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June 12, 2013

Challenge: Team Rivals what we learned

MORE: Complete Five-Star Challenge coverage

Over three days, 25 of the best prospects in the country played on Team Rivals and competed in drills, one-on-ones, 7-on-7 play and the Big Man Challenge. While Team Rivals finished last in the skill and big man categories overall, there was plenty to learn. Here are five things we learned about Team Rivals at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour.

Mixon is the man

Any doubts we might have had about making Oakley (Calif.) Freedom running back Joe Mixon a five-star in our latest rankings were answered. Mixon was hands down the best prospect on the field on Saturday during the camp portion, and he was a key offensive threat for Team Rivals.

Mixon lost focus a few times during team play, especially when his team was essentially eliminated, but his talent cannot be questioned. Now the question begs to be asked -- is he better than Leonard Fournette, Sony Michel and Elijah Hood, the three running backs ranked ahead of him? That will be decided in August during our next set of rankings.

Lane can be special ... when he wants to be

Homestead, Fla. wide receiver Ermon Lane is clearly a talented prospect, but it was obvious over the two days on the field that he tends to turn it on and off when he wants to. On Saturday, he struggled quite a bit gaining separation and didn't look like he was running his routes with a lot of effort. A few times, defenders fought harder for the football and made plays they shouldn't have made.

On Sunday, Lane started amazingly and was the main reason Team Rivals won its first and only game in the 7-on-7 tournament. After that, he struggled to get open and appeared to lose interest when Team Rivals stopped slinging the ball downfield all the time. If Lane can focus and stay engaged, he can be very, very good, but consistency will be needed.

Tabor is a baller

Not that we had any doubts about Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy cornerback Jalen Tabor, but Chicago proved just how much he loves football. Tabor originally had to turn down the invitation because of a family obligation. When that was cancelled, he was dying to be a replacement for someone else who wanted it less.

When Speedy Noil inexplicably didn't show up or take and return phone calls despite having his travel plans made and confirmed, Tabor was called on short notice to play out of position at wide receiver. He immediately jumped at the chance. He arrived Saturday morning and was shuttled directly to Solider Field. When his team needed him on defense instead of offense, he jumped in and had a great day with a few pass break-ups including, one that led to an interception. Whoever gets Tabor will never need to question his desire and work ethic.

Big men disappointed

Everyone expected Team Rivals to take home the Big Man Challenge with defensive standouts Da'Shawn Hand, Andrew Brown, DeWayne Hendrix and 2015's Daylon Mack. On the offensive side, Team Rivals also boasted Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour regional stars Natrell Curtis and Joshua Casher. However, aside from Hand, the defensive group didn't have the best weekend.

Curtis didn't participate Sunday because of an unspecified injury, and Casher missed a lot of the action and struggled in the one-on-ones with bigger linemen. The surprise of the group was 2015 offensive lineman Zach Rogers, who was outstanding, and Hand took home Defensive Line MVP honors, but everyone else struggled to an extent.

Young guns step up

In addition to Rogers, there were a few 2015 prospects who could make a case for being among the best players on Team Rivals at their positions. Defensive back Kevin Toliver II was outstanding on Saturday and most of Sunday. He showed he'll be in contention for the top defensive back position in Florida in 2015. Linebacker John Houston from Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra was one of the best at his position on any team. Memphis (Tenn.) Whitehaven linebacker Joshua McMillon also had some nice moments.



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