TAMPA — The last time Jahleel Addae buckled his chinstrap in the state of Florida, the Riverview tailback was darting around opponents out of the Sharks' double wing T offense.
On Saturday, Addae makes his return — with a chance at the NFL on the line.
Addae will be looking to open some eyes when he takes part in the East-West Shrine game at Tropicana Field on Saturday at 3 p.m.
"When I got the email with the invite, I was pumped," Addae said. "To be back here in Tampa for this is great."
Addae said he expects about 50 to 60 friends and family in attendance.
"He's a great young man," said family friend Patty Munoz, who refers to herself as Addae's aunt. "We're looking forward to getting him back in Florida for this game."
But for those who haven't seen Addae play the past four years, don't expect the ball in his hands — unless he hauls in an interception. Addae switched to defense as a freshman at Central Michigan after a standout career at Riverview. Addae ran for at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons with the Sharks and was a Times first-team all county selection as a senior in 2007.
"They had me playing some running back and in the slot for the first two games before I made the switch (to strong safety)," Addae said.
Addae hadn't played on the defensive side since youth football with the Brandon Broncos.
"I had no real experience playing defense," he said. "But I thought it gave me a chance to get on the field quicker so I gave it a try."
Addae took to the switch well, much like his brother had years before. Jahmile Addae was a high school running back before making the switch to defensive back at West Virginia, becoming a four-year starter for the Mountaineers.
"I guess you could say hitting runs in our blood," Jahleel Addae said.
Addae deftly made the transition his sophomore season and went on to become a three-year starter. He was named team defensive MVP as a junior and shared the award as a senior. Addae, a three-time all MAC selection, was also named to the Jim Thorpe Award list prior to his senior year.
"I took to (defense) surprisingly quick," he said. "It's a great feeling to be able to hit a receiver coming across the middle. I was a natural."
And Addae is hoping this week of practice in Tampa and Saturday's game cement his place on the NFL radar. Addae is currently listed as the No. 7 strong safety according to nfldraftscout.com and he has been hearing whispers that he could be a mid-round pick in the April NFL Draft.
"It's been great being here all week and getting to test your skills against elite level players and getting to know the scouts and show them your personality," Addae said. "It's been a great challenge."
Merzier honored: If the name Fito Merzier doesn't ring a bell to most local high school football fans, there's a reason for that.
"It probably shouldn't," Bloomingdale coach John Booth joked.
Merzier wasn't a splash name during his junior season at Bloomingdale but the 6-foot-1, 225-pounder flashed enough athletic potential to be invited out to the U.S. Army Junior Combine in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this month.
"He didn't even play football at all until his ninth grade season," Booth said. "He's just learning the game."
Merzier didn't put up big numbers for the Bulls but his measurables are intriguing. According to reports, Merzier ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash and recorded a vertical leap of 35 inches at the combine. It earned the Bulls' defensive end a spot on the combine Honorable Mention squad.
"If you take one look at him, I mean he is just a specimen," Booth said. "It's pretty ridiculous."
Booth said Merzier hasn't been recruited yet but he expects that to change heading into his senior year if he keeps up this pace.
"He's as physically gifted as they come and is great academically," he said. "He's the whole package and we expect big things out of him next year. Honestly, if he keeps improving I don't know how teams are going to block him."
Brandon Wright can be reached at [email protected]