Tampa Bay's HomeTeam 100

1. Nate Craig-Myers

Produced by JOSIE HOLLINGSWORTH

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Saturday, July 18, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — It took Nate Craig-Myers several minutes into Tampa Catholic’s spring football game with River Ridge to find his flow. But once he did, there was no doubt the five-star recruit would pick up exactly where he left off last fall.

The rising senior wide receiver missed the entire 2014 season — his first for the Crusaders after a controversial transfer from Pasco High — after breaking his fibula in Tampa Catholic’s season-opening game. And through most of the first quarter against River Ridge on May 22, his first time competing in green and white since the injury, the Royal Knights double-teamed Craig-Myers, keeping his imposing 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame away from the ball.

They kept him down, but they couldn’t force him out.

Nate Craig-Myers is among the top 2016 recruits in the nation.OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Craig-Myers announced his presence late in the first quarter when he caught a short pass then juked around the River Ridge defender to pick up 10 more yards, putting the Crusaders in the red zone.

“I saw him loose on his hips,” Craig said, “so I just wanted to give a move, give the crowd a little ‘ahs.’ ”

Those kinds of reactions are familiar to Craig-Myers, who has been on the radar of coaches and recruiters since before he was even in high school. That attention turned into skepticism when the Florida High School Athletic Association launched a formal investigation into Tampa Catholic on allegations that he was recruited. But through it all — the good and the bad — Craig-Myers has kept his head down, focusing on his future.

Going into this fall, all eyes likely will be on him, one of just two Tampa high school players in ESPN’s top 300 for the class of 2016 and the Tampa Bay Times’ top area player in the HomeTeam 100. Craig-Myers, though, refuses to let the pressure weigh him down.

“People realized how good he was a freshman. With that, I think he’s learned to deal with that kind of pressure,” Tampa Catholic coach Mike Gregory said. “He’s the kind of kid that just wants to go out, play ball and have fun. He’ll never talk about the pressure.”

Instead, Craig-Myers plans to run right through it.

Football runs deep in Craig-Myers’ family, so much so that should he and half-brother Jayvaughn Myers, a three-star cornerback at Pasco High, play collegiately next year, they’ll be the third and fourth siblings to do so.

As would be expected in such an athletic family, Craig-Myers made his football debut at an early age for the Dade City Pirates. Right away, his mother, Nicki Craig, knew there was something different about her 4-year-old son.

“I saw it in flag (football),” she recalled, “because he was tackling instead of pulling for the flag.”

Craig-Myers played varsity football as a freshman and sophomore at Pasco High, recording 502 receiving yards, 12 touchdown receptions and 41 tackles before he transferred to Tampa Catholic. He and his mother insist the transfer was about academics, not football, and after a year-long investigation into Tampa Catholic, the FHSAA found there was no evidence to the contrary.

Still, the accusations got under Craig-Myers’ skin.

“I knew the truth so I didn’t let it get to me. I just prayed about it and kept going,” Nicki Craig said. “At first (it bothered Nate), but I told him, ‘This is a decision we made together, and don’t turn back.’ ”

With the injury and accusations now behind him, Craig-Myers is ready to just focus on football for the first time in more than a year. The Crusader had verbally committed to Auburn before his injury, but has since opened back up his recruitment and doesn’t plan to make a decision until after his senior season is over.

Because for now, he’s focused on making up for lost time.

Nate Craig-Myers missed most of his junior year to injury.Times file (2014)

Craig-Myers was once ranked in the top 10 in ESPN’s top 300 for the class of 2016. But after almost a year away from the high school football field, he’s fallen to No. 40.

“When his numbers dropped because he didn’t play, ‘He was like, ‘Momma, I got to get back out there. I’ve got to get my numbers back up,’ ” Nicki Craig said. “That’s his main goal, to be the best.”

But as far as his coaches are concerned, that part about Craig-Myers has never changed.

“His speed, he can flat out go. If I was still coaching, I would be terrified of Nate if he touched the ball every play, because every play, he can out run everybody on the field,” Unsigned Preps executive director Sailor said. “He can (run), he can catch it. He’s going to come down with that 50-50 ball, and he’s also going to cheer on his teammates.”

As if picking a school from the nearly 50 offers he has won’t be hard enough, Craig-Myers admits he’s doesn’t just have himself to consider.

Pasco senior defensive back Jayvaughn Myers hopes to play with his half-brother in college.JOHN C. COTEY | Special to the Times

He grew up close to Myers, who is just five months younger. When Craig-Myers was bumped up to a higher level of flag football as a kid because of his size and ability, he refused to move unless his brother could come, too.

Recently, his brother’s recruitment has also picked up — Myers has handfuls of Division I offers, including ones that are high on Craig-Myers’ list — and the two could be playing side-by-side in this year’s Under Armour High School All-American Game at Tropicana Field.

And if they have it their way, the togetherness won’t stop there.

Both have expressed a desire to play on the same team at the next level, a dream that seems all the more feasible now that Myers, like his brother, boasts offers from Florida State and Auburn. On March 2, almost three months before Myers picked up an offer from the Tigers, Craig-Myers tweeted out a photo of the two behind a backdrop of Auburn’s football field, saying, “Hopefully it happens.”

“It would be like the old days,” Myers said. “It was so much fun when we were younger … just doing what we love. I think it would to be cool to do that again.”

Throughout the game against River Ridge, whenever Craig-Myers wasn’t on the field, he sat on the bench quietly, his sparkling gold cleats the only thing that set him apart from the other Crusaders on the sideline.

When it comes to the expectations for this season that he knows are out there, Craig-Myers reacts in just the same way — with subdued confidence.

“It’s exciting that I know that I have the city’s support, knowing that I’ve got to keep representing for them,” he said. “I feel like there’s no pressure, because if I keep doing what I did to get here, I’ll be all right.”

A standout since his freshman year, Nate Craig-Myers knows how to handle any pressure that comes his way.OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Craig-Myers tries not to waste his time thinking about the turmoil from the last year, or the things — allegations and injury alike — that held him back. The bright future that sits in front of him is more than enough to keep him looking forward.

But on one particular play against River Ridge that night, Craig-Myers couldn’t help but remember.

It was a jet sweep handoff from quarterback Kevin Knox late in the third quarter, and the Crusaders were already up by a touchdown.

“That’s how I got injured last time, came off a sweep,” Craig said, “so I just felt like I had to run for my life so I wouldn’t get hurt.”

And for 80 yards — until he reached the end zone — he did just that, leaving the past behind him once and for all.

Contact Kelly Parsons at [email protected] Follow @_kellyparsons.