Get your popcorn ready and grab a seat. It's going to be quite a show. Hillsborough County has always been blessed with its share of the best high school football talent in Florida, but in the past it played second fiddle to South Florida. This year is different. You can argue this year's crop is the best in Florida.
"You have to go there to recruit now," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports said of Hillsborough County. "A few years ago people were talking about Tampa being down, but this year the area has the best talent in Florida, better than (Miami-Dade) County, Broward, Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee."
The spotlight is shining on Hillsborough County brightly this season. The area's top game — an opening-week game between Class 4A state contenders Armwood and Plant — will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The Hawks have been ranked has high as No. 2 nationally.
Plant quarterback Aaron Murray has been tabbed as the third-best prospect in the country by Lemming. Armwood has four starters — defensive end Ryne Giddins, linebacker Petey Smith, safety Angelo Hadley and quarterback Mywan Jackson — who own major Division I offers.
But it doesn't stop there. Gaither running back Jarvis Giles, Alonso defensive tackle Demonte McAllister and Plant tight end Orson Charles are consensus top-100 national recruits.
And no longer is Tampa just a regional recruiting zone for state schools. Schools that haven't recruited here before, national powers like Nebraska and Michigan included, are scouting Hillsborough County for talent.
"Michigan's coming in, the entire Big Ten is coming to the area," Lemming said. "It's opening up a lot of doors for the entire area. …You look up and down and there are so many potential All-Americans and there's a lot of depth in Tampa and the area north, so college coaches will keep coming in."
The recruiting landscape has changed. And Hillsborough County has become a destination.
"It probably started happening about eight years ago," longtime Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia said. "Now it's gotten to the point that every school needs its own recruiting coordinator because it's a full-time job. We get them from everywhere, from East Coast to West Coast, from the Canadian border down to Mexico."
It speaks to the breadth of talent around the state. Rivals.com national analyst Jamie Newberg said 32 running back prospects from Florida received Division I offers by June, meaning some local players with great talent don't get the attention because the state is so rich in athletes.
"Guys like (Chamberlain quarterback) Dontae Aycock and Jarvis Giles, those are guys in the middle tier in terms of the top running backs in the state," Newberg said. "They could play for anyone in the country."
|The Times’ Lucky 13
A look at Hillsborough County's top prospects and their notable offers (in alphabetical order).
|Dontae Aycock, QB|
|Chamberlain||Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois|
|Orson Charles, TE|
|Plant||Miami, Florida, LSU|
|ryNE GIDDINS, DE|
|Armwood||Florida, Miami, Southern Cal|
|jarvis giles, rb|
|Gaither||Chose Tennessee over FSU, Clemson|
|Angelo Hadley, FS|
|Armwood||Auburn, Georgia, Michigan|
|Lindsey Lamar, RB|
|Hillsborough||Michigan, Wake Forest, USF|
|Mywan Jackson, QB|
|Armwood||Auburn, Michigan, Missouri|
|Jairus Jones, SS|
|Wharton||Illinois, LSU, Nebraska|
|Demonte McAllister, DT|
|Alonso||Chose FSU over Georgia, Southern Cal|
|Erick McGriff, WR|
|Jesuit||Auburn, Arkansas, Kansas|
|Aaron Murray, QB|
|Plant||Chose Georgia over Florida, UCLA|
|Petey Smith, ILB|
|Armwood||Florida, Miami, Ohio State|
|Anthony Williams, WR|
|Chamberlain||Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss|
|Eduardo A. Encina and Keith Niebuhr, Times staff writers|