Three high school athletes from Cottonwood High dominated a Nike football combine in Los Angeles recently.

The performances in skill testing ended up being the story of the combine, according to organizers of the event that drew 750 athletes at East Los Angeles College.

The trio were Danny Payne, Zac Eldredge and Simione Fili, all defensive players.

Just how good were the Utahns? One of the combine organizers, Brentt Eads of Student Sports, said the trio was the highlight of the day.

"To come a thousand miles and dominate in the testing drills like they did shows what a great strength and conditioning program Cottonwood has, but also proves that top players in Utah can compete anytime, anywhere with prospects across the nation," Eads said.

Cottonwood lost to Davis in the 5A Utah High School Activities Association football championship this fall.

"Because of population size, there may not be as many D-I recruits in Utah compared to areas like Los Angeles, Houston or Miami, but the best from states like Utah, Idaho, Nevada can play when given the chance. It's encouraging to see players like the Cottonwood guys rise to the challenge, compete and prove they belong with the elite of California," Eads said.

Working out as part of a group of 750, junior defensive back Payne, junior linebacker Eldridge and sophomore Fili were tested in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle, bench press of 185 pounds (max reps) and vertical jump.

Each of the three was at the top of the charts when it came to testing and most would say they're not even among the top two players on their team. Those honors would go to quarterback Alex Cate, a Student Sports Junior All-American, and running back Stanley Havili, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back who was All-State last year. Cate, whose father, Scott, played at Utah in the early 1980s, has already been offered a scholarship by Arizona. Havili has one in the bag from BYU.

Still, Eads says, "Payne was one of the discoveries of the event. It's so hard to find corners so his stock should really rise."

The junior ran a 4.50 in the 40 and had the day's only sub-4.00 in the 20-yard shuttle — a drill which tests an athlete's ability to change direction — a lightning-quick 3.94 seconds.

Eldredge tied for first on the bench and his all-around athleticism earned him the day's second-best "SPARQ Rating," a measurement which factors into a formula of the four testing elements.

His sophomore lineman teammate Fili (6-foot-2, 330 pounds) tied for third in the bench and is called a "baby Haloti Ngata" by Eads.

"Some already think Fili will be better than Ngata, who was rated the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle when he came out of Utah," Eads said. "Fili is as physically gifted as the Oregon lineman but supposedly has a better work ethic and doesn't take plays off."

Having dominated the Nike Combine, there's one more opportunity coming for the trio to put themselves on the national map — the Nike Football Training Camps, which take place at 12 major college campuses, including USC, Stanford, and Oregon in the West.

Eads explained the difference between a Nike Combine and a Nike Football Camp, both popular recruiting stops for athletes who generally receive preseason attention and publicity.

"The Nike Combines are events where players are only tested," Eads says. "The Nike Camps are more exclusive. There's the testing element but it's more football- and training-oriented. Plus, the best come because of the exposure and chance to see how they compare with their peers. There's only 200-300 players allowed at each venue so to get invited and be with the best prospects in the country is quite an honor.

"Last year, we saw about 40 percent of all D-I signees at a Nike Camp. It's a great chance for studs to solidify their competitiveness and work ethic and an opportunity for non-name sleepers to become somebodies. It's also where players like Ngata, Ben Olson and Austin Collie launched themselves as nationally elite recruits."

Cate and Havili have been invited, and Eads says the two have indicated they would attend the Stanford Nike Camp held on May 21st. It appears now three more from the high school will be invited to go as well.

Eads says another Utahn, quarterback James Lark from St. George's Pineview, has also said he'd attend the camp in Palo Alto. Considered one of the most promising QBs in the Class of '06, he's been offered by BYU and Utah.

"I'm all for players from the smaller states getting to line up with the big boys," Eads said. "They're showing they deserve to be there."

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