DADE CITY — As Pasco High School defensive lineman Joey Ivie spent nearly every offseason day grunting and straining in the weight room, he hoped college recruiters would notice.
But the rising senior probably didn’t expect what happened next.
That recruiters and reporters would flood him with phone calls and text messages and Facebook posts. That defending national champion Alabama would stop to see him practice in Dade City. That Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher would call him personally to offer a scholarship.
Or that in four months, he would go from a sleeper prospect looking for his first offer to a four-star recruit who turned down more than 20 schools to commit to Florida.
“It’s crazy,” said Pasco athlete and fellow Division I recruit Janarion Grant.
Ivie’s rise began after a solid junior season. The disruptive pass rusher ranked second on the team with 53 tackles and eight sacks during the regular season to help lead the Pirates’ run to the Class 5A state semifinals. He earned first-team honors from the Sunshine Athletic Conference.
But in a recruiting environment where offers fly early — even Pasco kicker Brandon Ray had received SEC letters after his freshman season — Ivie qualified as a late bloomer.
An offseason in the weight room and at the kitchen table changed that.
“I guess he decided it was his time to do what he needed to do,” Pirates coach Tom McHugh said.
The 6-foot-4 Ivie ended the season at a sturdy 245 pounds but wanted to get bigger. He started eating everything in sight — following spaghetti dinners with soup an hour later and throwing down protein.
By April, he had swelled to 262 pounds. By May, he was up to 270 but remained quick enough to catch passes at tight end.
“I just started working hard,” Ivie said. “A lot of people were telling me, ‘You can do this. You’re a big guy. You’re fast for your weight.
Keep pushing yourself, and you can make it somewhere.’
"I did that.”
The weight on his barbells rose, too.
His best bench press total climbed from 315 pounds to 425. His maximum squat rose to 500 pounds, and he took fourth at the Class A state weightlifting competition.
“From Day 1 when Coach McHugh introduced me to the group, (Ivie) was my right hand,” said Stuart Hart, Saint Leo University’s strength and conditioning coach who began volunteering at Pasco in the offseason. “He was always next to me, always picking my brain.”
That advice helped Ivie set a school record with a 315-pound clean and jerk at a spring weightlifting meet. At teammate Aryn Strickland’s request, he did it again on camera a few days later, ripping the weight over his head, dropping it down and throwing it up again.
“I wasn’t even warmed up,” Ivie said.
Coaches sent the YouTube clip to colleges around the country. They responded.
UMass gave Ivie his first offer in February. Iowa State and Bowling Green followed the next month. But the levee broke in April when he starred at a Miami camp and earned a scholarship chance from the Hurricanes.
“Since then, the offers have just came in,” Ivie said.
Added McHugh: “Maybe it was his time.”
Interest from UMass and Western Kentucky turned into offers from Ole Miss and West Virginia. Rivals bumped him from an unranked recruit to four-star status, from a sleeper prospect to Florida’s No. 41 overall player and the nation’s No. 16 strongside defensive end.
“Ivie has continually progressed since his junior season concluded and is a ferocious force whether it is off the edge or working inside on the defensive line,” Rivals analyst Chris Nee wrote last month.
Half the SEC offered him in a one-month span after watching him practice in the spring. The teenager with no offers on Feb. 1 had 23 by early June.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Ivie said. “I’m just trying to stay calm. I just want to get bigger.”
Ivie’s chaotic four months ended just as quickly as they began. The lifelong Gators fan committed to UF two weeks ago because of his comfort with Gainesville and the coaching staff.
As one of Tampa Bay’s top prospects spends his summer catching in 7-on-7 games and bulking up to get ready for the fall, Ivie faces a new challenge:
Trying to get recruiters from 22 other schools to stop flooding his Facebook page.
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.