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July 12, 2012
DE SOTO, Texas - Mesquite (Texas) West Mesquite safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner and Palm Bay (Fla.) Bayside defensive tackle Travonte Valentine stood out from the rest of the participants at Sunday's Rivals Underclassmen Challenge.
What made these two 2014 prospects unique wasn't necessarily anything they did on the field. But of the nearly 200 players who worked out Sunday at DeSoto (Texas) High School, they were the only ones who already have verbally committed to a school.
While the recruiting process was just beginning for everyone else at the camp, for these guys, it already was just about finished. Or was it?
Yes, both players have made commitments, but one seemed much more sure of his decision than the other. And both had plenty of reasons to continue participating in camps and workouts.
While Sumner-Gardner is a die-hard Clemson fan who can't see himself making any other visits now that he has committed to his favorite school, Valentine himself uses the word "soft" to describe his commitment to Louisville.
"It's too early to make it solid," Valentine said.
So even though he's technically committed to Louisville, Valentine discussed potential upcoming visits to Alabama, Auburn and perhaps Florida State. This Louisville commitment also happened to be wearing a South Carolina hat throughout the Underclassmen Challenge as a not-so-subtle signal to a school that appealed to him.
"I'm trying to get that offer from them," Valentine said. "That's why I have the South Carolina hat on."
Valentine's fashion statement and travel plans begged the question. If you're still looking at other schools, wearing the gear of other teams and admitting your commitment is soft, why commit at all?
It apparently was a way to reward Louisville's pursuit of him and to show that the feeling was mutual.
"I got a lot of attention from Louisville," Valentine said. "I love Louisville. They're down-to-earth people. They're very cool. They're very solid on defense and offense this year coming up."
Valentine loves Louisville. He just isn't quite ready to make it a marriage just yet.
But even if he were rock solid in his commitment, that still wouldn't have stopped him from traveling all the way from Florida to measure himself against other 2014 and 2015 prospects across the nation. He considered it a necessary step in order to reach his goals.
"I'm trying to be a five-star," Valentine said. "I'm going to go out and compete. I love competing. I need to get myself prepared for football season.''
Although only two of the 192 participants at the Rivals Underclassmen Challenge already had chosen colleges, plenty more committed underclassmen should start competing in these types of showcase events now that prospects are making their decisions earlier and earlier.
At the start of the week, the Class of 2014 included 34 committed prospects. Sumner-Gardner is one of four 2014 recruits committed to Clemson. Georgia has three commitments from 2014 recruits. BYU, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, USC and Virginia Tech have two 2014 commitments each.
Sumner-Gardner is much more certain of his college decision than Valentine, but that hasn't stopped him from competing in these types of events. Just as Valentine seeks five-star status, Sumner-Gardner wants to show he also ranks among the elite.
"I came here to prove I'm the No. 1 DB in this class," Sumner-Gardner said.
It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that Sumner-Gardner made the trip to DeSoto, which is about a half-hour drive from his hometown. He already proved he was willing to travel much farther in pursuit of his dreams.
Sumner-Gardner boarded a Greyhound bus and rode 20-plus hours from his Texas home to attend a camp at Clemson last month. The trip paid off when Sumner-Gardner received a scholarship offer that he wasted no time accepting.
Although he spent much of his childhood in Buffalo, N.Y., and has spent the last few years in Texas, Sumner-Gardner loves Clemson, a school that hasn't signed a Texas high school player since Allen offensive guard Clint LaTray joined the Tigers in 2003.
Sumner-Gardner is a long-time admirer of former Clemson star Brian Dawkins, who retired from football this year after earning nine Pro Bowl invitations in a brilliant 16-year NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos.
"I like the way he plays," Sumner-Gardner said. "He's aggressive. He's a ball-hawk. He's just Brian Dawkins."
Sumner-Gardner owns a pair of Dawkins jerseys - one with the Eagles and one with the Broncos. He wants to pattern his own career after his favorite player. The first step is going to the school that Dawkins attended.
His visit to Clemson simply reinforced a decision he'd already made in his mind.
"When I went to visit for the camp, they treated me like I was one of them," Sumner-Dawkins said.
So why make the appearance at this type of showcase event, even one that's an easy drive from his home? Valentine obviously had a much longer trip, but it was easier to understand why he'd participate. He admits that his commitment to Louisville didn't end his recruitment. He even wanted to send a message to South Carolina with his appearance here.
Sumner-Gardner didn't want to play those types of games. He insists his mind is completely made up. He's going to Clemson and isn't about to change his mind. Even if he performs well enough at these types of events to boost his stock, it isn't going to alter his college decision.
But even though a few more offers might not tempt him, he's still competitive enough to want to boost his rating. He said he wanted to prove he's the best defensive back in his class. He won't have a chance of being considered in that realm unless he competes with the best.
"It's going to make me a better player," Sumner-Gardner said. "There's nothing but the best out here. I've got to prove that I'm the best in this class. I've got to take down the best to be the best."
That kind of attitude explains why committed prospects don't spend their summers relaxing and instead keep on participating in these types of showcase events.
Committing to a school didn't mean they could take it easy for the rest of their high school years.
It only added to their motivation.
"When I committed, I felt like people thought I was overrated," Sumner-Gardner said. "I've got to prove to them that I'm the best."