Five-star ‘Bama, Vols target is one of only three 2016ers invited to NIKE’s “The Opening”

NCAA Football: Alabama-Spring Game

EDITOR’S NOTE: Saturday Down South will be on site covering The Opening in Oregon next week, recapping how the SEC kids performed, as well as what is on their minds. Check back all next week for updates!

Rashan Gary is in rarefied air, in more ways than one. Next week, Gary will be one of only three class of 2016 prospects (one of the others being fellow SEC target Deontay Anderson) on the field in the nation’s top annual showcase for college football recruiting–NIKE’s The Opening. Each year, the camp invites more than 150 top rising seniors, and a couple rising juniors who are considered the cream of the crop in their class. In 2012, future Alabama signees De’Shawn Hand and Ross Pierchbacher were invited. In 2013, current ‘Bama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida Gators’ target George Campbell were at the camp.

This time, Gary and Anderson–who is a big-time Texas A&M/Alabama target–will be the rising juniors for SEC fans to watch. Gary, a defensive tackle out of New Jersey, is rated the No. 4 overall prospect in America and has many schools–including Alabama and Tennessee–wooing him.

Saturday Down South conducted a question and answer session with Gary, just days before his departure to the camp in Oregon. And PS, if you’re looking for his Twitter account, don’t bother. His mom asked him not to create one.

RELATED: Previewing NIKE’s The Opening and why SEC fans need to tune in each night

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Since you’re going from New Jersey to Oregon for the big camp, how does that rank up there with the biggest trips of your life?

Rashan Gary: To be honest, this is the farthest I’ve ever gone and it’s my first time on a plane and everything. I don’t think it’s hit me that I’m going to be in Oregon for a week, but I think it’ll hit me when I’m on that plane leaving.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: It must be very humbling to be one of only three juniors invited to this thing, eh?:

Rashan Gary: I was very honored when I got the call and the guy told me. I was jumping around and thanking the guy. I was one of the very few underclassmen invited. I’m very happy.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: With you being a defensive tackle and with Alabama being after you, did you know Da’Shawn Hand participated in this when he was a junior too, back in 2012?:

Rashan Gary: I actually didn’t know that but he’s one of the people who I’ve watched a lot, his highlights and things like that. I don’t know him at all, I just know he was one of the best defensive linemen to sign. I just like how he plays, how he uses his body and how he got better and better. That’s what I plan to do.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: What do you know about this camp? And do you think lots of the rising seniors will be trying to recruit you?

Rashan Gary: I really don’t know much about the camp, but I’m excited to go and ready to compete. I think when I get up there I’ll be coached by the best and I want to get better. I want to be better when I leave than when I came. My goal is to work hard, learn some new moves and see where it takes me. And getting to go to NIKE, I mean anybody who wants to be in the NFL one day, who wouldn’t want to be sponsored by NIKE one day? And you know, if the other guys want to recruit me, I’m going to listen. I don’t know what they’ve been through and what helped them make their commitments, so I want to just hear what they have to say and I will take it into consideration. I want to know how they took all of the attention and how they’ve felt all through the school process. I can learn from what they’re saying.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: How cool is it to be ranked one of the top five players in America for your class in the 247Sports composite?

Rashan Gary: I am? To be honest, I didn’t even know that. Wow. When I think about things like that, I’m just thankful for what I’ve been blessed with. And that right there (the ranking) makes me want to work that much harder than everybody else. I’m going to keep working, because I know somebody is going to be chasing me. But I didn’t even know that. I was just going to play football when I started when I was younger. That’s just something I wanted to play when I was 7th grade and I kept getting better and better at it.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Obviously a ranking like that comes from what you’ve shown on the field and top schools are chasing you because of it too. Can you tell us about some of those schools?

Rashan Gary: Some of the schools chasing me are Alabama, Tennessee, Maryland, Penn State, Ohio State. With all of those programs, I don’t know that much yet and I need to take more visits over the summer. I’ll be doing that later this summer and I’ll start to learn who I’m liking and who I’m not. To be honest, it hasn’t hit me yet, all of this. I don’t know why. I guess it’s just because my coaches and my mom have done a good job of getting me ready for this.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: You seemed to mention Alabama and Tennessee rather prominently. Why do they get mentioned by you?

Rashan Gary: Well, (Alabama assistant coach Mario) Cristobal was at my school one day and he was talking to my coaches. He said he would come back the next week to see me, and he really did he said he would do. He’s told me ‘I’m going to recruit you hard, and we’re going to show you how much we love you’. And then he said ‘I can’t tell you everything about Alabama, you’re just going to have to come see it for yourself’. I liked that. And with Tennessee, I just got my offer a few weeks ago and I’ve talked with the coaches and they said pretty much the same thing, that I need to come down and see them there. So I’m planning to go see them both this summer.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Being from New Jersey, what do people say about SEC football in your neck of the woods?

Rashan Gary: Everybody up here just says that the SEC is big boy football. That you don’t go down there if you’re going to play soft. That’s the kind of football it is. It’s not to play around with. And it seems like with the NFL Draft, so many defensive lineman come out of the SEC. And then they get to the NFL and they stay a long time. They are still good, just like they were in college.

SDS’ Brian McLaughlin: Finally, what’s something you’d like SEC fans to know about you that has nothing to do with the gridiron?

Rashan Gary: I guess you could tell them that I’m a funny guy, but when it’s time to take care of business, that’s the important thing. I don’t know, that’s just how I was raised by my mom, that there’s a time to play around, but when it’s time to get down to business, you get down to business.

Editor’s note: Saturday Down South’s references to recruiting rankings are to 247Sports.com industry composite ranking.

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Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

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