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A look at Cam Akers as a high school recruit

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What was and could have been for the newest Rams running back?

Cam Akers was as 5-star recruit out of Clinton, Mississippi, where he played at Clinton High School. As a senior QB, Akers threw for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns, rushing for 2,105 and 34 more touchdowns. He scored 149 total touchdowns over his Clinton career.

He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, as you can imagine, and he won the U.S. Army Player of the Year Award at the All-American Bowl.

As you can imagine then, Akers had his choice of any college in America and it creates some fascinating parallel universes if he doesn’t choose Florida State.

Akers could have gone to LSU, for example, but they only had one running back recruit in 2017: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who became the first running back selected in the draft this weekend, going 32nd overall to the Kansas City Chiefs. LSU won the national championship last season and had 13 players drafted this weekend, including center Lloyd Cushenberry, tackle Saahdiq Charles, and guard Damien Lewis.

Rushing in an offense with a good offensive line, a Heisman quarterback, some elite receiving talent, Edwards-Helaire rushed for 1,414 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He is an exciting prospect, though imagining Akers back there leaves the imagination to do wild, wild things.

Akers could have also gone to Georgia to form the most devastating running backs room in college football. Here’s a graphic from the High School Football Network’s coverage of Cam Akers’ college announcement special.

The Bulldogs could have had Nick Chubb and Sony Michel — both were drafted on the border between the first and second round — plus Akers in 2017. Chubb rushed for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns that year, Michel had 1,227 and 16. Imagine Akers as the number three.

Well, the number three was pretty good anyway. The Bulldogs instead wound up with D’Andre Swift, listed as a top-three running back recruit in the class along with Akers. Swift rushed for 618 yards that year (the quarterbacks were 2020 draftees Jake Fromm and Jacob Eason) and was drafted 35th overall by the Detroit Lions.

And here’s what we might have seen at LSU, a combo of Derrius Guice and Akers:

Of course, Akers could have also gone to the powerhouse known as Alabama. In fact, Akers committed to Alabama for seven months until opening up his services to other programs on March 2, 2016. He did so on the same day that Fromm de-committed from Alabama. Akers said Alabama was still “a favorite” but his stock was heating up and he was looking at a future where he’d share the backfield with Najee Harris, perhaps the one high school running back in the nation who could say he was a bigger “get” than Akers.

Harris was Rivals’ top-ranked running back that year, coming out of Antioch, California. He was listed at 6’2, 222 pounds, so perhaps the closest thing to “the next Derrick Henry” for Alabama and every year they’re adding new players to compete to be the next Heisman candidate. If the Crimson Tide had taken on both Harris and Akers in 2017, they would have had a backfield with those two, plus Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, and Bo Scarbrough, plus local recruit Brian Robinson, Jr.

Instead of Alabama though, Akers could have joined one of the more flashy recruiting classes of the last decade at Ole Miss. The Bulldogs class the year before included three 5-star recruits, plus 4-star athletes like A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, though ultimately Ole Miss proved not to be very dangerous.

What may have been dangerous: a Cam Akers-Alvin Kamara backfield at Tennessee.

Ultimately, as you know, Akers picked up the hat for Florida State:

(While it is completely realistic, understandable, and downright correct to say “I’ll be spending the next three or four years at Florida State,” I still find it interesting that college recruiting is now so blatantly, “I’m not going there for a degree, obviously.” And I am totally down for that. I think college athletes should game the system and the NCAA for everything it is worth and then more of what they’re owed. I just find it interesting.)

You can continue to watch that video for some Akers high-school-lights, but here are some more anyway. It’s kind of unbelievable that the player we’re watching in these videos is 5’11. He looks 6’6 next to these kids. Okay, well, he plays like he’s 6’6”

Here he is rushing for 100 yards on a single play:

There are many highlights from his time playing with people who didn’t really deserve to play with him. Not just in the sense of the word that they weren’t good enough to play with him, more in the punishment sense of the word like, “These kids don’t deserve this.”

As a 6-year-old, Akers’ parents knew he was a special athlete. By age 12, his youth football coach knew he had lucked into a unique player and probably a future pro when he rushed for six touchdowns in a single game, and 36 on the season.

As a draftee of the LA Rams after three years at Florida State, Akers has been credited as a “tackle breaking machine” due to his monstrous dominance in that area with the Seminoles. A quality that was necessary behind such an awful offensive line, a problem he would not have had at Alabama, LSU, or Clemson, but it did highlight what he’s been good at for years and years. Here he is at 12 years old breaking about that many tackles:

Here’s what some of Akers’ high school opponents had to say about him as he was going into his senior year at Clinton, when he was being called perhaps Mississippi’s best high school football player in at least 25 years:

“Akers is as talented as or more talented than any one of them in the past 25 years or so,” said South Panola coach Lance Pogue, who has coached against Akers in each of the past three seasons.

“Cam Akers was the best sophomore I ever coached against,” said Biloxi head coach Bobby Hall, who first started coaching in Mississippi in 1980.

“I have never seen an athlete like Cam,” said former Clinton offensive coordinator Paul Anderson, who is now the Copiah Academy head coach. “I can see why people bring up Marcus Dupree.”

“He’s probably the best competitor I have ever been around,” Arrows coach Judd Boswell said. “He’s a great athlete, but what sets him apart is his competitive nature. It’s unequal to anyone I’ve ever played with and anyone I’ve ever coached.”

How was Cam feeling about himself at the time?

“I want to be brought up as possibly the greatest player to come through Mississippi and definitely out of my city, Clinton,” Akers said. “I want to be remembered as a leader figure on and off the field and someone who always does the right thing and makes the right choices.”

So far, Akers has seemed to do all in his power along the way to make his dream about being one of the best to come out of Mississippi a reality. One thing I would say I really like about Akers is his consistency over his career, even if it is not that long yet. He was a different kid. He dominated at 12. He dominated his first three years of high school. He dominated his senior season and suddenly became the top running back recruit in the nation in some eyes.

And by doing something at Florida State and then getting drafted 52nd overall — high for a running back these days especially — he has lived up to his recruitment status. And trust me, in doing research for articles like this one, I’m always baffled and frankly saddened to see the number of names who were once “Cam Akers” and then disappeared. He was a 5-star recruit but a countless number of those guys don’t make the NFL.

The top-four running back recruits of 2017 include three recent draftees (Akers, Swift, JK Dobbins) and Harris, a potential 2021 first rounder. But the next six to round out the top-10 are: Eno Benjamin, Ty Chandler, Brian Robinson (the Alabama guy), Devan Barrett, Colin Wilson, and Trey Sermon. I have not followed all those careers and some may still have a future — they were only juniors last year — but you can see the difference immediately: Akers, Swift, and Dobbins hit their realistic goal of getting out of college in the minimum of three years.

The top-ranked backs in the 2016 class were BJ Emmons, Elijah Holyfield, Antonio Williams, Vavae Malepeai, and Devwah Whaley.

In 2015, it was Damien Harris, Guice, Jacques Patrick, Soso Jamabo, and Kerryon Johnson. Scroll down to 11 to find Saquon Barkley.

In 2014, Leonard Fournette was on top, followed by Racean Thomas, Michel, Elijah Hood, Jalen Hurd, Chubb, Jeff Jones, Royce Freeman, Joseph Yearby, and Adam Choice. Scroll your ass down to 44 for Rashaad Penny and 48 for Marlon Mack.

The future is anything but certain for these top-ranked recruits and you could argue that Akers could have done a lot more for himself than committing to Florida State, but by being a dominant tackle-breaker in middle school, high school, and college, consistently, Akers is what his real goal is: an NFL running back. Not only an NFL running back, but he’s going to step in for Todd Gurley (as he could have done at Georgia, but didn’t) and he’s going to play for Sean McVay and alongside Jared Goff, Andrew Whitworth, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp. There’s a really good chance that Akers can be very productive for Los Angeles.

I was listening to the Flying Coaches podcast with Steve Kerr and Pete Carroll this weekend and in it, they talk about some of those overlooked draftees in the NBA and NFL. Kerr spoke about how he watched a 150 pound Steph Curry play for Davidson against UCLA and while he was outmatched physically, it was clear to Kerr and everyone else that the most dominant player on the court was Curry. At the time, Kerr was the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and he tried desperately to trade up with Golden State for Curry. He thought the deal was done but it fell apart at the last minute. Because of that, the Warriors got Curry and the Suns wound up with Earl Clark. Six years later, Kerr was hired to coach Curry and the won the first of three NBA titles.

Kerr also talked about Draymond Green and how NBA teams loved him but didn’t know where he would fit in because of his “tweener” size and abilities. At the end of the day though, Kerr wondered if it really mattered: Green had won two high school championships and taken Michigan State to two Final Fours. Size? This guy was a “winner” to Kerr and in reality. Of course, Green too now has three NBA championships.

Here is Akers in the 6A state championship in high school as he threw for 228 yards and rushed for 234 as Clinton won 49-35. Akers scored all seven touchdowns for his team: 5 rushing, 2 passing. He was of course the player of the game.

There were so many reasons to believe that Curry and Green (and Klay Thompson) would not succeed at the pro level but they had also simply been at a level above their competition throughout their lives. I went to Washington State University a couple of years before Thompson arrived but I can tell you the same years ago, the same then, and the same now: the school’s basketball and football programs suck. The fact that the Cougs got Thompson at any point is a miracle. He wasn’t playing with the best team and it showed. When he got to a team with a couple of Hall of Fame teammates, he shined.

Can that be a similar situation for Cam Akers coming out of Florida State?

13 players were drafted out of LSU this year. 10 out of Alabama. 10 out of Michigan. Nine out of Ohio State. Seven out of Clemson. Seven out of Georgia. Seven out of Utah. Six out of Auburn. Six out of Notre Dame. He could have gone to pretty much any school he wanted to and been a part of those draft classes, but that’s not what happened and only one player was drafted out of Florida State in 2020:

Cam Akers.

He did it on his own. He should have more help with the Rams.