There is a feeling of being better equipped to handle what's ahead for the half-dozen Chattanooga-area high school players who just returned from national combines.
"I saw a lot of other quarterbacks and it was fun throwing with guys that are expected to be major college prospects," Signal Mountain quarterback Reese Phillips said.
He was joined at the U.S. Army junior combine by Baylor linebacker Colton Jumper. Cleveland quarterback Austin Herink and Walker Valley linebacker Tanner Dillard were at the Army's sophomore combine, while Cleveland linebacker and running back David Morgan and lineman T.J. Bryant were at the U.S. Marine Corps' Semper Fidelis junior combine along with Boyd-Buchanan lineman Malik Brewer.
"It was a really good experience," the 6-foot-2 Jumper said. "All of us got great national exposure."
Jumper is Baylor's third prospect in as many years to be invited to the Army combine, following Vanderbilt-bound offensive lineman Barrett Gouger and linebacker David Helton, who moved into Duke's starting lineup midway of the 2011 season as a true freshman.
"Those combines, I think, are a good thing," Boyd-Buchanan Grant Reynolds said. "They get to see where they measure up, and it gives people a chance to look at and interact with them in person."
Phillips, Jumper and Herink each mentioned hearing and meeting former University of Tennessee standout defender Eric Berry, a 2010 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs. They also heard former All-Pro lineman Anthony Munoz, whose son Michael also played at UT.
"Those two were great speakers," Phillips said. "They talked about being dedicated to what you're doing, and Munoz talked about the importance of an education."
Although he just recently turned 16, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Herink finished third on the bench-press among all quarterbacks, repping 185 pounds 17 times.
"Yeah, I did better than Reese on the bench -- by three, I think -- but he had a great day passing the ball," said Herink, who's currently juggling football workouts and varsity basketball at Cleveland.
Herink picked up on the fact that more than 300 juniors nationwide already had committed to colleges, along with 60-plus from the 2014 graduating class.
Jumper, who has bumped his weight to 215 pounds, was somewhat disappointed with his 40-yard-dash times. He was clocked electronically at 4.53 at a camp last summer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga but managed only a 4.8 in San Antonio last week. He did, however, turn in a 4.4 on the pro agility drills.
"My times were slow, but I think everybody's times were slow," he said.
Dillard got a chance to see what he has to work on, although new Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan already has told him.
"I think he got to see where he stands and what his weaknesses are," Ryan said of the 6-foot, 200-pounder. "He isn't fast enough yet to be a blue-chipper and so much depends on how hard he works, but he has a good work ethic."
Brewer, a 6-4 lineman who has slimmed to 325 pounds, feels he is better informed about the national academic clearinghouse for college-bound athletes and the recruiting process after traveling to Phoenix for the Semper Fidelis combine.
"It was getting back to reality. They talked about using academics to your advantage and said it was good to go ahead and register for the clearinghouse as a junior," he said, mentioning the emphasis that was placed on good grades and making up as a junior some bad grades in previous years. "It was four good info days, and I also learned what I had to work on."
For Brewer, who has been getting correspondence from Mississippi State, Tennessee, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn and Middle Tennessee, the info he received led him to believe he needs to spend extra time on both stretching and footwork.
"They also told me to stay away from fried foods and fast foods and to eat a lot of fruit and grilled food," he said.
Phillips or Signal coach Bill Price is getting daily correspondence from the likes of Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
"There's no doubt that he's a top college quarterback prospect even though he has played just 10 games at quarterback," Price said. "First, he meets the size requirements (6-3, 215). He has a very, very strong arm and can make all the throws a college quarterback has to make. He's intelligent, which they definitely look at, and he isn't just a quarterback. He's a kid that has played every position from defensive end to safety to tight end and wide receiver during his time here. He's proved that he's tough."
Phillips, Jumper and Brewer will be among the top prospects in the area next season, but all indicated they'll be attending camps next summer, everything from Under Armour to Nike and some college one- and two-day camps.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...