High school football in Tampa Bay keeps getting better and better, this we know.
We know because more and more players are playing in college, and more and more colleges are coming to town to seek out those players.
This spring and summer alone, according to Tampa Bay Times research, 123 colleges have extended almost 800 offers to more than 100 local players in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Pasco counties. We can safely say that makes it the busiest offseason in area history.
When Conner Rafferty, a little-known Robinson offensive lineman, got his first offer from USF in June, he became Mr. 100 in Tampa Bay. A handful of others have since received offers.
Why? Everyone is trying harder.
Kids are going to every camp, every combine, every showcase they can find, and there are more and more to find than ever. An offer is like the Holy Grail, and kids are on Twitter counting them up, bragging and — in many cases — even begging.
The 7-on-7 season has exploded. There are more recruiting companies, more recruiting websites, more people with their hands in the game. Heck, even newspapers, after years of ceding the recruiting business to those who do it for a living, are assigning more resources to its coverage. And highlight film is more readily available than ever, just check out YouTube.
While the rest of the world seems to have forgotten them, how about some credit for the local high school coaches, who are developing more talented and better players than ever, while also seeing that more and more qualify academically.
We see you. Take a bow.
Now, keep in mind, tracking college scholarship offers is far from a scientific process. Because colleges cannot discuss players they have offered, you rely on the players and their coaches.
Sometimes, the offer is lost in the translation.
It is not, like you might think, an invitation to attend a college in the fall. It is more an expression of interest. The rest is negotiable.
A player committed to Florida State this summer, and the recruiting services declined to report it because they claimed it wasn’t a “committable” offer.
Another player, from Tampa Bay, had video shot of his commitment that couldn’t be released until he found out if the school — which had indeed offered — would accept.
And yet another player (and his coach) insisted he had offers that he didn’t. We’re not saying they lied; we’re saying the wording of the “offer” is not always clear.
Others, like Northeast’s Ryan Davis for example, were offered months ago and declined to publicize it (Arizona and Florida State, if you’re wondering).
When it comes to offers, you know when you know? National signing day, when a signature makes the offer and commitment binding.
Otherwise, the offer game is purely word of mouth.
Regardless, we feel we have compiled comprehensive and accurate stats. We reported a good many of these offers ourself, and merged it with other commitments reported by 247Sports, Rivals and Big County Preps.
Are offers missing? Probably.
Are there offers listed that don’t exist anymore? Certainly.
But here’s what we know:
A total of 104 Tampa Bay players have received a combined 793 college offers from 123 schools. Of the 124 Division I-A schools, 90 (73 percent) have extended at least one offer to an area player. The other offers come from Ivy League schools, Division I-AA or smaller programs.
USF leads the way
Message board chatter has criticized USF for not recruiting Tampa Bay hard enough. The numbers suggest otherwise. The Bulls have offered 32 area recruits. That’s eight more than the No. 2 team (FAU), 18 more than anyone else in the Big East and 14 more than UCF.
State school offers
Florida Atlantic: 24
Florida International: 15
Florida State: 14
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Air Force has offered four players from Tampa, the home of MacDill Air Force Base. The other service academies, Army and Navy, have offered only one area player.
The farthest Tampa Bay offer came from Hawaii, to St. Petersburg Catholic junior Reilly Gibbons. That’s a 13-hour flight from Tampa International Airport (including a layover or two). Oregon has extended four offers in Tampa Bay, a 2,900-mile drive away.
Shifting conference alliances seem to be affecting Tampa Bay recruiting. Texas’ 12 major programs have extended 12 area offers combined. Four of those came from new SEC member Texas A&M, and three came from Houston, which is headed to the Big East.
Two of California’s 19 offers came from another future Big East member, San Diego State.
SEC rookie Missouri has as many area offers (nine) as Florida, while Memphis (four), Navy (one) and Boise State (one) are also exploring Tampa Bay before they join the Big East.
Former Big East member West Virginia continues to recruit Florida and has offers to 16 area players.
No conference has more offers in Tampa Bay than the SEC (117). No. 2 on the list? The MAC. Ball State’s 23 area offers are more than everyone but USF and FAU. UMass (22) is next on the list, while Bowling Green (17) and Ohio (16) aren’t far behind. Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and Northern Illinois have shut out Tampa Bay so far.
More than 90 percent of Tampa Bay’s offers (719 of 793) are to players entering their senior season. But younger athletes are getting looks and offers, too. Nineteen rising juniors have landed a combined 65 offers, and six players who just finished their freshman year claim a total of nine offers.
Who has the most offers?
Jesuit WR Travis Johnson, a Miami recruit, has more offers than any area player (43). Wharton’s UF commit, Vernon Hargreaves III, is next (42), followed by Hillsborough DE Jordan Sherit (36), St. Petersburg Catholic RB Ryan Green (35) and Tampa Bay Tech WR Richard Benjamin (32). Sherit (UF), Green (FSU) and Benjamin (UCF) have committed.
Thanks in large part to Travis Johnson and TE Vincent Jackson, Jesuit has amassed 120 offers — most of any area high school. Armwood and Plant are tied for second with 68.
Plant and Lakewood each have eight recruits with offers. Jesuit and Armwood are next with seven each. Thirty-eight schools have at least one player with an offer.
Assessing positions is tricky because two schools might recruit the same player for different positions, but here’s a rough snapshot of what positions are most highly sought after in the bay area.
Receiver: 156 offers, 14 players
Offensive/defensive line: 151 offers, 19 players
Safety: 109 offers, 11 players
Defensive back: 105 offers, 12 players
Running back: 101 offers, 16 players
Defensive end: 106 offers, nine players
Quarterback: 18 offers, seven players
Kicker: One offer, one player
Top 25 breakdown
Defending national champion Alabama has extended five offers in Tampa Bay. The rest of last year’s AP Top 10 has thrown out 40 offers. Top-25 teams from last year have 127 offers to area players, with the most coming from West Virginia (16), followed by FSU and Cincinnati (14 each).
Three leagues have had every team offer at least one area prospect. The ACC ranges from Florida State’s 14 offers to Virginia Tech’s one scholarship. The Big East runs from USF (32) to Temple (2). In the SEC, no one has extended more area offers than Vanderbilt (18), and no one has fewer than Texas A&M (four). Iowa is the only school from the Big Ten without an offer to a local recruit.
Here are the conferences scouting the area the most so far in 2012, broken down by school:
Boston College: 9
Georgia Tech: 5
North Carolina: 3
N.C. State: 6
Virginia Tech: 1
Wake Forest: 6
Iowa State: 18
Kansas State: 0
Oklahoma State: 2
Texas Tech: 4
West Virginia: 16
Michigan State: 7
Ohio State: 10
Penn State: 4
Ball State: 23
Bowling Green: 17
Central Michigan: 0
Eastern Michigan: 0
Kent State: 3
Miami (OH): 0
Northern Illinois: 0
Western Michigan: 12
Arizona State: 2
Oregon State: 0
Washington State: 0
Mississippi State: 9
Ole Miss: 11
South Carolina: 10
Texas A&M: 4
Arkansas State: 5
Middle Tennessee: 20
North Texas: 1
South Alabama: 18
Western Kentucky: 13
Compiled by staff writers John C. Cotey and Matt Baker.