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Under Armour: Pressure's on again, this time in pads

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Wed. January 2, 2013 | Matt Baker | Email

Armwood's Leon McQuay IIIMichigan commit Shane Morris

KISSIMMEE — When Shane Morris entered the IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Championship over the summer, he was a highly-touted quarterback from Michigan, a golden boy bound for the Wolverines with national acclaim and a five-star ranking.

When he lined up against a loaded Team Tampa defense in Bradenton, the 6-foot-3 senior looked something else: uncharacteristically vulnerable.

Wharton High defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III and Armwood safety Leon McQuay III dominated Morris, racking up two interceptions each during Team Tampa’s run to the title.

“And we will never let him live it down,” Hargreaves said.

The Tampa duo has a chance to add to its total this week when their paths cross again.

Hargreaves and McQuay will line up for Team Highlight, opposite Morris and Team Nitro in Friday’s Under Armour All-America Game at Tropicana Field. For McQuay and Hargreaves, the game offers another national platform on a local stage to prove their worth among the country’s top talent. For Morris, it’s a shot at redemption.

“They’re the best in the nation,” Morris said Wednesday after practice at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. “Hargreaves and McQuay, they’re unbelievable athletes.”

Morris’ credentials aren’t too shabby either. Rivals and 247Sports rank him as a five-star talent. No major recruiting service lists him outside of the country’s top 55 prospects or top four quarterbacks.

He didn’t fare poorly in the July competition. Morris was one of the top three performers at the star-studded event, according to 247Sports. But he couldn’t get past McQuay and Hargreaves.

“They beat us up pretty bad,” Morris said.

During a two-play sequence, McQuay broke up one pass and intercepted the next. Hargreaves sealed Team Tampa’s championship with a pick off Morris in the title game.

The secondary’s performance against an elite passer was enough to leave recruiting gurus buzzing over two of Tampa Bay’s top prospects.

“He just kept trying to throw it deep,” McQuay said. “It’s me and Vernon. It’s kind of hard to do.”

Hargreaves, a Florida commit, has been a household name in recruiting circles long before a senior season that included all-Suncoast defensive player of the year honors from the Tampa Bay Times and Class 8A state player of the year accolades from the Florida Dairy Farmers. ESPN ranks him the country’s top cornerback and nation’s No. 3 overall prospect.

On Wednesday, he soared to break up a pass in the end zone, robbing Armwood receiver and future Gators teammate Alvin Bailey of a score, and tied for second among receivers and defensive backs in the event’s skills challenge.

“Vernon does everything perfect,” Morris said. “He plays his position the way it’s supposed to be played.”

If McQuay ranks below Hargreaves, it isn’t by much. The 6-foot-2, 182-pound athlete is regarded as one of the country’s top three safeties, and ESPN calls him the nation’s No. 32 talent after a five-interception senior season.

“He’s sideline to sideline in the blink of an eye,” Hargreaves said. “He’s the most athletic player I’ve ever played with, without a doubt.”

While Hargreaves has been committed to the Gators since July, McQuay’s recruitment has been ongoing with a list of five finalists: Florida State, Michigan, Vanderbilt, USC and Oregon.

He plans to announce his commitment during the game but declined Wednesday to open up about the factors that will affect his decision or whether he’s settled on a school.

“I’ll be all right,” McQuay said.

The same will likely be true for his team’s ball hawks.

High school all-star games often favor the defense, and Team Highlight has been getting pointers from coach Herm Edwards, a former NFL defensive back who coached the Jets and Chiefs. Its secondary also features another highly touted UF commit, South Sumter safety Keanu Neal.

“You’re never gonna catch them sleeping,” Bailey said. “That’s why I’m happy they’re on my team instead of me going against them.”

Despite their past and current rivalries, Morris maintains a good relationship with Tampa Bay’s defensive backs after seeing them at college camps and competing against them at another recruiting event, ESPN’s The Opening. Hargreaves calls Morris “my boy,” and Morris shared time with McQuay in Ann Arbor this fall.

Morris said he learned one valuable lesson from those past experiences: “Don’t throw the ball late to where they are.”

But Friday’s game will be different.

Most of their previous encounters were in 7-on-7 matchups without helmets or hard hits or linemen. Now Morris will be pestered by the country’s consensus top recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, in addition to facing the Team Tampa secondary that feasted on his passes months ago.

“Now that we’re in pads,” Hargreaves said, “I’m kind of speechless.”

Under Armour All-America Game
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Tropicana Field
TV: ESPN
Tickets: General admission $18, four-ticket bundles $48. Call toll-free 1-800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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