Last Saturday night, IMG Academy travelled west to face off against Corona Centennial High School at the Honor Bowl in San Diego. Coronoa Centennial is led by 4-star quarterback prospect Tanner McKee, but he left the game early with an injury.
IMG won the game 40-20 behind a strong performance by Alabama running back commit Trey Sanders who ran for touchdowns of 75 and 65 yards in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
Despite a strong performance from Sanders, he was not the MVP of the game. That honor went to Nebraska commit, 4-star defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles. Radley-Hiles was making a return to his home state of California for the game, and did not disappoint.
He had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Radley-Hiles returned the other interception for a touchdown, too, but it was called back due to a block in the back by a teammate. In short, he dominated the football game and made another case for why many Nebraska fans believe he deserves a fifth star.
— Californians for Nebraska (@Cal4NE) September 3, 2017
I was able to catch up with someone who knows a thing or two about being a great cornerback. Former Blackshirt and national champion Ralph Brown called the game for FOX Sports West and spoke with me about Radley-Hiles’ performance.
“This guy is just fascinating to watch,” Brown said. “I’ve actually never seen a guy at the high school level play the game like he does. He’s a true shutdown corner. He tipped up an out-route that Tanner McKee threw. It was thrown a little bit short but he was already in the hip pocket of the wide receiver. He tipped it up to himself, caught it and took it to the house, but it was called back because one of his teammates got called for a block in the back.
"The second time he picked one off, he tipped it and grabbed it then put on his running back skills and took it to the house so it’s fascinating watching this young man play at the cornerback spot.”
There has been some debate over where Radley-Hiles should play when he arrives at Nebraska. He has the speed and fluid hips to play cornerback. He also has the vision and anticipation needed to play safety. Radley-Hiles is also a fierce competitor and not afraid to hit either. So where do you play him on defense in college? There’s little question for Brown, who started all 48 games of his Nebraska career at cornerback.
“This guy is a corner in every sense of the word,” Brown said. “I mean, the way he acts, walks, how he covers. He understands routes and when they break them off, he knows when to cut. He plays the game with a confidence that I played with later in my career. He understands the game like an art. When you play cornerback and look at it like an art form, you’re on another level. That’s how he approaches the game and his matchup with a wide receiver. He’s an artistic-type cornerback. It’s beautiful to watch."
Besides knowing what it takes to play high-level college football, Brown knows about playing early, too. He was one of six true freshmen who saw action for the Huskers in 1996, but the only one who earned a starting spot. Brown was the first position player at Nebraska to start his first game as a true freshman since World War II.
It’s not easy to do, but Brown thinks Radley-Hiles could get a shot to see the field right away in college.
“I know with his extreme confidence, you can put him in the fire right now and he’s going to believe in his skill set,” he said. “I think he can hang. He will make the adjustments. This guy is ready to come in. The way he acts, how he wears his uniform, his swagger and this guy is ready to go.
“When he comes to Nebraska he’ll be ready, too. Just wait until you see the way he carries himself and his confidence on the football field."
One of the things you hear often from talent evaluators about Radley-Hiles is just how smart of a football player he is. Football IQ and supreme athleticism make for a good combination. Brown sees it, too.
“You can tell that he understands how good he is. He understands angles and he understands routes and the mechanics of routes. He understands his skill set and how he can match up with that. When you put that combination together, you can tell why he’s on every route. You can see why he’s always close.
“He understands every aspect of what it is to play cornerback and he understands the art form of what it takes for a receiver to run their route as well. I believe that’s why he can match up and play receivers the way he does.”
With all the talk about confidence and swagger on the field plus the legend of Bookie the trash-talker, I was curious how Ralph thought the former Calabasas standout carries himself off the field. Brown approached Radley-Hiles after the game and was stunned by the star athlete’s demeanor.
“I just went up to him after the game and said, ‘You don’t really know who I am, but my name is Ralph Brown and I’m a fellow Blackshirt. I’m excited to watch you at Nebraska next year and you played a great game.' He was ‘yes, sir and no, sir’ and ‘thank you very much.’ I just didn’t expect that level of humility in the young man just from watching him play.
"I expected him to make a nice comment back to me but the extreme level of humility and sincerity in his words was just awesome. He’s the ultimate player. He has that extreme confidence on the field, but off the field he’s professional. He’s humble and he’s very gracious.”
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.