ORLANDO — More than 100 times in IMG Academy’s first season fielding a high school football team, quarterback Michael O’Connor handed the ball off to Bo Scarbrough.
Thursday at Tropicana Field, he’ll have the opportunity to connect with the five-star athlete on a greater stage when the pair of Ascenders compete in the Under Armour All-American game.
Scarbrough and O’Connor, who led IMG to an 8-2 record in its first season, are the only two participants in this year’s Under Armour All-American game from the Tampa Bay area. Last year, five players from Hillsborough or Pinellas County were selected, and Wharton CB Vernon Hargreaves III, now at Florida, was named MVP.
The 104 athletes on this year’s roster have been split into Team Nitro and Team Highlight and practiced Monday on side-by-side fields at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Assigned to Team Highlight with Scarbrough, O’Conner said he can’t wait to play in one last game with his IMG teammate.
“Bo, he’s a heck of an athlete. He’s crazy,” said O’Connor, who threw for 1,804 yards and 18 touchdowns. “Being high school teammates, being out here, it’s kind of a special moment for us.”
While Scarbrough might soon represent O’Connor’s past, Highlight teammates and WRs Chris Godwin, from Middleton, Del., and De’Andre Thompkins, from Swansboro, N.C., represent the quarterback’s future. Both are Penn State commits along with O’Connor.
“It’s so much fun being with two other Penn State commits, especially on the same team,” O’Connor said. “Being able to throw to them and just talk and get to know each other, get that connection going before we even get to Penn State, it’s amazing.”
Dalvin’s decision looms: Thursday’s game will be another chance for Dalvin Cook, ranked second among 2014 running back recruits by 247 Sports, to show his stuff. In his final appearance for Miami Central on Dec. 14, Cook had four touchdowns and 223 yards in the Rockets’ 52-7 win against Armwood in the 6A state championship.
The Under Armour All-American game will also be a chance for Cook to put a big question to rest.
Cook is a Florida commit but has confirmed that other schools — including Miami and Florida State — are still in the running. As an early enrollee, however, time to change his mind is nearing an end.
Cook, who said he plans to announce where he’s going at Thursday’s game, said he’s attracted by Miami’s history of sending running backs to the NFL, and he enjoys the coaches and style of offense at Florida State.
But, for now, he’s still a Gator.
“Florida, that’s the school I’m committed to,” he said. “They still at heart.”
South Florida reigns supreme: As practice wound down, Cook chatted with fellow all-Americans, S Quincy Wilson and WR Ermon Lane, while heading off the field. All three will compete for Team Nitro, but the similarities don’t stop there.
The trio is also part of a 13-player contingent from south Florida in Thursday’s game. Cook said the abundance of players from the Miami area proves what he already knew: south Florida is the most talent-rich in the land.
“Wherever south Florida goes, they put on a show,” Lane said.
Under Armour All-American game
When: 4 p.m. Thursday
Where: Tropicana Field
Tickets: $18 general admission/$48 family four pack, can be purchased at ticketmaster.com
Kelly Parsons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @_kellyparsons.