By Dave Glenn, ACCSports.com
August 25, 2003
This Is A Recording: There's No Better Place To Find Top Talent
As usual, the volume and quality of talent in Florida are higher than college recruiters will find in almost any other state in 2003. On the other hand, where some of the top Sunshine State talent is coming from this year is a bit unusual. Almost annually, the state's best and deepest position is wide receiver. But at that position, only Xavier Carter ranks as one of Florida's elite prospects this fall. Quarterback, in contrast, looks as deep as it has been in years. Daytona Beach Seabreeze dynamo Xavier Lee and Land O' Lakes star Drew Weatherford head the QB class for this season.
Weatherford, who announced a commitment to Florida State (see page R-3) over Auburn and Tennessee in July, threw just six interceptions last fall while passing for 39 touchdowns. He recently attended the EA Sports Elite 11 quarterback camp, which gathers the nation's top passing prospects in Southern California on an annual basis.
Lee has been regarded among the state's top quarterbacks since his sophomore season and will challenge 7,000 career yards as a senior. He dazzled at a recent seven-on-seven camp in Birmingham, Ala., and shows ideal skills for a fast-break, pass-first scheme.
Weatherford and Lee are followed by a contingent of surefire Division I-A signees that includes Cornelius Ingram of Hawthorne High, Ohio State commitment Joe Bauserman of Tallahassee Lincoln and underrated Brent Schaeffer of Deerfield Beach High. From a state that typically produces hit-or-miss results at the quarterback position, this year's crop holds great promise. Ingram also was an Elite 11 participant this summer.
There are some exciting guys at that position in Florida, one recruiter said. Guys who can run and throw, and guys who like to stay in the pocket. It's going to be a (recruiting) battle for any of them.
Also look for an unusually heavy amount of recruiting attention for prospects in the Orlando area. Talent there has been on the slip for years, but this season top-shelf recruits such as defensive tackle Aaron Jones (Edgewater High), receiver Kenny Ingram (Edgewater High) and defensive tackle Joe Joseph (Oak Ridge High) indicate an improvement for that region.
Here's a closer look at some of the elite Florida prospects from the Class of 2004:
Miami Carol City linebacker Willie Williams, formerly of Miami Monsignor Pace, is the state's top defensive prospect. He's likely to stay close to home, with one of Florida's three major powers. A first-team all-state selection as a junior, he has broken 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and was a top-notch varsity performer even as a sophomore. Williams was credited with eight sacks, four interceptions and more than 100 tackles last season. Academics are a concern.
Melbourne Palm Bay wideout Xavier Carter is perhaps the state's best combination of size (6-3, 190) and speed (4.38). He averaged just under three catches per game last season as a junior, contributing 750 receiving yards to a state championship team, and figures to get more touches as a senior. He's still awaiting a passing test score, but he has a solid GPA and should qualify. Carter also is among the state's top track athletes in the spring. Florida and Miami were among the in-state schools that extended early offers, while LSU, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee and UCLA are among the many out-of-state suitors.
Lake Mary High linebacker Keith Rivers is a quick defender who has room to add at least 20 pounds on his tall frame. He could contribute early on the outside, or take a redshirt to add the weight and play inside in 2005. An academic qualifier, he was named all-state as a junior. Southern Cal leads the out-of-state schools courting Rivers, though he'll have his pick of Florida, FSU and Miami if he chooses to stay closer to home.
Miami Killian tailback Bobby Washington posted a 1,300-yard season last year and made an early commitment to Miami over Florida, Florida State, Ohio State and many others. He's a strong, bullish runner who can break tackles and beat defensive backs in a footrace. His academics are an early question mark, especially considering the Hurricanes' insistence on an SAT score of 820 or above, even though the NCAA's revised sliding scale no longer requires it. Washington said he probably will take several official visits (including one to N.C. State) in the winter despite the commitment, and there will be no shortage of schools trying to lure him away. He's good enough to play anywhere, and he's a perfect fit for an I-formation scheme.
Daytona Beach Seabreeze quarterback Xavier Lee features a quick release and an ability to read defenses that is extremely advanced for the high school level. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and 44 touchdowns last season for a team that made a playoff run at the state title. Florida, FSU and Auburn are among the leading suitors for Lee, who plays in a pass-first, wide-open offense and knows how to get rid of the ball against the blitz. He's also a great running threat, but he prefers to stay in the pocket.
Homestead South Dade tailback Charlie Jones earned all-state honors last season by turning in 18 touchdowns on a 1,600-yard season, setting the stage for a big senior year and a hot recruiting battle. Miami, Florida and Notre Dame all have offered him, plus Ohio State, Tennessee and many others. Jones has earned a passing test score and will qualify. He has a career-high game of 348 yards, which broke the county record of current Miami tailback Frank Gore. Jones runs a 4.5 in the 40 and also shows good receiving hands.
Jacksonville Mandarin defensive back Tony Carter is the fastest player (4.4) in the talent-rich Jacksonville area, and he could end up with 20 career interceptions after posting nine as a junior. He's also adept at blocking kicks, both punts and conversion attempts, while coming off the corner on special teams. Look for Carter to find the end zone a few times this fall as a kick returner as well. He was said to have had trouble jamming bigger receivers at the line of scrimmage at FSU's summer camp, but his speed more than makes up for his size (5-9, 165). Also a top track athlete, he's still working for a passing test score but probably will end up at one of the three in-state powers.
Neptune Beach Fletcher defensive back Kyle Jackson heads into his third year as a starter having grown two inches during the last two years. He also added some strength during the offseason, and he will be one of the top defenders in the state. Though he can play cornerback, colleges like his size and ability to roam, so he projects as a free safety. Florida is high on the list of Jackson, an academic qualifier who made nine interceptions as a junior, giving him a school-record 19 for his career. Florida State and Georgia Tech also are among his early favorites.
Most recruiters project a very bright gridiron future for Hawthorne High quarterback Cornelius Ingram, even though he has two significant factors working against him. First is his level of competition. Hawthorne is a small school with a small-school schedule, so Ingram doesn't see many opponents who can approach his talent level. He also is a highly regarded basketball prospect, and he has no plans to give up either of his specialties in college. His early leaders include Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, UNC and Tennessee. He participated in the Elite 11 QB camp over the summer, after throwing for more than 1,300 yards as a junior. Also a dangerous rushing threat, he's still working to attain a qualifying test score.
Fort Lauderdale Dillard fullback/linebacker Vernon Smith, formerly of tiny North Lauderdale Academy, is about to find out the difference between Class A and Class 5A prep football after a transfer. Especially in South Florida, it's no small leap. Smith projects at either fullback or inside linebacker and has offers from top programs in top conferences, including Florida, Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma and others. An all-state selection as a junior after compiling 109 tackles, he's still awaiting a qualifying test score.
Miami Killian defensive back J.R. Bryant is a versatile cornerback prospect who chose Miami early over some top out-of-state offers, including Michigan and Ohio State. One of Killian's best defensive back prospects since former Florida State and NFL stud Derrick Gibson, Bryant is not a big hitter but developed a reputation as a fine cover man at Miami Columbus, where he played before a transfer to Killian. He also averaged better than 25 yards on punt returns last season. Bryant's teammate, tailback Bobby Washington (see above), also is a Miami commitment.
Tallahassee Lincoln linebacker Rodney Gallon is known as a coachable player with a positive attitude, great work habits and a serious approach to academics. His top offers include Florida and FSU, as well as Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. Gallon was named all-state after posting 114 tackles last year, and even as a sophomore he contributed 12 tackles in a state championship game. He runs 4.5 in the 40 and is comfortable playing on the weak side. Playing on one of North Florida's top programs, he faces college-bound competition daily in practice.
Sarasota Riverview offensive lineman Drew Miller, a hard-nosed, massive line prospect, has the mean streak and intensity high school blockers often lack. He also comes from one of the state's traditionally strong programs, although Riverview doesn't produce as many Division I-A prospects as it did years ago. An academic qualifier, Miller has great lower-body strength (500-pound squat) and projects as a tackle. FSU, Miami and Florida all have offered, as well as Tennessee and some other top programs, and he's expected to stay in the Sunshine State.
Jacksonville White defensive back Dawayne Grace didn't make the preseason top 40, but nobody will be surprised if he makes the postseason list. Named to the prestigious Florida Times-Union Super 11 team, he has shown the ability to play cornerback or safety in White's three-man secondary scheme. Underrated in part because superstar Dee Webb commanded all the attention last season, Grace now steps in as his team's top cover man. He has excellent height for the position and offers from all three in-state powers.
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