Our second annual countdown of the top 100 football players in Tampa Bay — compiled after a spring and summer of evaluating talent, and a couple of brawls between staffers.
Class, school: Jr., Armwood
Ht/wt: 6-4, 250
Breakdown: At times last fall, Cowart's potential was evident. In early September against Tampa Bay Tech, he totaled 11 tackles, a sack and interception. But he managed only three other sacks the rest of the year. “Last year, you could tell me, 'Byron, run to the ball,’ and I could do it, but...I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “This year I know I’ve improved to where my coach doesn’t even have to be at the game." Cowart, who lists Florida and Vanderbilt among his college favorites, could line up inside on one play and on the edge the next.
Class, school: Sr., Tampa Catholic
Ht/wt: 6-4, 290
Breakdown: Martinez has seemingly been destined for stardom since cracking the Crusaders’ starting lineup as a ninth grader, then being named to MaxPreps’ top freshmen list in 2011. He’s delivered on that promise, dominating the past three seasons and then committing this summer to his “dream school,” Florida State. This fall, he could seal his reputation as one of the bay area’s most-decorated linemen in recent memory.
Class, school: Jr., Sickles
Ht/wt: 5-10, 174
Breakdown: In the wake of a breakthrough autumn (1,319 rushing yards) and summer (at least three SEC offers), McCloud appears poised for an equally dazzling encore. Though being recruited heavily as a defensive back, he’ll remain the offensive workhorse for the Gryphons, operating behind a right side featuring two behemoths (RG Deandre Mclean, RT Zach Hudson). Barring injury, another 1,000-yard season appears very realistic.
Class, school: Sr., Tampa Catholic
Ht/wt: 6-1, 210
Breakdown: Whether on offense or defense, Harrell finds a way to make an impact. He tallied 108 tackles as a full-time linebacker and still rushed for 616 yards and six touchdowns on 8.2 yards per carry. He’ll pull more double duty this fall, making him one of the area’s most versatile athletes. Harrell will also soon decide on a school from among 30 offers, including UF, FSU and Georgia.
Class, school: Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic
Ht/wt: 6-5, 285
Breakdown: Gibbons committed to the University of Miami — one of 37 colleges to offer the left tackle — in April. Originally a tight end for the Barons, Gibbons moved to offensive line last year and blew open big holes for SPC backs. An all-around athlete, Gibbons also plays basketball for the Barons.
Class, school: Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
Ht/wt: 6-3, 216
Breakdown: With quickness and aggressiveness, Reed is adept at getting into the backfield and creates matchup problems for opposing offenses. Reed gets his defensive prowess from his father, John, who was an outside linebacker at the University of North Carolina from 1985-89. The Florida commit, who played at Clearwater last season, joins a defense that posted a school-record seven shutouts last season and averaged nearly four sacks per game.
Class, school: Sr., Jesuit
Ht/wt: 6-2, 235
Breakdown: Predominantly an edge rusher his first two years, when he totaled more than 20 sacks, Jackson slides inside this year. “Basically, I can guarantee you people are going to have a hard time running the (isolation) on us and he’s good tackle to tackle,” said coach Matt Thompson, who recently made Jackson a captain. His boatload of offers includes one from Alabama.
Class, school: Sr., Gaither
Ht/wt: 6-1, 185
Breakdown: Tall and rangy, Oruwariye has the build and athleticism of defensive backs currently en vogue in both the college and NFL. His stock really took off over the spring, when colleges were able to come in and get a close look at him. Oruwariye is considering more than a dozen scholarship offers, including USF, UCF and Vanderbilt.
Class, school: Sr., Plant
Ht/wt: 6-3, 230
Breakdown: Beck managed to lead the Panthers in tackles last season — 126 — despite playing on a defense with nearly a half-dozen college recruits. He also showed a knack for making big plays, tallying six sacks and eight pass deflections. The University of Texas commit could, and should, be even better this fall: he showed more comfort dropping into pass coverage during the summer 7-on-7 circuit.
Class, school: Sr., Countryside
Ht/wt: 5-11, 175
Breakdown: Though he was dogged by injuries last season, Johnson still tallied 16 tackles and two interceptions. The three-star recruit has more than 20 offers, from schools that include Florida State, UCF, Vanderbilt and Louisville. He will anchor a secondary that should rank among the best in the area. In the spring jamboree against Palm Harbor University and Largo, he also showed off his punt return skills.