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Countryside defensive lineman Mike Love has rocketed up the recruiting charts after a strong junior season during which he recorded 15 sacks and was named the Tampa Bay Times’ 2011 Pinellas County defensive player of the year. He has 17 offers, including Arizona, Iowa State and Florida International but none from the big state schools. This season he will try to lead the Cougars to their third straight undefeated regular season and deep into the playoffs after losing in the Class 7A region quarterfinal last season to Venice. Tuesday, Love took time to talk Times staff writer Bob Putnam about the recruiting process, the upcoming season and his desire to not only wrap up opposing quarterbacks but catch a few passes from his own.
With the season just more than a month away, where do you stand as far as recruiting?
I have a lot of offers but most are out of state. Just like any kid that grew up here, I want to stay in the state to play college football. But I’ll be grateful for whatever opportunity comes my way. My preference would be to play close to home and near my mom.
What state schools would you like to play for?
If I had to pick, USF would be my dream school. I also would love to get an offer from Florida. But I’m really not a picky guy. I just want to move on, get an education and play at a great school.
What is the craziest moment you have had during the recruiting process?
A recruiter from Alabama sent me a message on Facebook a few weeks ago and said he liked my film and wanted to get me to a few camps in Tuscaloosa. He said I was in “beast mode.” I really liked that. I even told my mom about that one.
How much will you move around on defense this season?
I’ll be a defensive end mostly, but I might stand up more and not just have my hand in the dirt and go. They might not let me that too much, though, because our defensive coordinator says I can get out of control and do my own thing. But I know colleges want me more as an outside linebacker.
What about playing offense?
I ask Coach (Jared Davis) all the time. I can catch passes as well as anyone. I’m tall. I can be a receiver. I can even be the jump man whenever we get inside the 20-yard line.
What does he say about that?
He says become a great defensive end first.
How hard was it to go undefeated in the regular season last year and lose in the first round of the playoffs?
It was awful, the worst feeling in the world. I didn’t want to talk to anyone for days. I think it was so tough because we got so far the previous two years. We don’t ever want to have that feeling again. That’s why we’re the hardest working team out there. We want to be the best.
How much pride does the team take in the undefeated streak (25 straight regular-season wins)?
It’s big for us. But we’re thinking beyond that. We want to go undefeated throughout. We want to play 16 (games) this season and not lose.
How long have you been playing football?
Not long, to be honest. I was more of a backyard football guy growing up. I didn’t even really play until eighth grade when they had full pads in middle school when I was in Pasco County. I moved to Countryside and started as a wide receiver, but the coaches thought I’d make a better defensive end. That’s where I’ve been ever since.
In the spring of your sophomore season you were declared academically ineligible and couldn’t play. How hard was that?
It was an educational experience for me. It showed me the importance of making the grades. I want to be the uncommon guy. I don’t want to be like everyone else. I’m always going to go to teachers for help and I’m never going to let that happen to me again. It shocked me when it happened.
Where do your grades stand now?
I’m around a 2.4 GPA, but I think I can raise it to 2.8 by the end of my first semester this season. I also plan to take the ACT and SAT twice.
How fast has this year gone by?
Too fast. But I also don’t feel like I’m wasting my days. I’m working every day to become better at everything. I just want to have a great season, be kind to people and keep remembering that it’s the little things that get you to the big things.