TAMPA — By his own admission, Bennie Coney isn't "much of a beach guy." The Plant City quarterback will take a swimming pool over the ocean and sand any day.
All that changed this week.
"The beaches are just amazing," he said. "The beach was never really my thing, but these are crazy."
Coney spoke to the Times from Hawaii this week as he soaked up the rays and quarterbacking knowledge as a participant in Steve Clarkson's prestigious Dreammakers Super 7 retreat at the Grand Wailea Resort on the island of Maui.
"It's exciting out here because of the level of competition," Coney said. "Most camps you go to there isn't nearly this much talent. And you want to raise your game to be able to keep up with the guys out here."
The Dreammakers Super 7 features the top prep quarterbacks in the nation and is run by Clarkson, who is widely considered one of the premier quarterback coaches around. Clarkson, who is based in Los Angeles, has tutored the likes of NFL standouts Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Leinart and Jimmy Clausen. When Hall of Famer quarterback Joe Montana sought out a QB coach for his two sons, he placed a call to Clarkson.
"Everyone out here is so talented," Coney said. "It's an honor to be selected."
Coney earned the slot in Maui thanks to impressive showings at Clarkson's regional camps in Orlando and California.
"We wake up early in the morning and work on drills, then break to eat and work some more," Coney said. "Then later on in the day, we do some classes and get to bond with the other players out here."
In addition to the on-field tutelage, the players take classes to help them deal with potential future success, both financial and personal. The players also attend workshops on dealing with the media.
"Bennie is such a mature kid, and he not only leads by what he says, but by what he does," Plant City coach Wayne Ward said. "He carries himself a certain way that the kids all respect."
Coney's rise onto the national recruiting radar has been rapid. As a sophomore, Coney helped erase the memory of a 3-7 2008 season, leading Plant City to a 7-4 mark and a playoff berth last year. Although his numbers weren't spectacular — Coney threw for 1,613 yards, 14 TDs and 16 interceptions — his potential was evident.
"All this has happened so fast," Coney said. "I didn't expect this much attention this fast, but it has been awesome."
Coney already possesses the prototypical quarterback build (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and continues to get bigger. Ward said Coney has "put on at least 10 pounds of muscle" since the Spring Game.
"Bennie is by far the hardest worker on the team," Ward said. "And we have a lot of young kids here, and they see what he's doing and follow suit."
After turning heads at Auburn's 7-on-7 Tournament last month, the Tigers became the latest school to extend Coney a verbal scholarship offer. Add that to verbal offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue, Texas Tech, USF and Wake Forrest. All of this for a kid who hasn't even taken a snap in his junior season yet.
"Bennie sees what it takes to get a scholarship at the Division-I level," Ward said. "He has matured so much dramatically on and off the field. He's a special player."
Have a local sports story that we should cover? Contact Brandon Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.