ST. PETERSBURG — The last time Anthony Chickillo played at Tropicana Field, he ended up as a star among stars.
Then a five-star defensive end at Alonso High, Chickillo was the most valuable player of the Under Armour All-America Game. He outshined the country's top recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, by recording four tackles, 1½ sacks and a fumble recovery in the high school all-star game victory.
"It was the end of my high school career," Chickillo said, "and I'm ending my college career in the Trop."
After four years at Miami, Chickillo is back at the Trop for today's East-West Shrine Game.
Chickillo's individual goal is the same: show he belongs among the best of the best, again.
Clowney has already made it to the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick of the Texans in last year's draft. Receiver Jarvis Landry and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix played in the same Under Armour game and are in the league, too.
With a strong game today in front of a large contingent of family and friends, Chickillo plans to show NFL scouts that he also belongs in the league.
"I always thought I had the ability to play in the NFL, from when I was in high school," Chickillo said this week after practice at Shorecrest Prep. "That's also a dream of mine, to play in the NFL. Just trying to make that happen."
Chickillo's high school career certainly foretold a professional future.
He was a Parade All-American at Alonso, and ESPN considered him the No. 24 overall player in the country. Chickillo turned down Florida, Florida State and others to play for the Hurricanes, as his father and grandfather did.
He had a strong impact immediately on UM's defensive line. Chickillo tied for the team lead with five sacks as a freshman and finished third in the ACC's defensive rookie of the year voting. The next season, he blocked a field goal in a win over USF.
"I enjoyed every second of it," he said. "It was truly a dream come true."
Chickillo started the final 47 games of his college career, finishing with 170 tackles (25 for a loss), 15½ sacks and five fumble recoveries.
He said Miami's scheme didn't let him show all of the athleticism that still lurks in his 6-foot-4, 275-pound frame, so he spent this week at both end positions to prove that he's capable of rushing the passer.
"I'm trying to show teams what I can do, show them my athletic ability, something I didn't get to do a lot of at Miami," Chickillo said.
Some sites consider him a potential late-round pick. But nfl.com called him one of the most impressive players this week, and his strong workouts might have been enough to convince one of the dozens of scouts to draft him in the middle rounds.
"Hard-working kid," said East coach Mike Singletary, the Hall of Fame linebacker and former 49ers coach. "Good attitude. The D-line, they're doing a great job. That whole group is just really working their tails off, just really impressive."
Chickillo is part of the game's strong in-state presence. He'll be joined by Miami offensive linemen Jonathan Feliciano and Shane McDermott, Florida State guard Bobby Hart and USF's Martin Kloss and Andre Davis.
Chickillo has known Davis — a Hillsborough High alumnus — since high school and said it's hard to believe they're ready to start competing alongside each other as they both try to show they belong in the NFL.
"Time flies," Chickillo said. "It goes by quick. You've just got to enjoy it."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected]. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.