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May 9, 2006

Kansas City combine features top talent

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Lawrence (Kan.) Free State tight end/defensive Christian Ballard came into Monday's Greater Kansas City Football Combine with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to show the more than 50 college coaches there from all over the country that he was one of the nation's top players.

Point proved.

Out of the 250 players at the camp, Ballard attracted the most attention from the college coaches after he measured in at 6-foot-4 and 279 pounds and ran a 4.75-second time in the 40-yard dash. He had a 28-inch vertical leap and a 9 foot, 2 inch standing broad jump.

He then carried out his camp domination in the one-on-ones and 7-on-7 drills with some amazing catches. Anybody that challenged Ballard ended up getting defeated and by the time the camp was done it was pretty clear that he had cemented up a spot as the Sunflower State's top prospect.

"I definitely wanted to prove that I was No. 1 in the state, but I also wanted to make a statement that I'm No. 1 in the Midwest, the West and in the nation," Ballard said after the combine. "My goal was to always be in the Rivals100, but I don't know if anybody really knows about me. Lawrence, Kan., isn't a hot spot for top recruits. I hope I changed some things and get a couple looks from big-time schools.

"I saw Notre Dame here, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Michigan State out here and they were looking me over. I just want to get my name out there even more."

Ballard's name is already well known to local schools.

He is a soft Kansas commitment and he also has offers from Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin. All of those schools were there on Monday, including Oklahoma, so don't be surprised if other national programs enter the fray as he continues to send highlight tapes out all over the nation.

"In the one-on-ones I did pretty good and then in 7-on-7 I made a few good plays," Ballard said. "I think I definitely proved that I can run around as well as any guy that is 220, 225 pounds. It was a good day overall for me. I definitely proved a point to everybody out there."

But Ballard wasn't the only player that caught the eye of college coaches. This was only the second year for the combine and there were a group of about 10-15 guys that could get Division I looks from schools.

"I came up here and wasn't expecting anybody to be really that good, but there was guy after guy," Ballard said. "There were some big kids, some fast kids and some skill guys that could really play."

One of the players that had college coaches drooling was Kansas City (Mo.) Central offensive lineman Donald Stephenson. He measured in at 6-foot-4 and 282 pounds, had a 32 inch vertical leap, a wingspan of 83 inches and a standing broad jump of 8-feet, 10 inches.

Stephenson had to leave the combine early and didn't complete his testing or the one-on-ones, which definitely disappointed several schools that came to see him work out. But there is no question that Stephenson passed the eyeball test.

Back on the Kansas side of things, Overland Park (Kan.) Shawnee Mission West linebacker/quarterback Blake Lawrence showed why he's in the running for one of the top spots in the Sunflower State. He worked out at both quarterback and linebacker and was equally impressive at both spots. Overland Park (Kan.) St. Thomas Aquinas linebacker Brian Smith also had a nice day.

"It was fun to come out here and compete," Lawrence said.

"A lot of people don't appreciate how good the talent in Kansas and Missouri is. I think a lot of coaches were surprised at what they saw today. I hope they liked what they saw in me. I was a little tired from the Penn State NIKE Camp, but I couldn't not come out here and compete. I had to show them what I have."

Columbia (Mo.) Rock Bridge quarterback Logan Gray made the 2-hour drive over to Kansas City and got a chance to spin the ball in front of a lot of college coaches. Gray, who is 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, looked good during the one-on-ones and 7-on-7 drills. He has an especially strong arm.

On the drive over to Kansas City, Gray said he received a call from the Clemson coaches and the Tigers offered him a scholarship. Several other schools teams like Oklahoma and Wisconsin were keeping a close eye on his throws all day long.

Gray's teammate, Aron White, opened up a few eyes on Monday, despite already having an impressive array of scholarship offers. White hooked up with Gray time after time in the one-on-ones and they were impossible to stop. White proved to be a very athletic tight end with an amazing frame.

With offers already on the table from Arizona State, Duke, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Northwestern, watch for several schools at the combine to look at him even harder soon. He definitely had one of the best days at the event.

One of the biggest surprises of the day came from Overland Park (Kansas) St. Thomas Aquinas tight end Drake Dunsmore. He measured in at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, up more than 20 pounds from what he played at this past fall, and he ran an impressive 4.3-second shuttle time.

But where Dunsmore really excelled at was the one-on-ones.

He made several amazing catches, including one diving one in the corner of the end zone. Several schools took his name down after the performance and don't be surprised if more schools start to check in on him. He's already received calls from Tulsa, Arizona State, Colorado State and Kentucky in the spring evaluation period.

"This could be a good spring board for me," Dunsmore said. "I kind of wanted this event to be a thing that could really get my name out there more. I felt like I had a good day, especially in the one-on-ones. I could have done better in the 40 and in the other tests, but I was pleased overall with my day."

Overland Park (Kan.) Blue Valley West linebacker Andrew Gachkar continued his impressive few days with some blistering testing results on Monday.

After running the fastest shuttle time in the nation so far at the NIKE Camp this past weekend, he tested through the roof again the combine.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he ran an event best 4.42-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 4.12-second time in the shuttle and had a 34-inch vertical leap. Results like those will definitely get a few schools knocking on your door.

Free State twins Brian Murphy and Ryan Murphy had nice days. Brian had a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash and also popped off a 4.22 shuttle. Ryan, who has an offer from Kansas, had a 4.53 40-time and a 4.22 shuttle time. Both looked gifted enough to continue to earn pretty good attention from local Big 12 recruiters.

Another name to keep your eye on is Tony Randolph from Blue Springs South.

He might have been the most impressive defensive back at the camp, locking receivers down in the one-on-one drills, and his testing results weren't too bad either he had the second best vertical leaps in the camp at 34.5 inches. With his 5-foot-11, 200-pound frame he will be somebody that gets some calls here in the next few weeks.



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