Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

HomeTeam 100: Players 51-60

Our fifth 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.

51. Jeremiah Zio, Admiral Farragut

Position: Offensive line/defensive line

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 6-7, 225

David W. Doonan, Special to the Times

Jeremiah Zio

Perhaps no player in the area has gained more attention from college coaches from one spring to the next than Zio. With his size and wing span, he has coaches from numerous Division I-A schools making the trek to St. Petersburg. To date, Zio has offers from 18 schools, including North Carolina, Michigan State, Louisville, Rutgers and Michigan.

And it's all about potential. He had only six tackles and four sacks as a junior. A converted basketball player, Zio didn't start playing football until the spring of his sophomore year. He had no idea he would be a college prospect.

"I never thought about playing college football when I started," he said.

Scouts and opponents will have more of an opportunity to see Zio this season. Aside from being a defensive pass rusher, he will also play on the offensive line for the first time. He is not being recruited as an O-lineman, but the Blue Jackets need size up front.

"I'm still getting used to (offensive line)," he said. "The footwork is different. But I think it helps being a defensive lineman. I know how they think."

52. Michael Penix Jr., Tampa Bay Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Junior

Height/weight: 6-3, 180

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Michael Penix Jr.

Why we ranked him: In nine games with 4-6 Pasco last season, Penix threw for 1,131 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 117 and six more scores. Now that he's on a Tampa Bay Tech team stacked with talent, Penix has the ability to shine even more. The multi-sport athlete will have receivers like Florida commit Daquon Green to work with, and as a January transfer, Penix said he's already adjusted to his new environment and new teammates. The biggest thing the new Titan is working on this offseason, he said, is simply staying focused. "Don't ever put my head down," he said. "Everybody makes bad plays here and there, but you've got to correct it on the field."

53. Mychael Hamilton, Mitchell

Position: Running back/linebacker

Year: Junior

Height/weight: 6-0, 170

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Mychael Hamilton

Why we ranked him: No returning back was as consistent a performer as Hamilton was last season. During a seven-week stretch, he ran for at least 107 yards in each game, all wins. He also had a knack for finding the end zone, scoring at least two touchdowns in six games. That gave the Mustangs offense the balance it needed as Mitchell went 9-1 in the regular season and won the school's first district title. In the playoffs, Hamilton continued to put up numbers, rushing for 133 yards and a touchdown in an opening-round loss to Gainesville. With Mitchell graduating its top two receivers, Hamilton will be counted on even more, especially early in the season while the passing game still is developing.

54. Jalynn Williams, St. Petersburg

Position: Athlete

Year: Junior

Height/weight: 5-11, 185

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Jalynn Williams

Halfway through his high school career, Williams was in need of a fresh start. He was suspended for disciplinary reasons after the seventh game last season at Northeast. He did not dress out for spring practices and transferred to St. Petersburg as soon as the school year ended in June.

He is reunited with quarterback Austyn Causey. The two have played on the same 7-on-7 team, Team Florida, for the past two summers.

"If (Causey) wasn't here I don't think I'd be here," Williams said.

A Division I-A prospect, Williams is likely to be used as a running back and wide receiver.

"We'll use him the best way we can to make us a better offense," coach Joe Fabrizio said.

Prior to being suspended, Williams gained 278 yards rushing and scored nine touchdowns as a sophomore. He also caught 26 passes for 480 yards and a touchdown. The addition of Williams will no doubt boost an offense that lost its top two rushers to graduation.

"I'm just ready to do whatever I can to help the team," Williams said. "I'm still trying to get used to all the new players and the new plays."

55. Tupac Blanch, East Lake

Position: Running back/defensive back

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 6-0, 192

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Tupac Blanch

Five things to know about Blanch:

1. His full name is Tupac Shakur Blanch. Yes, he is named after the rapper killed in 1996. Blanch's father, Alphonso, is a big fan of Shakur and shares the same birthday (June 16).

2. Blanch said that while he likes Tupac's music, he is not his favorite rapper.

3. The Blanch family is into football. He has three brothers who played, including former Largo standout Frankie Hernandez, who is now a starting linebacker at Marshall. Blanch's youngest brother, Dionte, will be a freshman at East Lake this season.

4. A two-way player, Blanch was solid on both sides of the ball last season. He was the team's second-leading rusher with 419 yards and 34 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries as a defensive back. He said he prefers playing defense, but when the offense needs a big play, he gets the ball.

5. Blanch has offers from Florida International, Marshall, North Dakota State, Troy and Western Kentucky. All five schools are recruiting him as an athlete.

56. Jerome Ford, Armwood

Position: Wide receiver

Year: Junior

Height/weight: 5-10, 190

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Jerome Ford

Five things to know about Ford:

1. Though Ford proved last season that he has a knack for running the ball, Armwood's depth at running back spurred a move to receiver. Ford said he's already built a little bit of chemistry with new quarterback Devin Black. His move falls in line with what Ford said will be a little bit of a different look for the offense. "There will be more catches, more receiving touchdowns, more receiving yards," he said. "Less running the ball."

2. Last season Ford had 344 yards and three touchdowns on 49 carries, but he's already shown he can catch the ball. Ford had two receiving touchdowns in the spring jamboree against Tampa Bay Tech, both for at least 50 yards.

3. Footballs aren't the only thing Ford likes to catch. When he's not on the field, Ford said he enjoys fishing. His best catch was a redfish on a lake in Riverview.

4. Ford wasn't a regular starter last year, but still built a strong bond with fellow running backs Erin Collins, Brian Snead and athlete Darrian McNeal. "We make a lot of jokes. Calling plays, I can look back at (McNeal) and tell him, I can audible and change it and he knows I'll be open and he'll throw the ball," Ford said. "They pass the ball more when you're nice to them."

5. In addition to playing the slot, Ford likely will be a constant presence on special teams, putting his speed to the test in kickoff returns. "That's where I had most of my highlights last year," he said.

57. Estefano Feliciano, Gaither

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 6-2, 210

Scott Purks, Special to the Times

Estefano Feliciano

Why we ranked him: Feliciano is a fierce pass rusher, who throughout years of Little League football played mostly at defensive end. As a linebacker, Feliciano still is frequently used to rush the quarterback off the edge. Last season Feliciano collected an average of 7.3 tackles a game and finished with six total sacks. Feliciano's tackle and sack totals could dramatically jump this season, partly because he has gotten much stronger from a heavy regimen of offseason weight training.

58. Travell Harris, Jesuit

Position: Athlete

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 5-9, 170

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Travell Harris

Five things to know about Harris:

1. Harris' father played football at Armwood in the 1980s with Jesuit coach Matt Thompson. In fact, it was Thompson's hiring at Jesuit that convinced Harris' family to send him to play for the Tigers. "I did want to go to Armwood, with my dad being an Armwood grad," Harris said. "But when Coach Thompson came to Armwood, it was a done deal."

2. Harris turned heads in the spring game against Gibbs, rushing 66 yards for a first-half touchdown that put Jesuit ahead 21-0. "I just hit the edge and used my speed," he said.

3. Some of Harris' skill sets may look a little similar to that of Jesuit's all-time leading rusher Malik Davis — for good reason. Harris has been friends with Davis since he was 2. "We went to the same school, same everything together," Harris said. "Playing with him is something normal for me."

4. Last season Harris recorded 801 all-purpose yards, lending a hand in the rushing, receiving and kick return game. He also had 36 tackles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for a total of 70 yards. "I do it all. I play all the positions," he said. "On offense, whatever they need, special teams, defensive wise. I just help wherever I can."

5. Harris is primarily being recruited as a slot receiver, and he's received 24 offers, including ones from Missouri, Purdue and Toledo. Harris said he plans to narrow down his choices soon.

59. Dale Foster, Pinellas Park

Position: Running back

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 5-11, 170

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Dale Foster

Foster gained 1,046 yards and scored 13 touchdowns a year ago. This season he will be the marquee back in an offense built around the run. A sprinter on the track team, Foster should be one of the more dangerous backs in the area.

Last year was your first as a starter on varsity. How much more confident are you with a season under your belt?

"I'm staying humble. I think I'm still getting slept on by some people so I'm trying to prove them wrong. I want to break what I did last year, not only for myself but to help the team."

When you first started football, were you ever discouraged from playing running back?

"In Little League I was told I couldn't play there so I was put on defense. I got a pick-six and they saw my speed. Then I got moved to fullback. Then to running back. It's been about five years now that I've had the ball in my hand and that's what I love to do the most."

Fullback?

"Well, I was a short, chubby kid back then. Then I started skinnying up and got faster and faster."

When you get into the open, can anyone catch you?

"No, for sure. The best guy can have the best angle and you're still not going to catch me. When I see that open field I'm a ghost. I'm gone."

Have you had interest from colleges?

"Yes. So far I've had offers from Western Kentucky, Troy, SMU, Charleston Southern Illinois State and Southern Illinois. I'm not going to make a decision for a while. When I got my first offer I was just happy that I can get some free college. Some people don't get that opportunity."

60. Corey King, Plant City

Position: Quarterback

Year: Senior

Height/weight: 6-2, 190

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Corey King

By the numbers

3 Sports King plans to participate in this school year: Football, basketball (for the first time) and track. "It's my senior year and I wanted to do everything I possibly could," he said.

11 Victories, a season record that King led the Raiders to in 2015

19.5 Feet leaped in the long jump during track. King believes he can improve at least 2 feet to break the school record.

22 Combined touchdowns in 2015, 15 passing and seven rushing

95 Completions in 177 attempts in 2015

2,042 Yards combined from passing (1,646) and rushing (396)

Compiled by staff writers Rodney Page, Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam, and correspondent Scott Purks.

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