BEAVERTON, Ore. — His opponent arrived in a Lamborghini.
Here stood Owen Pappoe, the youngest player ever invited to The Opening, with the other 160-plus campers sitting and watching him. This was his introduction to the big stage at the nation’s premier football camp. He was picked to compete in a one-on-one drill called “cat and mouse” in front of the rest of the nation’s top prospects.
There was a slight delay for some theatrics. The guy he would be competing against, running back Khalan Laborn, used this platform as an opportunity to announce his college decision, and “drove” to the event in a Lamborghini decked out with Florida State decals. He then proceeded to grab a large Florida State flag and run onto the field waving it.
Laborn defeated Pappoe, a linebacker from Loganville, Ga., in the drill, but Pappoe’s presence was the truly monumental feature of the moment. He was the first rising sophomore in the history of the invite-only event after starring for national powerhouse Grayson High School as a freshman.
“He definitely got the best of me in a couple reps,” Pappoe said. “This is the biggest stage I’ve been on since I started playing football. I’ve trained for it and when I got here, I was just speechless.”
Pappoe’s smile and excitement were topped perhaps only by his athletic testing numbers. See, Pappoe’s nickname is “The Freak.” That’s what the Nike staffer who called him out onto the big stage at The Opening coined him, and that’s what a lot of football fans are going to get to know him as in the coming years.
He is not yet a sophomore in high school, but Pappoe checked in at 6-foot and 197 pounds in Oregon. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds, which was faster than four of the wide receivers at the camp and all of the quarterbacks in attendance.
The two areas where he really stood out where the 20-yard pro shuttle and the vertical leap. He posted a 4.01 in the shuttle, which was tied for 13th among the 145 prospects who tested. Only one of the 12 guys in front of him weighed more than he did.
Pappoe also put up a vertical leap of 38.3 inches, which put him inside the Top 25. His testing numbers were good enough to be one of four linebackers named to All-Nike+ rating team.
— Brian Stumpf (@Stumpf_Brian) July 13, 2016
Laborn got the best of Pappoe in the “cat and mouse” drill, but the youngest guy at the camp did not look out of place. He had two interceptions one day during the 7-on-7 tournament, though both were called back because of penalties.
He is a leading candidate to be the No. 1-ranked player in the country in the Class of 2019, when enough recruiting sites release rankings for that class and a 247 composite list is created. For now, he’s just soaking everything in.
“I came out with a couple of my teammates (two of the top defensive backs in the Class of 2017, Jamyest Williams and Deangelo Gibbs) and I’m just enjoying everything,” Pappoe said. “You get to compete with the best people out there, the free clothes, everything. I’m just trying to enjoy it.
“Just getting to watch some of the best players is great. I was talking to Dylan Moses, and he was correcting me on some things, telling me some things that would be good. Baron Browning, he’s on my 7-on-7 team and I’m learning a lot from him as well.”
Moses is the No. 1 linebacker in the nation, and at one point was the No. 1 overall player in the Class of 2017. Browning is the No. 2 linebacker, and like Moses a top-10 player regardless of position. Of the 14 linebackers in attendance at The Opening, only Moses and Browning earned a better overall score in the athletic testing.
This is the type of select company that Pappoe is likely to walk amongst in the coming three seasons. The recruiting process is already in full swing, but Pappoe is trying to be patient. He named Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Nebraska as the four programs recruiting him the hardest at the moment. He plans to visit Oklahoma before the end of July.
Every school in the country will either be recruiting Pappoe or wish it could be over the next couple of seasons.
“I tried to trim down my schools earlier this year, but my parents talked to me and said it was too early right now,” Pappoe said. “I’m not going to close any doors right now. I’m looking forward to committing the summer before my senior year so I can just get that over with.”
Here was his quick take on each of those SEC schools that are currently near the top of his list:
Georgia — “You get the best of both worlds. It’s a top-notch education and you get the best … well, one of the best teams in the SEC. I need to be careful with my words there.”
Tennessee — “Everything there is great. The football is great. The academics are great. Outside of football, you can go into Knoxville and have a lot of fun.”
Alabama — “They are definitely one of the best programs. When you go there, you’re pretty much guaranteed a ring.”
For now, Pappoe is happy to hear, “Hey, rookie” from some of the best high school football players in the nation. He could be the first player to ever make the trek to Oregon for The Opening three times.
And maybe someday there will be a young, wide-eyed kid who hasn’t turned 16 years old yet waiting for him on the field with all of the other campers watching.
Maybe “The Freak” will show up in a Lamborghini, as well.