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State By State: Florida

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Chase Goodbread, Florida Times-Union
August 23, 2004

Speed Backs, Secondary Again Strong For Top-Three Talent Pool

JACKSONVILLE — Defensive backs are in abundance in Florida for the Class of 2005. The secondary is typically a position of strength for the Sunshine State, which annually produces more than 250 Division I-A signees, a higher total than all but California and Texas nationally.

Miami Carol City's Kenneth Phillips, Daytona Beach Mainland's Avery Atkins and Jacksonville White's Bryan Evans are three of the linchpins to Florida's claim to secondary supremacy. Each player should qualify academically and will be able to toy with offers from the very best programs. Miami Killian's Demetrice Morley leads the next tier of Florida DBs, some of whom (Morley, Live Oak Suwanee's Bruce Johnson, Belle Glade Glades Central's Randy Phillips) already have announced commitments.

Positions that lack depth this fall include defensive tackle (for the second year in a row), where Plantation High's Jeff Owens is the only one in sight among the state's top 50 prospects. While there is, as always, a strong contingent of small, quick running backs, there are precious few power runners of note. About the only one with top-flight offers is Miami Pace back Conredge Collins, a 220-pounder whose father Tony played for the NFL's Miami Dolphins. Seffner Armwood tank Kalvin Bailey fits the size bill at 245 pounds, but he's more likely to end up as a lead blocker at the college level.

Meanwhile, the trend of early commitments — once mainly a Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic phenomenon — continues to advance into the South. Already, more than 30 Sunshine State prospects have announced pledges, at least that many or more are believed to be committed privately, and many others have indicated that they would like to have the recruiting process finished by the end of their senior seasons.

So, while an average year in the state produces more than 250 Division I-A signees, perhaps two-thirds of this year's most prominent seniors likely will have made their pledges — publicly or otherwise — by mid-December. That's big news in Florida, a place where prospects traditionally warm to the spotlight of the January official visit
season.

Pahokee High tailback Antone Smith, considered one of the fastest players in the state, has all the scholarship offers he needs to make a decision. All three major in-state programs were on his early offer list, as well as plenty of big-name out-of-state schools, including Georgia and LSU. Smith led his team to a Class 2B championship last season.

Smith is very short and could have trouble taking an every-down pounding at the college level, but at the very worst he projects as a dynamite third-down option. At best, he's a touchdown threat from anywhere on the field, with the quickness to make multiple tacklers miss on any play. If he stays healthy, Smith likely will rush for this third straight 1,000-yard season this fall. Pahokee prospects often have trouble qualifying, but Smith already has a solid (17) ACT score.

Jacksonville Sandalwood tailback Maurice Wells is another speedy, quick tailback. He has rushed for more than 200 yards in 14 of his 18 career starts. Last season, he broke the state record for carries in a season (383) and Northeast Florida records for yards in a season (3,075) and yards in a game (429).

Academically qualified and the target of most major programs in the country, Wells also faces some concerns about his size, and a college career in the secondary isn't out of the question. The most heavily involved out-of-state suitors appear to be Georgia Tech, Maryland, Ohio State and Southern Cal.

“He's so fast you can't take a wrong step as the tackler,” Sandalwood coach Adam Geis said. “If he gets loose, it's over.”

The beginning and end of any discussion of wide receivers in the state of Florida, Fred Rouse comes from a factory-type program at Tallahassee Lincoln that has produced more than its share (Antonio Cromartie, Craphonso Thorpe, Boo Williams, etc.) of tall, speedy receivers. Texas, FSU, Miami, Southern Cal and LSU are the frontrunners for Rouse, who made 41 receptions last season for nearly 700 yards and nine touchdowns. Rouse has been timed in the 4.4s in the 40-yard dash and projects as a deep threat who easily could play at over 200 pounds in college.

Regarded by multiple services as the top overall prospect in Florida, Miami Carol City stud Kenneth Phillips plays for one of the state's top defenses and will seek his second consecutive state title this fall. Miami, Florida, FSU and LSU are among his top offers. He reminds many of one-time prep All-American safety Derrick Gibson (Miami Killian/FSU/Oakland Raiders). Phillips picked off seven passes as a junior and made 54 tackles, a modest total only because Carol City's front seven was so dominant.

Orlando Edgewater offensive lineman Matt Hardrick could play tackle or guard in college. He has great size and carries it well, though he may be asked to drop a few pounds in college. Hardrick comes from a solid program that took Class 6A runner-up honors in 2003, and he earned large-school all-state honors last fall.

Daytona Beach Mainland athlete Avery Atkins is a two-way starter for one of the top teams in Class 5A. He made three interceptions last season and chipped in more than 500 rushing yards on offense. FSU, Miami and Florida already have offered, plus many top out-of-state programs. A solid student, Avery also is high on LSU.

Chris Barney of Miami Northwestern is a mammoth offensive tackle prospect who reminds some of former Northwestern big man Vernon Carey, who concluded an excellent college career at Miami last fall. Barney, a Class 6A all-state selection who pass protects well and has long arms, favors the Hurricanes over offers from the in-state schools, LSU, Oklahoma and others.

Miami Carol City defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois, who tallied 10 sacks last season for a dominant defense, could play linebacker or defensive end in college. Also a track standout, he holds offers from FSU, Miami, N.C. State and others. Academics are a concern.

Naples High linebacker Spencer Adkins, a Class 5A all-state performer, made 25 tackles for loss as a junior. He has all the top offers, led by the three in-state powers plus Georgia. Adkins has great lower-body strength (530 squat) and comes from a very strong program. Many recruiters believe he has the talent to play as a college freshman, and some say he reminds them of FSU linebacker Ernie Sims.

Plantation High defensive tackle Jeff Owens is on the smaller side for his position, but he makes up for it with impressive speed and playmaking skills. He made 90 tackles and double-digit sacks as a junior, leading to offers from Miami, FSU, Oklahoma, Georgia and others. He also comes from one of the state's most respected programs.

Pensacola Washington linebacker Jon Demps is considered the best defensive player in Northwest Florida. After tallying more than 140 tackles last season, he received offers from all three in-state powers. He also has unofficially visited LSU. Demps maintains solid grades and could play inside or outside at the college level.

Tampa Middleton receiver O.J. Murdock is one of those rare prospects who runs consistently and legitimately under 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. He even broke 4.4 at multiple summer camps, where such things generally are gauged far more accurately than in most other settings. Murdock, also a track standout, averaged around 25 yards per catch as a junior. His top offers include FSU, Florida, Miami, Georgia and Alabama, and he already has a solid SAT score.

Clearwater Central Catholic offensive lineman A.J. Trump is another first-team all-state player with a slew of top offers. Projected as a guard in college, he's an excellent student who has high interest in Notre Dame. The only question about Trump is his competition (Class 2B), where he rarely faces opponents his size.

Kalvin Bailey of Seffner Armwood is a power back playing in a perfect offensive scheme for his skills. He rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, mostly on quick openers, traps and dives. He said he will look for schools that showcase the fullback more than others, including Miami and Georgia. Bailey already has a solid SAT score.

Jacksonville White athlete Bryan Evans played through an ankle injury in 2003 that hampered him for most of the season, but he returns this year with expectations of 1,000 rushing yards on offense and a big season at cornerback on defense. Most college coaches project him as a defensive player, and he has offers from all three in-state powers.

Lauderdale Lakes Anderson linebacker Gerald Williams is a tall, rangy prospect who could fill out into a defensive end. After compiling more than 100 tackles as a junior, he committed to Florida early over offers from FSU, LSU, Auburn and others. Williams has solid grades but may need to bolster his standardized test score.

Eugene Hayes of Madison County is a speedy linebacker who made more than 100 tackles and double-digit sacks last fall for one of the state's top defenses in any classification. Offered by a slew of top programs, including FSU, LSU, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Miami and others, he could end up at strong safety with his speed, but he also plays along the line of scrimmage with great instincts.

Clearwater Countryside quarterback Harrison Beck, a dropback passer with good athleticism, became the first Class of 2005 commitment for Nebraska under new head coach Bill Callahan. After throwing for 2,250 yards last season, Beck received an invitation to the prestigious Elite 11 camp this summer.