We watched games, attended offseason events, covered 7-on-7 tournaments, attended spring practices and watched highlight videos.
Picking the best high school football players in Tampa Bay to rank was easy.
Picking only 100 was hard.
Putting them in order was harder.
Picking a No. 1 was hardest.
There was freakish athleticism to choose from in Deon Cain and George Campbell.
There were grown men to choose from in Byron Cowart and Shavar Manuel.
There were quarterbacks who scare the pants off defensive coordinators like Dwayne Lawson and Ryan Davis to choose from.
The final list changed daily. Last week’s No. 1 switched spots with this week’ No. 1.
We argued, a little.
Then we picked Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud III.
While there were many factors, it really came down this: He will touch the ball, and you will hold your breath.
You, the fan, the defensive player waiting to make the tackle, the coaches who had to game plan all week to stop him.
When you breathe again, it’s only to oooh and ahhh.
That’s what the best players do to you.
Previous HomeTeam 100 installments:
Position/school: RB, Sickles
Ray Ray McCloud III’s vision and balance and acceleration are without peer in Tampa Bay. They are the reasons that last year, McCloud rushed for 2,316 yards and 26 touchdowns, why in back-to-back games against playoff contenders Tampa Bay Tech and Alonso he ran for 249 and 256 yards, respectively, and scored seven touchdowns. But we asked Ricky Sailor, who runs Unsigned Preps and has known McCloud since he was a kid, what made the Gryphon special, what made Ray Ray Ray Ray, and it wasn’t his wizardry as much as it was his resolve.
“When he played against Plant, at Plant, Ray Ray took some shots. I’m talking about he took some clean shots, big shots that I’m sure went on some dude’s highlight tapes. I mean, they were some hits. And he kept fighting. And he kept getting up, he kept running harder and running harder, and fighting some more. I knew Ray Ray was tough, but after that Plant game, it was official. He’s tough!”
Position/school: DL, Armwood
Were you surprised by the Rivals No. 1 ranking (nationally, 2015 class)? “I’m blessed, but that’s not what I work for. I just like going against the top guys, all the top guys are offensive linemen or defensive linemen. I’m just trying to work to beat the offensive linemen and work harder than the defensive linemen.”
Do you feel like there’s pressure on you to perform this season (13 sacks in 2013)? “I’m just going to do what I always do — contribute to the team and play within myself, nothing more, nothing less. Just give 100 percent effort every play. I know what’s expected of me. People have always had high expectations of me since freshman year.”
Do you have a gut feeling about where you want to go to college? “No, I’m taking like two more visits to Oregon and Maryland, but it’ll come down to those three or four (Florida, Alabama, Oregon, Maryland). I’ll make a decision around December.”
Is it going to be a relief when you make up your mind? “Everybody says, ‘Oh the recruiting process is horrible.’ But it depends on who you have around you and how you deal with situations. It’s fun to me. I get to meet people, connections wise. It’ll be a relief once I’m in college, but right now I’m just going with the flow.”
What are you most looking forward to about your last high school season? “Just showing everything I’ve learned in these camps, the moves and working with all these NFL coaches. And just ball out. Hopefully we’ll win a championship and just take it one game at a time.”
Position/school: ATH, Tampa Bay Tech
Five things to know about Cain
1. Cain had the best offseason in Tampa Bay. He wowed folks at the Under Armour combine in January, was named MVP at the Unsigned Preps Showcase, starred for the national runnerup 7-on-7 Unsigned Preps team at IMG, and was all-tourney and MVP selection at Battle of the Bay and 9Route. In January, he had a handful of offers. By the time he committed to Clemson, he had dozens more, and invites to the Under Armour and Army all-star games.
2. Cain may have made more spectacular catches than we can count this offseason, but he has only one catch in his high school career, for 4 yards. “Whatever I do in 7-on-7, I do in pads.”
3. Cain said he was offered as a quarterback by LSU, USF, Georgia Tech and Ohio State. “Actually, playing quarterback at LSU was very tempting,” he said.
4. Last year, Cain threw for 1,945 yards and rushed for 731 more. Asked if he’d welcome a chance to play wide receiver his senior year at Tech: “I wouldn’t like that. I’m the quarterback.”
5. Cain is switching his jersey number from No. 5 to No. 1. He says too many people are wearing 5 now, and he “wants to be like Cam Newton,” who wears No. 1. “No. 5 is not my swag.
Position/school: QB, Hillsborough
We think Lawson, a Miami commitment, could have one of the greatest statistical seasons in school history this fall. Here’s a look at 2013, by the numbers:
2 Quarterbacks last season in Tampa Bay who threw for 2,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 — Lawson and Player of the Year Deiondre Porter of Jefferson
4 Touchdowns a game Lawson averaged in the final four games, to go with 267.5 yards passing and 129 rushing in that span
5 Games of more than 350 yards of total offense
6 Games of more than 100 yards rushing, including a career-high 213 vs. Tampa Bay Tech
9 Games (out of 10) in which Lawson threw for at least one TD and ran for at least one
310 Passing yards vs. Robinson
402 Passing yards vs. Blake
Position/school: ATH, East Lake
Campbell, a five-star recruit, is considered one of the top receivers in the 2015 class and has become so popular that he has his own Wikipedia page. After leading the Eagles with 769 yards receiving and seven touchdowns last season, Campbell is poised to put up even bigger numbers with the graduation of fellow receiver Artavis Scott. We asked some of Campbell’s peers what they thought of him. They DM’d us on Twitter.
Reggie Campbell, Largo WR: “I like how George is willing to do anything to help his team. He has the length and the speed to run by or jump over a cornerback.”
Jonathan Crawford, Largo DB: “I never really had to guard him in a game, but if there’s one thing that makes him stand out, it is his speed.”
Ryan Davis, Lakewood QB: “He just has freakish athletic ability.”
Jake Hudson, East Lake QB: “One thing he does well is run nice routes. He’s open all the time and if I throw a bad ball, he makes sure it’s no big deal and makes sure I stay up. He always stays positive, and is a great player and teammate.”
Carson Lydon, East Lake LB: “George is a good teammate because he makes explosive plays and is a good motivator. He can get kids to work harder and is vocal about the lessons and the behaviors he thinks our team should have.”
Position/school: DE, Blake
Five reasons we love Manuel
1. He has a presence to him, and intensity and seriousness. While others are breathlessly tweeting away about their offers, Manuel collects them like business cards and simply files them away. That’s some serious focus.
2. The relationship between Manuel and his position coach, Anthony Davis, is a great one. Davis understands the position, and Manuel is buying in. We suspect it’s why he’s getting better and better, and why he makes the big jump after we ranked him 95th last year.
3. He’s a junior. Two more years left. If you just said, “Are you kidding me?”, chances are you play offensive line or quarterback in Hillsborough County.
4. Manuel is a beast. He stole the show at the Unsigned Preps Showcase, going up against the likes of Nature Coast’s Christian Pellage and IMG’s Tyree St. Louis, and left folks buzzing. Already strong as an ox, he is exceptionally quick for his size, and once he gets his technique down, he’ll be blowing up offensive lines in a myriad of ways.
5. Manuel has played 19 high school football games. He has sacks in 15 of them, including 19 sacks last year. With 29 sacks in his career, how high can Manuel go?
Position/school: ATH, Lakewood
Davis, a four-star athlete, can do it all: run, throw, even catch passes if necessary. In fact, he likely will be a receiver in college. His game reminds many of his older brother, Chris, a former star at St. Petersburg Catholic who went on to play at FSU and with the Tennessee Titans. “Ryan is one of those players that comes around every blue moon,” Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “He is kind of like (former Lakewood star) Bernard Reedy in a lot of ways. Ryan just does things on the field that make you scratch your head. But he’s a better kid than player. He doesn’t carry himself in an arrogant way. He is always looking for ways to get better. He gets attention but doesn’t ask for it.”
Who is the better athlete between you and your brother? “We are both great players and play the same, so we are pretty much the same player.”
Who is the toughest defensive player you have to face this season? “Nobody.”
How would a defensive player go about stopping you? “They won’t.”
The best part about the summer is…? “No school.”
What will it take for Lakewood to reach the state championship game? “Hard work, dedication and outworking our opponent.”
What makes you a great quarterback? “My ability to make a play when a play breaks down.”
Position/school: WR, Tampa Catholic
Craig, considered one of the top recruits nationally in the 2016 class, put up big numbers in two years as a Pasco underclassman: 500-plus receiving yards, 41 tackles, four interceptions and 16 total touchdowns. Yes, he’s only a junior. We asked some of Craig’s peers what they thought of him. They DM’d us on Twitter:
Brad Mayes, Berkeley Prep QB: “Nate is just a grown man. He’s a true baller. He is going to give many defenses problems this year. Just hopefully not ours.”
Chris Oladokun, Alonso QB: “Nate Craig, to me, is easily one the most athletic guys in any class in the country. His size, speed and IQ for the game is just unfair for cornerbacks that play against him. He’s an easy-going teammate on and off the field and doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s always hilarious. Throwing to a player like Nate Craig makes my life and any QBs life 100 (times) easier.”
Jake Romp, Tampa Catholic WB: “Nate Craig is the definition of an athlete. He is probably the most humble kid I know on our team. Never complains about anything, he just does what he is told no questions asked. He makes the players around him better.”
Ray Ray McCloud III, Sickles RB: “Explosive, exciting, man child, different, physical.”
Auden Tate, Wharton WR: “He’s a great player. He’s the kind of player that you triple team during a game and cross your fingers, hoping it works.”
Position/school: DE, Freedom
Five things to know about Patchan
1. Though he missed the last three games last season with an injury, Patchan’s highlight video shows him running down and making tackles on HT100 No. 1 player Ray Ray McCloud III, No. 3 Deon Cain and No. 37 Isaac Holder. Not too shabby.
2. Patchan, a Miami commit, is the runt of the litter at home. Father Matt III was a 6-foot-3, 275-pound rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988; brother Matt, who is with the Bucs, is 6-6, 315, and Brandon — a basketball player at Nova Southeastern, is 6-8, 245.
3. Scott is an unabashed, card-carrying momma’s boy. Sure, his brothers make fun of him for it, but Deanne always has his back, he says. “She’s a fighter. She’ll turn from sweet, loving mother to a linebacker in a minute.”
4. Scott works a summer job at Hollister, and lucky for him the XLs at the store aren’t big enough to fit a real XL like Patchan. “Everything is really tight,’’ he said.
5. Patchan may play some Wildcat this year. No, really. He was messing around one practice with the scout and took a jet sweep to the house, and he convinced his coaches to give it a try in the spring game. “I really think I could be a contributor,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind doing it anywhere on the field, but I think Coach is thinking more on the goal line.”
Position/school: LB, Pasco
As far as high school football goes, Bowman Archibald is far from a household name. That will change this fall. What makes Bowman, a Miami commitment, so good?
1. As a linebacker, Bowman is one of the best in Tampa Bay. He is a hole-filling big hitter with enough speed to get on quarterbacks and running backs before they know what happened. He’ll be too big to play it in college, but on the prep level, he’s pretty darned good.
2. As a tight end, Bowman is a good blocker, but he has splendid hands. Most of his catches last year were over-the-shoulder beauties, and he even lined up as a wide receiver on some plays.
3. Bowman is athletic and smooth. Once, the Pirates ran a wide receiver screen for him, and Bowman ran it perfectly. Another time, he caught a pass and beat everyone around the corner and outran the defenders down the sideline for a score. Like butter.
4. As a defensive end, Bowman is quick enough to blow by tackles, and strong enough to push them aside. If he’s not a tight end at the next level, he can be a defensive end. Or…
5. With such great feet and a frame sure to grow, one recruiter from a major BCS school said if Bowman grows into a left tackle, he’ll be an NFL draft pick. Point is, Bowman is that good, that versatile, and if he’s as dominant as most folks think he will be, Pasco County should be on full alert this fall.