Lakewood alum Isaiah Wynn poised to become highest-drafted local lineman

Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (77) looks to block Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson (96) in the first half of a game last season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn (77) looks to block Florida defensive lineman Cece Jefferson (96) in the first half of a game last season. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Published April 13 2018

Isaiah Wynn was unsure if he wanted to play football eight years ago. An incoming freshman, Wynn decided to attend one of his older brother's workouts at Lakewood High.

Wynn already weighed more than 250 pounds. Spartans coach Cory Moore asked him to put on some pads. In drills, Wynn lined up as an offensive lineman, He sent defenders in reverse, forcefully and repeatedly.

That was all it took to convince Moore.

After that, Wynn was not only a part of the team. He was a starter.

Wynn continued to blossom as a freshman, so much that Moore told him he would eventually be playing on Sundays.

"You could see his size, his athleticism, his footwork and know that he was going to be special," Moore said. "What really sets him apart, more than anything else, is his work ethic. Because of that, I had a pretty good feeling he was going to have some longevity in this game."

In two weeks, Moore's proclamation will come true.

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After a stellar career at Lakewood and the University of Georgia, Wynn has become a coveted draft prospect. He is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second.

If that happens, Wynn could be the highest draft pick ever among area offensive linemen. Former Armwood and Florida standout Mike Pearson, who was selected 40th overall by Jacksonville in the 2002 draft, currently holds that distinction.

There have been plenty of local linemen who have gone on to have lengthy NFL careers.

• Crawford Ker, a former standout at Dunedin and Florida, played eight seasons, mostly with Dallas.

• Jeff Mitchell, a former star at Countryside and Florida, had a nine-year career with Baltimore and Carolina.

•  Mike Gruttadauria, who played at Tarpon Springs and UCF, played eight seasons with three teams.

Still, the highest pick among them was Ker, taken in the third round (76th overall) in the 1985 draft. Mitchell was a fifth-round selection. Gruttadauria went undrafted.

Locals have gone in the first and second rounds at just about every other position, most coming at receiver and defensive back.

Offensive linemen, not so much.

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"It is somewhat puzzling that more from around here have not been taken higher," said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackle Jerry Wunsch, who coached linemen at Indian Rocks Christian for nearly a decade before stepping down this past season.

Wunsch has a few theories. The biggest one is a consistent lack of big guys on campus.

"You just don't see a lot of 6-6, 300-pound guys around here," Wunsch said. "They're everywhere in the Northeast and the Midwest."

Another problem, Wunsch said, is that those big bodies tend to flock to the other side of the ball.

"The guys that are big in the state want to be defensive ends or tackles," Wunsch said. "There's an emphasis to put them there, too. Big guys in the North and Midwest grow up wanting to be offensive linemen."

Wunsch has a point. Mitchell played on both sides of the ball but starred as a defensive lineman with the Cougars. Mitchell had 17 career sacks and was named the St. Petersburg Times' all-Suncoast defensive player of the year in 1991.

The stigma surrounding area linemen is changing. For starters, they are bigger. When Pearson was a senior in 1996, he weighed 280 pounds. Now, nearly every program in Tampa Bay has at least one lineman who tips the scales at 300 pounds.

They are not just big. Most can move, too.

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There is athleticism involved in today's game. Linemen have to move to keep up with mobile quarterbacks in spread offenses that often feature the no-huddle. Most high schools in the state have adopted these lickety-split offenses.

Wynn has it all.

After starting out as a project, Wynn transformed into a cornerstone on the line for Lakewood and Georgia.

NFL teams believe he can do the same thing at the next level.

"Isaiah has definitely earned this," Moore said. "He was back here every offseason working out. It would be hard to find anyone who has worked as hard as he has to be in this position."