Tampa Bay's HomeTeam 100



Times Files

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Our fourth annual countdown of the top 100 football players in Tampa Bay — consisting of athletes who attend a public or private school in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando counties. Past performances — spanning the fall, spring and summer — and promise of big things to come are all taken into consideration.

Today is the day. The HomeTeam top 10 are below.

1. Nate Craig-Myers, Tampa Catholic

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-2, 185

1. Nate Craig-Myers, Tampa Catholic

Craig-Myers’ 2014 season ended almost before it began. The five-star recruit broke his fibula in the Crusaders’ season opener and never returned to the field. Fans are eager to see him fulfill the promise he showed as an underclassman at Pasco High, where he was a threat on both sides of the ball. His peers, well, they already know he’s a special player and were happy to tell us so.

Chris Oladokun, QB, Sickles - “I think what makes Nate such a good player is that he is really humble. Usually a guy of that caliber playing the receiver position is a pretty boy, but Nate is very humble and is one of the hardest working guys I’ve every played with.”

Trevor Laurent, WR, Armwood - “He’s bigger than everyone and when the ball is in the air, no one can jump with him. Very athletic to be that big.”

Delvin Austin, CB, King - “He’s explosive and he makes plays. He seems coachable as well.”

Kelvin Clemmons, ATH, Sickles - “I played with him for Unsigned Preps. He’s going to get the ball any time. His route running is on point. His cuts and all that. He’s very strong, too.”

KJ Sails, CB, East Bay - “What makes Nate Craig a good player is his size and he’s very strong when going up for the ball. He also has that killer instinct.”

2. Craig Watts, Admiral Farragut

Position: Safety

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-0, 180

2. Craig Watts, Admiral Farragut

Watts is going to play his senior season with a chip on his shoulder. The Gibbs transfer was not invited to The Opening, a showcase in Portland, Ore., for top prospects from around the country. He was listed by most recruiting sites as the 16th-best safety in the country. Watts believes he’s better than that, and in his senior season he’s out to prove it.

“This is my last season and I’m going to get nothing less than a ring,” Watts said. “I promise I’m going to put up big numbers this year. I think I’m underrated. I’m rated the No. 16 safety in the nation and I’m going to show everyone why I should be No. 1.”

Not that colleges haven’t knocked on his door. Watts has more than 30 Division I offers, and briefly committed to Wisconsin in June before reopening his recruiting. While a bit undersized, Watts makes up for it with his speed and tackling ability. He will likely be used some at running back or receiver as well for Admiral Farragut, which loaded up on skill-position transfers in the offseason.

For his final high school season, Watts said he plans to get better on and off the field so he is ready to make the transition to college football.

“My goal this year is to become a better teammate, be a better leader and be a student of the game,” Watts said.

3. Jacob Mathis, Berkeley Prep

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-3, 225

3. Jacob Mathis, Berkeley Prep

Mathis is one of only two players from a Tampa high school on ESPN’s top 300 ranking for the class of 2016, but unlike 40th-ranked Nate Craig-Myers — who committed to Auburn before opening his recruitment up again this spring — Mathis doesn’t feel the need to make a decision by any particular date.

“I’m kind of just waiting until after spring to sit down with Coach (Dominick) Ciao and see where things go from there,” Mathis said during spring workouts.

In the meantime, Mathis said he’s ready to soak up his final year of high school and play with new teammates after Berkeley Prep graduated 14 seniors from last year’s class, including quarterback Brad Mayes. Working out his chemistry with whomever Ciao chooses to start at quarterback might take some time, but Mathis is just focusing on what he can do to better himself.

“Just everything really. My route running, my agility, my cuts. Just physicality,” he said. “I’m just trying to improve every aspect.”

By the numbers:

874 - Receiving yards as a junior

12 - Touchdown receptions in 2014

1,405 - Career receiving yards at Berkeley Prep

47 - Percent of the Bucs’ total receiving yards Mathis recorded last year

185 - Rank in ESPN’s top 300 for the class of 2016

30 - Division I offers

4. Daquon Green, Tampa Bay Tech

Position: Receiver/cornerback

Year: Junior

Height, weight: 6-1, 180

4. Daquon Green, Tampa Bay Tech

Think of all the great skill players who have come through Tampa Bay Tech in the past four years, from Richard Benjamin to Tajee Fullwood to Deon Cain.

Now think about this: Titans coach Jayson Roberts said Green could be the most dynamic of them all.

“I know that’s saying a lot, but Daquon is pretty dynamic,” Roberts said. “He has great body control and hand-eye coordination.”

And here is the scary thought: Green is only a junior.

In Green’s first two seasons, he has made quite an impact with a combined 822 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

“By the time Daquon’s done here, he could own just about every receiving record here,” Roberts said.

His production has helped him gain notoriety. Green is ranked as a four-star recruit by 247Sports. This spring, the offers started pouring in and now total almost 20. The list includes big-time programs such as Auburn, Florida and Ohio State.

Now that he is a known commodity, Green will garner plenty of attention from opposing defenses geared to stop him.

“Daquon knows teams are going to focus on him,” Roberts said. “But he’s been working hard to make sure he still finds ways to get open.”

5. Bo Peek, Berkeley Prep

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-3, 290

5. Bo Peek, Berkeley Prep

You’re committed to Stanford. What did you like about the school?

“It was just the right fit for me. Every aspect of it — the football program, the academics. I really felt like it was family over there.”

Does excelling at sports run in your family?

“My dad played in two national championships at Louisiana Tech back when they were Division II. My older brother was supposed to play baseball at Florida. … He decided not to so he decided to just go to school there and do as well as he could.”

Did you play other sports growing up?

“I played baseball all through eighth grade. I did cage fighting for five years with a little bit of jiu jitsu. I played soccer when I was younger ’tiI was about 9, nothing serious. I just tried to try as much as possible. This year I stopped all sports just to focus on football.”

If you could play another position on the football field, what would it be?

“Honestly, running back and safety. That’s what I played when I was younger and not lineman size. I even got to return kicks.”

Have you always been big for your age?

“I was really broad as a younger kid, but I didn’t necessarily have the lineman body. By the time I was in eighth grade it hit me like a surprise.”

What is your most prized possession?

“My most prized possession? My bed. For sure my bed.”

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from coach Dominick Ciao?

“Not even football, but just how to be a man. He’s been a really important, influential person in my life. He’s like a father to me.”

What’s the biggest thing you’re going to miss when you graduate?

“I’m not going to miss the humidity, that’s for sure. Just being around my family. I’ve traveled a lot, and there’s no place like Tampa. Tampa is just a great place. So Tampa in general, and my family.”

6. Juwan Burgess, Plant

Position: Receiver/cornerback

Year: Junior

Height, weight: 6-1, 185

6. Juwan Burgess, Plant

Burgess hasn’t been in the spotlight a whole lot, coming from a Blake team that went 4-17 in his first two varsity seasons. And though he had 237 yards passing, 202 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving a year ago for the Yellow Jackets, the Division I recruit has ample potential to improve those numbers now that he’ll be surrounded by a team full of athletes at Plant.

Burgess said the move was initially sparked by family issues. Now that he’s here, though, he knows the responsibility that comes along with playing for a storied program like Plant.

“It’s cool but at the same time, it’s an eye opener, because I came from a school that went 2-8 for many years,” he said. “This right here, it just makes me want to work hard and just go out and get it.”

Burgess, though, seems to have fit right in.

Coach Robert Weiner said the newest Panther has worked hard in the weight room and is adjusting nicely to his new program. Like many other Plant players, Burgess’ recruiting has blown up, and he now boasts 12 offers, including ones from Florida, Florida State, Clemson and Miami.

The two-way player will likely line up at wide receiver and safety for the Panthers. And just the idea of him connecting with returning quarterback and Syracuse commit Rex Culpepper has Weiner excited about what’s to come.

“I’m thrilled,” Weiner said. “I sit up at night and scheme up new things. As long as our guys can learn them, I know physically it’s going to be good.”

7. Julian Santos, East Lake

Position: Offensive lineman

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-4, 290

7. Julian Santos, East Lake

Santos, a three-star recruit, is considered the bay area’s top offensive lineman in the 2015 class. He is versatile, playing both left guard and tackle the past two seasons. College coaches frequently stopped by East Lake in the spring to take a look at Santos. He is up to 20 offers, the biggest coming from Arkansas, Miami, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri and West Virginia. We asked some of Santos’ peers what they thought of him.

Jake Hansen, LB, East Lake - “He's a leader and tries to make sure we play as a team and that everyone works hard.”

Justin Oliver-Kendrick, DL, Tarpon Springs - “He is a big boy who plays aggressive with quick feet and he stays consistent throughout the game.”

Javaris Sanders, DL, Largo - “He’s strong and has great footwork. Very physical at the point of attack. You can't let him lock on to you; if so, that's all she wrote.”

Jordon Scott, DL, Pinellas Park - “To be honest, he has good technique but his highlights are all against smaller kids. He never stops on plays and is always looking for that big-hit block. I’m ready to see if he’s improved since the last time we played. He is probably the best offensive lineman in the county.”

George Tsiouklas, DL, Palm Harbor University - “Well, first off he's got awesome size and strength. He also has solid hands. Once he gets his hands on you it’s pretty much over.”

8. Rex Culpepper, Plant

Position: Quarterback

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-3, 225

8. Rex Culpepper, Plant

Five things to know about Culpepper:

1. In his first season under center for the Panthers, Culpepper was an asset, throwing for 2,016 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 279 yards and six more scores. The thing he said he’s been working on most in the offseason, though, is his flexibility. The Panthers have introduced yoga to their offseason workouts and as he continues to add weight in the weight room, Culpepper has put an emphasis on remaining limber so he can still make athletic plays on the field.

2. Culpepper’s main weapon might be his arm, but the rising senior is hoping to show what he can do with his feet come August. He’s added 15 pounds to his already-large frame, and that is something coach Robert Weiner hopes will help make him a greater force in the run game. Culpepper hopes to run the ball 10 to 15 times a game, up from the four he averaged last season, and be able to rely on his feet to get him out of situations when a play breaks down. “Extending the play is my main concern with that,” he said.

3. Weiner raves about Culpepper’s work ethic on the field, but that’s not the only place the Syracuse commit puts in the time to succeed. Through 12 years of school, Culpepper said he’s never made anything less than an A. “It’s almost like an OCD thing now. I just want to finish with straight As,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. I know I can do it so I’m going to do it.” Culpepper said his studious personality, one he credits his mother for instilling in him, has also helped him learn how to be the best quarterback he can be.

4. Plant is known for a long line of successful quarterbacks, but recent ones started only their senior years before moving on to the college ranks. Culpepper is bucking that trend. He’ll be first to return under center since Phillip Ely came back in 2010 and already Culpepper has reaped the benefits of familiarity. “Last year, back in the pocket, I didn’t feel comfortable. I was real bouncy, trying to get the ball out,” Culpepper said. “Even in the spring game I just felt like everything was slower. I wasn’t reacting to the defense, I felt like the defense was reacting to me.”

5. Last summer, Culpepper was like Weiner’s shadow, working with him all day, all summer to learn the playbook so he could be an extension of the coach on the field. And even though the job isn’t new anymore, the two are still putting in the work. Culpepper said he’s usually with Weiner five days a week during the offseason, only this time he’s trying to be more efficient with his time in order to prevent preseason wear and tear. “We’re definitely working as hard, we’re just being more aware of timing, not spending eight hours a day doing what we could be doing in three hours.”

9. Chris Schwarz, River Ridge

Position: Running back/middle linebacker

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 5-10, 200

9. Chris Schwarz, River Ridge

Schwarz’s numbers are staggering. Consider these from his junior year:

2,689 - Yards gained

224.1 - Average yards per game

12 - Games, out of 12, in which he gained over 100 yards rushing

379/32 - Carries and average per game

49/4 - Carries and average per game for the next highest player (Patrick Mathieson)

27 - Touchdowns

1 - Passes caught

Now consider that Schwarz has at least another 10 games, barring injury, to add to those numbers and perhaps set a school rushing record that may never be broken.

“I’ve always set the bar as high as I can,’’ Schwarz said. “But I don’t really care about the numbers. I want us to do better as a team this year. We had an amazing season last year and I want this season to be the best that it can be.’’

Schwarz said he has spent most of his summer focusing on preparations for fall, although he said he has taken some time off to enjoy the outdoors. Coach Ryan Benjamin is not surprised by Schwarz’ work ethic.

“It’s no secret with Chris," Benjamin said. “When everyone else is sleeping in or at the beach, Chris is in the weight room getting better. If you look at film of his first carry of a game and the 40th carry, he’s running just as hard. He’s just a special kid.’’

For all of his success, Schwarz has only one offer, Florida Tech. He hopes to get more, perhaps from some Ivy League schools, but he isn’t going to stress about his lack of offers.

“If it happens it happens," he said. “I’ve put that in God’s hands."

10. Jayvaughn Myers, Pasco

Position: Defensive back

Year: Senior

Height, weight: 6-1, 185

10. Jayvaughn Myers, Pasco

Five things to know about Myers:

1. Myers is the half-brother of Tampa Catholic wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers, and the two — who are just five months apart — grew up very close from a young age. And though Craig-Myers is ranked one of the best receivers in the country, Myers says he can still hold his own against his brother. “I went up against him a lot in practice, almost every day,” he said. “I can (defend him) a little bit.”

2. Despite his talent, Myers didn’t play football his freshman year for the Pirates, and the brothers overlapped at Pasco in just the 2013 season. “It was pretty cool, seeing him finally wanting to come back,” Craig-Myers said about that season. “He was really into baseball his freshman year, then he came back and we shared the same locker.”

3. Last season Myers led Pasco with five passes defended while recording 31 tackles and also lending a hand on special teams. As a sophomore two years ago, he had 19 tackles and two passes defended.

4. Myers, who picked up his third star this summer, has 22 college offers, but his recruiting has blown up recently. Myers received his first offer, from Rutgers, on his birthday a little over a year ago, but this summer the big programs have come calling — including Florida, Florida State and Auburn.

5. Even though the brothers are close in age with the common goal of reaching the next level, Myers said he and Craig-Myers always get along well and aren’t super competitive. If anything, he said, they push each other to do better. That’s something the pair hopes to continue at the next level, as both have made it clear they’d like to attend the same college. “If we can do it, we will,” Myers said. “It would be great to play together.”

All photos: Times files