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Pasco's top recruits find warm welcome

(ran PW, PC editions)

Land O'Lakes High lineman Mark Sopcik signs with USF, and Zephyrhills High kicker Brett Cimorelli signs with FSU.

Pasco County's top football recruits agree: Florida reigns supreme.

"When I went to Massachusetts to visit (College of the) Holy Cross," said Land O'Lakes High School star lineman Mark Sopcik, "it was negative 30 degrees, with the wind chill. I didn't want anything to do with that. That made me appreciate the weather down here."

It's an appreciation shared by Zephyrhills High School's star kicker, Brett Cimorelli.

"The weather was definitely a factor," said Cimorelli, a standout in football and baseball. "I feel more comfortable playing in Florida."

Wednesday morning, as top college football recruits across the nation officially signed with their programs, Pasco County's top two Division I recruits decided Florida was the best choice for them.

Cimorelli accepted a football scholarship from national champion Florida State University, while Sopcik accepted a scholarship from the University of South Florida.

Cimorelli, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior who played quarterback and kicked 50-plus-yard field goals for the Bulldogs this season, faces the most daunting task of the two highly touted recruits.

He must replace Florida State kicker and two-time All-American Sebastian Janikowski, the 21-year-old Polish immigrant known as much for his booming kicks on the field as for his off-the-field disciplinary and legal problems. Janikowski declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

Cimorelli said he understands the comparisons but said he can only be himself.

"I'll probably be hearing about (Janikowski) for a while," Cimorelli said. "Hopefully if I have a good first year, then they'll start to remember my name, too."

The Zephyrhills High School honor student also plays catcher and will play baseball for the Seminoles as well, an arrangement that the football and baseball coaching staffs agreed to. Cimorelli planned on attending Florida State to play baseball anyway, but the school's willingness to compromise sealed the deal.

The Seminole coaching staff was more than happy to oblige the 17-year-old.

"(Cimorelli) could be the most important guy we've signed this year," said Florida State recruiting coordinator John Lilly. "We ask our kicker to do two things: get us a touchback and make a 40- to 45-yard field goal, and Brett can do both of those things.

"We're real, real excited about him."

Cimorelli's father, Bruce, the baseball coach at Zephyrhills High, said the family was most impressed with the Seminoles.

"The coaching staff was really straightforward and honest with us," he said. "They were real top-class people."

Sopcik said that USF's move from Division I-AA to Division I helped make up his mind, as did the chance to play at home, in front of his family, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

"It was good timing, though I think even if they were I-AA I still would have gone there," he said. "By the time I graduate, we could win Conference USA easily by my senior year."

Sopcik, 17, also an honor student, said he was happy the recruiting process is over. He said another advantage to USF is the chance for more playing time as an underclassman.

He also has something to prove to the state's top football programs, schools like Florida State and Florida, who decided that as a 6-foot-5, 275-pound guard, he was too small for their programs.

"I'm relieved, I'm happy," he said. "But I feel a little bit like I want to prove those schools wrong. Hopefully I can work hard and be a great player at the next level.

"I knew I could have walked on at those schools, but I can't wait to play for USF."

_ Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.