Ohio linebacker Nick Conner was already a highly touted college prospect by the time he wrapped up his junior season and hit the camp circuit earlier this year.
One of his first stops was the "Best of the Midwest" showcase in February, an annual event in Indianapolis that features many of the top recruits in the region.
There, Conner was matched up with Madison Southern's Damien Harris — the No. 1 running back in the country — for some one-on-one pass rush drills. What happened next has seemingly had a profound impact on Conner's approach to the game.
"Damien smacked him in the mouth good. Just went after him and popped him good," said Rivals.com analyst Josh Helmholdt. "I think that kind of caught Nick's attention. I don't know that he's ever been hit that hard. Every time I've seen him since then, he's just raised his intensity level."
Helmholdt told the Herald-Leader that he has evaluated Conner four or five times in the past couple of months alone, and the UK recruiting target keeps getting better.
His most recent performance came at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge a little over a week ago in Baltimore. Conner wasn't originally invited to the event, which is designed to showcase the top 100 or so prospects in the country.
Due to a cancellation, Conner was a last-minute addition to the roster. He was told about the invitation the day before the camp was set to begin and was on a plane for Maryland four hours later.
He ended the weekend with MVP honors at the linebacker position despite competing alongside several players ranked much higher in the Rivals 250.
Helmholdt said Conner was constantly in passing lanes, stayed with receivers all the way down the field and made a "spectacular interception" that had onlookers buzzing about his athleticism.
"I think what we appreciated more about him this time than any of the camps before that was his playmaking ability," Helmholdt said. "When you go on that type of a stage and (perform) like he did, that shows you've got something special."
Rivals ranks Conner as the No. 218 overall prospect and No. 8 inside linebacker in the class of 2015, as well as one of the top 10 players from Ohio.
The standout from the Columbus area is listed at 6 feet 2 and 223 pounds, and Helmholdt described him as "a prototype" for the linebacker position.
Some have considered Lexington his most likely college destination, but his recent success might also cloud the Cats' chances.
A few days before heading to the Five-Star Challenge, Conner picked up a scholarship offer from Michigan State. He had been open about his desire to play there, and many now consider the Spartans the front-runners in his recruitment.
But Conner was also quick to mention Kentucky — a school that offered him a scholarship last year — when asked about his recruitment at the Five-Star Challenge. For the time being, he's not naming any outright favorites.
With any high-profile recruit from Ohio, there's the possibility that Ohio State will jump in with a scholarship offer. The Buckeyes' staff has been keeping tabs on Conner, and he's expected to camp at OSU in the near future.
"I think there's a decent chance he goes to camp and walks away with an offer from Ohio State," Helmholdt said. "That's the local school, the hometown team for him. You have to respect them in this recruitment, but I don't think it's a lock even if they offer. Michigan State and Kentucky are among the schools that will have just as good of a shot as Ohio State if the Buckeyes do come through with an offer."
Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216. Twitter: @NextCats. Blog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com.