LAKE BEUNA VISTA, FLA. — Robert Nkemdiche is already ranked as the nation’s No. 1 overall college football prospect.
This week, if it was possible for the defensive end from Grayson High School to soar any higher in everybody’s minds, Nkemdiche might’ve done it.
The 6-foot-6, 285-pounder won over his teammates, his coaches and the recruiting media with his athletic skills and friendly personality leading up to the Under Armour All-America game at 5 p.m. Friday. The ESPN-televised all-star game features 90 of the nation’s top high school players.
“God is very good, and it’s all God making it happen,” said Nkemdiche, who is favoring Ole Miss, where his older brother plays linebacker.
Despite Nkemdiche’s longtime stranglehold on the top spot, there was a lot of speculation on whether or not he could keep it entering the all-star week.
As a senior at Grayson, Nkemdiche didn’t put up the same flashy statistics he did as a junior. Some of that had to do with being blocked by two or three defenders on many plays, along with adjusting to added weight and some nagging injuries.
This week in the all-star practices, Nkemdiche also faced some stiff challenges from other elite prospects from across the country, including two from Georgia.
While the final rankings by ESPN, Scout, Rivals and 247sports are yet to determined and won’t come out for another week or so, Nkemdiche turned in an award-winning bid to remain as the consensus No. 1.
“Nkemdiche definitely didn’t disappoint,” Scout’s Chad Simmons said. “Anytime a kid comes in with an X on his chest and the No. 1 national ranking across the board, you’re going to have a lot of eyes on him and a lot of expectations. I think he met every one of them, and maybe one-upped with some people.
“He really had a good week before he got banged up (with a groin injury). He was pretty dominant as a defensive lineman. He played some defensive end, some defensive tackle, and he was really effective at both positions … just the raw strength of the kid, his quickness off the ball, he’s so athletic. Robert overpowered people and he outplayed people. He’s a kid that definitely did not hurt his ranking in any way. He may have helped it a little bit.”
Gerry Hamilton, recruiting analyst for 247sports, was also impressed:
“There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being the No. 1 prospect, and Robert has handled it beautifully. First, from a media perspective, he’s had a ton of interview requests and everything thrown his way, and he’s handled it. Secondly, from a player’s perspective, I think he’s dominated three days of practices. He lined up outside at end, rolled inside to tackle, and he’s dominated nearly every one-on-one rep. He’s dominated team.
“I don’t think he’s left much doubt that he’s the No. 1 prospect in this class. You couldn’t ask for a guy in his position to put out more effort. He’s got a non-stop motor, he has taken on all comers, and he’s dominated. I couldn’t be more impressed with what he has done this week.”
Holding onto the No. 1 ranking is a priority. With Grayson being upset early in the state playoffs, Nkemdiche had more than a month to rest his body and also train for the defense of his ranking like a championship boxer would before a title defense.
“It’s important; I’ve been No. 1 forever, and I feel like it’s my spot because I’ve worked so hard for it,” he said. “I work hard every day, and I feel like it’s me. People know me as ‘Robert, the No. 1 player in the nation.’ That’s what I came here to do this week, to keep it.
“I don’t think I’m going to lose it. But if I did, I could say that I left everything I had out there, because I worked as hard as I could.”
Two of Nkemdiche’s biggest challengers are also from Georgia, Milton defensive end Carl Lawson (ranked No. 2 overall by ESPN) and Dooly County defensive tackle Montravius Adams (ranked No. 2 by 247Sports). Lawson has also shined this week, while Adams was sidelined with an injury.
“Look, as far as rankings go, I don’t really care,” Lawson said. “For me, I feel like I know my own self, that I am the best player. As far as how they do the rankings, I feel they go off (projections), so I know I am the best player. As far as the chase for No. 1, I just feel like there are a lot of politics in it.”
Said Adams, “The only way I can get No. 1 right now is if they look at my high school film because I haven’t been able to do much this week.”
Unlike some of the other high-profile prospects at the Florida all-star game, Nkemdiche doesn’t act like a prima donna or carry the “I’m better than you” attitude. He has been very social and interactive with the other players, who always quickly gravitate toward Nkemdiche at this week’s team events.
Nkemdiche also doesn’t act like he already knows everything there is to know about football. One guy he quickly won over was Herm Edwards, the former NFL coach who is his all-star coach this week.
“Robert is just so powerful. He plays with his legs. He has tremendous leverage. He comes off the edge, and he can go inside. He uses his hands well. He has natural rushing ability. So that’s what makes him unique. He has a body. And he’s going to get bigger. When he gets into a university weight program, this guy is going to be a giant.
“He has a body similar to Julius Peppers. When you look at him, he is kind of angular but he’s got a powerful girth. Because you play football with your legs, you’ve got to have some potatoes in your sack. He’s got potatoes in his sack. He’s (powerful).
“I’ve been impressed from the first day I met the kid. We had a pass rush deal, and he walks up to me and says ‘Coach’ and started asking questions. Right there, it told me this guy has got an upside.”
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