Sunday, May 27, 2018
Sports

HomeTeam Huddle: Recruiting stock rises for Blake's Shavar Manuel

TAMPA

Colleges called Blake High School football coach Darryl Gordon all day Tuesday, just like they had the day before, and the day before that. They want to know about Shavar Manuel, the hulking 6-foot-4, 260-pound sophomore defensive lineman who now has the full attention of every team in the state, the SEC, the ACC. Everyone, it seems.

"Biggest part of my job," said Gordon, of handling the inquiries.

It hasn't been like this since 1969. And Gordon knows that because he was here then, at the same Stewart Middle School field, leaning against the fence and watching Leon McQuay practice.

"That was the last time it was this exciting around here," he said.

This spring, Blake is hopping.

A handful of college coaches show up every day to watch Manuel, who has offers from the likes of Florida, Florida State, Miami and Alabama — and has picked them all up since December.

You'd hardly know it, though, because Gordon hasn't publicized it. He has kept Manuel Mania low key to keep his star from being affected by all the attention, a rarity in a world where kids often tweet their offers from practice and boast about their totals.

Manuel, though, has been perfectly content keeping his fame to himself. But now Gordon is pulling the curtain back on his 17-year-old star recruit, and it is invigorating his program.

Despite a 2-8 season last fall, its 13th straight losing season — and sharing a nine-team district with the likes of state powerhouse Armwood, Jefferson and Hillsborough — the numbers are up for a team that in past years barely had enough to scrimmage. As many as 45 to 50 kids are showing up daily, Gordon said.

For every coach who stops by to watch Manuel, Gordon can sell his other players, like running back Corey Bennett, receiver Juwan Burgess and linebackers Julian Jackson and Marquis Daniel.

"There's some talent here," he said. "No one ever bothered to come out and see it for themselves. And the kids have responded. Practices are different this spring."

Recruiters are coming now because of Manuel, who had 19 sacks last season and 10 the year before. And according to former Tampa Bay Buccaneer lineman Anthony Davis, an assistant coach at Blake, he has barely scratched the surface.

"One thing I let people know is that the way he rushes the quarterback, he can beat you six or seven different ways. You really don't see that in high school," said Davis, who has formed a tight-knit bond with his star pupil.

"He can rip you, he can bull rush you, he can spin you, he can shed you, he can do all that good stuff. And his quickness off the ball, the change of direction, it's tremendous. Watching him learn, it's been real fun."

When Davis met Manuel as a freshman, he remembers seeing the Yellow Jacket trying out — at quarterback.

But Davis rectified that immediately.

"I had a cannon, don't get me wrong, but it didn't work out," said Manuel, laughing.

Davis told Manuel if he wanted to be a great football player, to follow his lead.

"Let's go," Manuel said.

Since then, Manuel has racked up sacks and college offers at a startling rate. His first came from Florida around Christmas, and he said he was so excited he was "ready to pad up and show them what I could do."

He's getting that chance this spring. The coaches, and offers, are still coming. His combination of size, speed and strength makes him arguably the most unblockable player in Tampa Bay. Recruiting website 247Sports ranked him the No. 2 recruit in the country for the class of 2016.

"Coach Davis threw me in with the big guys my first day and said if I listened, great things were going to happen," Manuel said. "The man never told me a lie."

Poised for breakouts

DE Marques Ford, East Bay: Coach Frank LaRosa knew his 6-foot-4, 225-pound monster had the athleticism and size to bloom into a Division I recruit this spring. "I thought he would," LaRosa said, "but not the way he has." After amassing 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss last fall, Ford has become one of Tampa Bay's top recruits. The three-star prospect has reeled in more than 30 scholarship offers since February, including eight just last week. Miami, USF, UCF and Clemson are among the schools chasing Ford. His biggest assets, LaRosa said, can't be seen on film. "The work ethic, the competitiveness, the passion for football, the want to be great," LaRosa said. "Kids talk about it, but very few want to be great."

QB James Pensyl, Land O'Lakes: The 6-foot-6 lefty is shaping up to be the North Suncoast's first Division I quarterback signee since fellow Gator Stevie Weatherford. Pensyl's 2,300-yard junior season helped land his first offer last week, from Oregon State.

RB/LB Tykese Keaton-Baldwin, Plant: Overshadowed by future Longhorn Andrew Beck on defense and the Alex "Buda" Jackson/Patrick Brooks combo in the run game, sophomore Keaton-Baldwin didn't make a whole lot of noise for Plant last season in its 8A state semifinal run. But coach Robert Weiner is pretty confident that'll change in the Panthers' next campaign. Keaton-Baldwin ran for 115 yards last season and had 38 tackles. Weiner, though, expects the soon-to-be junior to have a breakout year as he tries to replace what the Panthers have lost in Beck and Jackson. "He plays both sides of the ball …and he's a really powerful kid. Low center of gravity," Weiner said. "Tykese might be that guy."

WR Jahrvis Davenport, Robinson: Recent offers from Pitt and UConn are just the latest for the 5-foot-10, three-star athlete. He quietly ranked among Hillsborough County's leading receivers last fall with 667 yards and eight TDs.

WR Kezio Snelling, Steinbrenner: The 6-foot-1, three-star prospect has pulled in offers from Purdue and Eastern Michigan, among others. As good a receiver as he is (556 yards, six touchdowns), it is Snelling's return game, where he averaged 36 and 25 yards on kickoff and punt returns respectively, that puts him over the top.

DE Malik Barrow, Tampa Catholic: Pasco transfer Nate Craig gets plenty of attention, but the Crusaders' other elite 2016 prospect has pulled in a half-dozen offers already this spring, including UCF, USF, Michigan State and Mississippi State. The four-star recruit had 13 sacks as a sophomore last fall and could even line up at left tackle. He's that good.

LB Jaye Miner, Wiregrass Ranch: His 131-tackle junior season resulted in offers from Eastern Michigan and Georgia State for the two-star prospect.

Staff writers Matt Baker, Rodney Page, Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam contributed to this report.

Comments
Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

Rays bats come alive with six-run rally to beat Orioles 8-3

ST. PETERSBURG — If you think the Rays are holding their pitching staff together with baling wire, duct tape and an overbooked shuttle to Triple-A Durham, a bigger story might be how their bats keep producing runs no matter who is swinging them...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
For starters: Rays RHP Sergio Romo opens the game for the second time in 48 hours vs. Orioles

For starters: Rays RHP Sergio Romo opens the game for the second time in 48 hours vs. Orioles

ST. PETERSBURG – Speaking of openers, the Rays will start RHP Sergio Romo (1-1, 4.66 ERA) for the fourth time this season, the second time in 48 hours vs. the Orioles. The 35-year-old Romo did not make it out of the first inning Friday, allowin...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had to get creative in how they start games. Now, after Friday's trade of closer Alex Colome, they might have to get creative in how they finish them.How they handle the ninth inning going forward will be a fluid ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

What in the name of the 0-26 Bucs is going on here?The breathtaking Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team in professional sports history. They are the best (or worst) thing to ever happen to our games, having won 51 times during the re...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

Rays pitchers Ryne Stanek, Anthony Banda dominate in 5-1 win over Orioles

THE BASEBALL LABORATORY IN ST. PETERSBURG — Up is down. Down is up. Hello is goodbye. Goodbye is hello. A reliever is a starter. A starter is a reliever.These are your 2018 Tampa Bay Rays.You never know what's going to happen. And just when you...
Published: 05/26/18
Updated: 05/27/18
Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who was trying to resurrect his career with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, said Saturday that he is retiring from football.Freeman, 30, was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2009 and was their starting ...
Published: 05/26/18
Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Orioles game

Thomas Bassinger’s takeaways from Saturday’s Rays-Orioles game

Interesting decision by the Rays to start RH reliever Ryne Stanek on Saturday. The Orioles' Nos. 1 through 5 hitters were righties, and Stanek came in allowing a 1.228 OPS against righties and a .592 OPS against lefties. It ended up working.How ...
Published: 05/26/18
RAYSREPORT

RAYSREPORT

Today: vs. Orioles1:10, Tropicana FieldTV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)Tickets: $15-$275; available at Tropicana Field, raysbaseball.com, surcharge of up to $5 within five hours of gamePromotion: Raymond children’s book for kids 14 ...
Published: 05/26/18
Rays Tales: What the trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span leads to next

Rays Tales: What the trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span leads to next

The reality of Friday's surprising trade of Alex Colome and Denard Span to Seattle is, of course, between the extremes.One side is screaming this is the latest proof the Rays are driven more to pocket money than winning games (and, for the loudest, o...
Published: 05/26/18

For starters: Rays vs. Orioles; Ryne Stanek makes first start, Carlos Gomez returns

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays' bullpenning experiment continues, with right-hander Ryne Stanek to open this afternoon's game against the Orioles at Tropicana Field. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10.It is the first career start for Stanek, who has ...
Published: 05/26/18