Now that the camp and combine season is on hiatus while high school football spring practices start May 1, here's my Spring Stars 7, honoring the seven players who did the most to raise their recruiting profiles:
Tarpon Springs DL Zach DeBell: No one worked harder than DeBell this spring, as the Sponger lineman hit just about every camp there was, visited a half-dozen colleges on a spring break road trip and earned accolades at every stop. DeBell went from zero to 15 offers, pretty good work.
Nature Coast WR Ja'Juan Story: Story excelled at the ESS Combine last weekend, and also stood out the next day at the Nike camp in Gainesville. He's still regarded as a little unpolished when it comes to running routes, but scouts love his 4.4-second speed for 40 yards and his one-on-one ability. He now has 20 offers, including all the state schools.
Robinson WR Ruben Gonzalez: The 6-3, 200-pound Knight made waves at the BigCountyPreps Ignite Combine, then the following weekend was just as good at the ESS camp. He may not have ideal wideout speed, but he catches everything thrown his way and has the size to also play strong safety or maybe even linebacker down the road. He's still waiting for his first major offer, but it's coming. And soon.
Freedom LB Keith Lewis: The Patriot might have been the area's most unsung defensive player, but that has certainly changed since last season, and he now has offers numbering in the double digits. He is highly regarded for his sideline-to-sideline play at linebacker, and he has enough speed and athleticism to even play cornerback or safety.
Countryside OL Tyler Pierson: Another camp crazy this spring, the Cougars lineman hit everything from Under Armour camp to National Underclassmen Camp to ESS to Nike in Gainesville. He has offers from Kansas and Colorado State, but expect that number to grow with a big spring playing alongside top recruit and Nebraska commitment Tyler Moore.
Plant City QB Bennie Coney: Coney is only a junior, but he burst onto the recruiting scene at the Steve Clarkson Dreammaker Tour in Orlando, earning a big write-up on ESPN.com. Then he shined again at the Nike camp in Gainesville. He already has verbal offers from Texas Tech and Purdue, and now he appears to be the top quarterback in the area for 2012, though Countryside's Gray Crow could have something to say about that.
Tampa Catholic RB Hunter Joyer: Joyer picked up his most recent offers from USF and Minnesota. He is especially attractive because he is a rare hybrid — a powerful fullback with devastating strength and the speed to be the primary tailback as well. He had a great Nike camp in Gainesville, standing out at an event dominated by big-name speedsters.
Just on the outside of these seven: Armwood QB Josh Grady. Grady picked up his first big offer from Purdue, but what could end up helping him most was his play as a defensive back. According to ESS, "Josh was determined to get reps in as a DB during the event. He looked good on both sides of the ball and could turn out to be an even better safety than QB." The only problem is he probably won't be playing much in the defensive backfield this spring or fall.
UNSUNG HEROES: Spring practice is expected to yield more scholarships for local standouts, and here's a list of five players (and there are plenty more as 2011's crop should be one of the strongest ever) we expect will be getting their first major offers as coaches descend upon local campuses: Jefferson WR Chris Moore, Robinson WR Frankie Williams, Robinson LB Tevin Newman, Tarpon Springs DT Brodrick Lee, and deep sleeper Nature Coast DB Isaac Bailey.
STORY TIME: According to ESPN.com, Nature Coast's Story has accepted an invitation to the Under Armour All-American Game, which will be played at Tropicana Field in January 2011. He is the first local player to accept his invitation.
DANTE'S INFERNO: Lakewood DE Dante Fowler (Class of 2012) earned defensive line MVP honors at last week's Nike camp in Gainesville. ESPNRise wrote "it takes a lot for an underclassmen to win MVP honors, but that is how good rising junior Dante Fowler was in Gainesville. Fowler showed tremendous speed off the edge and was virtually unblockable in the one-on-ones."
Other locals who impressed were Crow, Coney and Plant's Phillip Ely, his Panther teammate Andrew Madhu (a defensive back) and Armwood's Matt Jones.
John C. Cotey can be reached at 727-580-3691 or firstname.lastname@example.org