IMG notes: Claiborne has top five in sight

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Even though his Louisiana-based team, “The Bootleggers,” had an early departure from the weekend’s IMG Madden Football 7-on-7 national tournament, three-star linebacker Darian Claiborne (Port Allen, La./Port Allen) found plenty to take from the event.

“It was a chance to go up against some strong players that I hadn’t seen before,” Claiborne said. “There was a lot of big-time talent out here and everyone plays hard.”

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound rising senior said he saw plenty of things he needed to work on and some things he liked out of his own performance. Now Claiborne will turn the focus back on recruiting where he has begun the process of cutting schools.

“I have about 20 offers with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Nebraska, TCU and Mississippi State being in my top five,” Claiborne said. “And there are others like Arkansas, Purdue and Cincinnati in there.”

Claiborne has visited Nebraska and Texas A&M so far.

“I liked Texas A&M. Things are going in a great direction. They are going to turn things around there,” Claiborne said. “Coach [Kevin] Sumlin is a great guy and he has a good vision for the future.

“Nebraska is all about football; the people in Lincoln live breathe and eat football. That’s what they know and that’s what they are about. The head coach, Bo Pelini, is defensive-minded. It’s a great coaching staff. They have the best facilities in the nation. Everyone knows they have the best facilities.”

With those two visits out of the way, Claiborne isn’t sure about his next step. However, he will begin working with his high school coaches to map out a plan.

“I’m not sure if I have any more camps or unofficials left, my coach sets that up,” he said. “I do want to take a few officials and feel out these schools. Otherwise I have no timetable. My decision happen when it happens.”

Berman talks UCF

Naples (Fla.) Barron Collier linebacker Jake Berman is one of the most recent commits to UCF. The 6-0, 215 senior said UCF had exactly what he wanted -- location and an offer.

“UCF offers two and a half weeks ago and I committed right away,” Berman said. “That was one of my schools. UCF and Miami were my schools, and UCF made the move. That’s what it is and that’s the school I’m rolling with.”

Beyond the offers Berman said UCF’s facilities were top notch. He also favored the social aspects of campus life at the Orlando school.

“It’s really nice there because they have brand new dorms and an indoor practice facility and a tremendous new weight room,” Berman said. “Also it’s like 70 percent girls there. Can’t beat that.”

As for the event his Team 239 lost in the early afternoon, but Berman was happy to get the work in.

“Basically we’re competitors, we all have offers, it’s like just trying to see which area is better and enjoy the game of football,” Berman said. “I needed to go up against this sort of competition because it’s only going to make me better.

“Now I’m excited about being a senior playing with guys like Mike Heuerman and having a deep playoff run.”

Benkert makes decision

After his team was eliminated from the tournament Cape Coral (Fla.) Island Coast quarterback Kurt Benkert suggested he would probably make a decision after he heard from North Carolina State on Monday or Tuesday.

However, the 6-2, 190-pound senior decided to wait no longer and committed to East Carolina. Benkert chose the Pirates over offers from UCF, South Florida, Western Kentucky, Marshall and South Alabama.

“Just committed to ECU, it feels amazing!” Benkert announced via Twitter.

Benkert said that he was heavily leaning towards East Carolina, UCF and South Florida over his other options. He camped at all three schools along with Florida and Tennessee.

“I’m looking for the chance to compete for a starting spot early in my career,” Benkert said. “I’m leaning towards a pro-style offense which UCF and South Florida have but I’m open to an offense like ECU because they throw so much.”

Benkert threw for 2,771 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior. He also rushed for over 150 yards and three scores.

Other notes

  • Defensive MVP of the event was five-star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, Fla./Wharton) and offensive MVP was quarterback Pete DiNovo (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake). DiNovo recently threw for UCF and is hopeful that the Knights will come through with an offer this week. “I thought I performed very well in front of the coaching staff there,” DiNovo said. “I expect I’ll hear something from them this week, probably right after the fourth of July.”

  • Former Heisman trophy winner Chris Weinke says the IMG Academy’s plans to field a high school football team are on track, and he hopes to have a team available for the 2013 football season. “I’m expecting we will have a good roster of players in the Academy by January so we can go through spring practice,” Weinke said.