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Florida’s beefy offensive linemen cast big shadows for their respective high schools. But even in this recruiting hotbed, that size has rarely been enough to attract the attention of out-of-state colleges.
College coaches looking for an edge, particularly those in the Midwest or Northeast, flock to Florida in search of skill players who possess a valued commodity: speed.
The one thing colleges in those regions do have in abundance is offensive linemen, especially massive ones. That puts linemen in Florida at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting.
“It’s really hard for a lineman around here to get noticed by schools outside the state,” said Clearwater Central Catholic’s John Davis, who has been a head coach locally for 18 seasons. “The schools up north are not going to take a lineman in Florida if they can find someone in their home state with the same size because he is going to be less expensive. That school can pay in-state tuition for that player and not have to spend money on flights for recruiting trips.”
The results show in the rosters. Of the colleges that recruit heavily in Florida, the balance leans toward the skill side.
For example, Iowa State currently has 18 players from Florida. None are offensive linemen.
Rutgers has 13 players from the state, two of whom are offensive linemen.
Quincy, an NAIA school in Illinois, boast 37 Floridians, three of whom are O-linemen, including Pasco’s Chuck Wood.
“Colleges from other areas are going to come here to find something they can’t get anywhere else, which is speed,” said Josh Newberg, a recruiting analyst for 247sports.com. “It goes the other way here. A state school, such as FSU, isn’t going to search for a receiver in the Midwest when there are plenty to choose from here. If you have something in your backyard, you’re going to try to get that kid just to keep the connections and pipelines open within your state.”
Not every offensive lineman in Florida is an afterthought to recruiters. Former Countryside High standout Tyler Moore was one of the top recruits in the country and started as a freshman this past season for Nebraska.
“Tyler was more the exception not the rule,” Countryside coach Jared Davis said. “Tyler had more than 30 offers from schools before his senior season. He was the kind of player schools everywhere were going to look at. But for the most part it’s tough because big kids are a dime a dozen elsewhere.”
For every Tyler Moore, there are countless other linemen who figure relative obscurity to be their lot.
Jeff Albert, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior, replaced Moore at left tackle. Albert had a stellar 2011, leading the Cougars to a undefeated regular season. He was named to the Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County team and started in the county senior all-star game.
Albert has tried to grab the attention of colleges by sending letters and tapes. So far, he has interest from four smaller schools: Minot State (N.D.), Assumption (Mass.), Stetson and Florida A&M.
“I wanted to go a northern school, but it’s somewhat of a catch-22 because I don’t have a lot of opportunities for that,” Albert said. “I expected to have more offers from schools, but you have to deal with the hand that you’re dealt.”
Clearwater Central Catholic’s Ian Koch, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman, was a Class 3A first-team, all-state selection, but has yet to receive a scholarship offer.
But there is hope for an increased pool of offers in the future thanks to a shift toward spread offenses that place more emphasis on the athleticism of linemen, a strength of Florida athletes. And more state schools are adding football programs, like Ave Maria, Florida Tech and Stetson.
“Linemen here have struggled to get noticed even back when I was playing,” said Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez, who played at his alma mater and Princeton.
“They certainly are at a disadvantage, especially the guys on the bubble. I’ve always been a component of junior college football. I don’t know if that will happen, but at least there are more schools in the state adding football which helps to create more opportunities.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com.