James Wilder of Tampa, Fla., a 6-2, 225-pound running back/linebacker, is my choice as the No. 1 player in the class of 2011. The son of an All-Pro running back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wilder was the leading performer at the U.S. Army combine last weekend in San Antonio.
Wilder led his team to the state championship last season in the best state for talent. He is leaning to Florida, which has offered him.
But it isn't a done deal, of course. Running back Kenny Hilliard of Patterson, La., who is committed to LSU, is another strong candidate. Hilliard has rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his career. He was invited but didn't show up at the U.S. Army combine.
Other juniors who impressed were defensive back Wayne Lyons of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was the defensive MVP; Jeff Driskel of Orlando, Fla., who was the top quarterback on the field; Kody Walker of Jefferson City, Mo., one of the best running backs in the country; and 6-5, 280-pound Bobby Hart of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who was the most impressive offensive lineman of all.
Also linebacker Brent Calloway of Russellville, Ala., who is committed to Alabama; 6-7, 320-pound offensive lineman Watts Dantzler of Dalton, Ga.; 6-7, 275-pound offensive lineman Spencer Drango of Austin, Texas; wide receiver Hakeem Flowers of South Carolina; and 6-2, 250-pound defensive tackle Sam Harvill of Springdale, Ark., who bench-pressed 180 pounds 56 times, a combine record.
Other standouts included 6-3, 230-pound defensive lineman Matt Everett of Franklin, Tenn., a nephew of country singer Tim McGraw; 6-5, 280-pound offensive lineman Matt Hegarty of Albuquerque, New Mexico; 5-6, 165-pound running back Ralph Abernathy IV of Atlanta, Ga., grandson of the late civil rights leader; 6-6, 300-pound offensive lineman Landon Turner of Richmond, Va., 6-2, 190-pound wide receiver Kasen Williams of Sammamish, Wash., and 6-2, 250-pund defensive lineman Devon Hocutt of Killeen, Texas.
Chicago area products didn't stand out among the top performers in the camp. But they certainly made their presence felt and some made names for themselves. Overall, the junior class looks as good as the class of 2010 but it remains to be seen if it will produce players in the same class with Seantrel Henderson, Marcus Lattimore, Jackson Jeffcoat and Lache Seastrunk.
Best of the Chicago area crop were linebacker Nick Lifka of Naperville North, center Brian Bobek and tight end Jack Konopka of Fremd, running back Josh Ferguson and defensive back Anthony Maddie of Joliet Catholic, offensive linemen Matt Frazier and Justin Crawford of Bishop McNamara, Victor Nelson of Maine South, Pat Flavin of Benet and Dan Lembke of Providence, linebackers Tyler Juckett and Joe Damisch of Buffalo Grove, lineman Rafe Kiely of Wheaton North, wide receiver Ahmad Evans of De La Salle, running back Mika'il McCall of Thornridge and defensive backs Juwane and Duwane Pipkins of Robeson.