the cornerbacks when he created some space. The Long Beach (Calif.) Millikan standout always loves to compete, is a regular on the camp and 7-on-7 circuit and even after commenting about the Atlanta heat, Anderson did not stop taking – and winning – reps.
SLEEPER ALERT: Kyan Berry-Johnson
Houston and UConn are the only two offers so far for Berry-Johnson but after his performance at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge there’s no doubt he’s a Power Five player who should easily have double-digit offers. The 2024 receiver from Bolingbrook, Ill., had arguably the catch of the day on a whirling one-handed grab while falling down that caught everybody by surprise but all day he was consistently making plays and showing off his skills.
MATCHUP NIGHTMARE: Ronnie Royal
Listed as a running back for now, Royal basically worked out as a slot receiver and was right there in the running for the position MVP award. The 2024 four-star from Gulf Shores, Ala., burned defenders deep routinely and even made numerous catches after getting a nasty turf burn earlier in the camp. Royal is being recruited as a running back and as a receiver by some schools and the four-star showed off all those abilities as linebackers and defensive backs had no answers.
STICK ‘EM: Bear Tenney
If Berry-Johnson had the catch of the day then Tenney had the second-best grab with a fingertip grab in the back of the end zone. The ball was overthrown for sure but Tenney kicked into a higher gear and then grabbed the ball in impressive fashion as people around him took notice. The 2025 tight end from Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton already has special physical tools and showed off phenomenal hands all camp. A recent offer from Georgia is definitely big.
PHYSICAL PROWESS: Eddy Pierre-Louis
He dominated 1-on-1 reps playing center and that was impressive but even more eye-opening was his 26 reps on the bench press as Pierre-Louis established himself as one of the best and strongest offensive linemen in the 2024 class. Here’s how impressive that performance is: If Pierre-Louis was at the NFL Combine this year, he would have been tied for seventh-most bench press reps among offensive linemen. That’s incredible strength for someone entering his junior year of high school.