LAKELAND — The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore filed in with everyone else, dutifully checking in Saturday morning for the Rivals Camp.
His arrival caused a stir among the recruiting analysts and camp organizers, who hadn’t seen him in person before but were immediately impressed by his precocious build.
“He walks in and we’re just like, wait a minute …who’s that kid?” said Woody Wommack, Rivals.com’s Southeast recruiting analyst. “I had never seen him in person before today.”
It didn’t take long before Armwood’s Byron Cowart proved that his play matched his physique.
Cowart and Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud earned MVP honors at the latest edition of the regional Rivals Camp, announcing their arrival as two of the bay area’s top recruits in the class of 2015.
They emerged as the cream of the 225-athlete crop that showed up at Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, hoping to burnish their already elite reputations or catch the attention of Rivals’ team of recruiting analysts.
Consider Cowart and McCloud successful at the latter, winning the defensive line and offensive skill MVP awards, respectively.
As a sophomore, Cowart had 43 tackles, 11 for a loss, nine quarterback hurries, four sacks and an interception for the Hawks.
Cowart was an anchor for one of the area’s best defenses — a unit with a handful of major-college prospects, including USC signee Leon McQuay III — but still came to Lake Gibson High without any college scholarship offers.
“I was surprised he doesn’t have any offers yet,” Wommack said. “But he will soon. He looks like he can be a special talent.”
McCloud is also looking for his first offer after a season in which he rushed for 1,319 yards and 12 yards on 8.1 yards per carry for the Gryphons.
He won MVP honors after coaches at the camp paired him against Northeast junior running back Keith Harrington. Wommack said they let McCloud and Harrington face off in one-on-one drills, allowing them to alternate between offense and defense.
On Saturday, McCloud was the winner. “Ray got the best of him,” Wommack said.
“I feel real good about today,” McCloud said. “I just came out here to compete and I think I helped myself.”
Other bay area athletes who earned the attention of Rivals’ analysts were Plant freshman receiver Luke McFadden and Nature Coast junior defensive end Rohan Blackwood, who were later named among the top 20 performers at the camp.
Jesuit junior linebacker Vincent Jackson and Plant sophomore defensive lineman Kyle Henderson also earned plaudits for their performances.
Some of the top bay area recruits in attendance at Lake Gibson were: Jefferson 2014 receiver Derrick Ingram; Largo 2014 defensive back Cordell Hudson; Plant 2014 defensive back Mazzi Wilkins; Alonso 2014 running back Ish Witter; Nature Coast 2015 receiver Jonathan Thomas; Clearwater Central Catholic 2014 linebacker Ethan Thompson; Armwood 2014 defensive back Kyle Gibson; Tampa Catholic 2014 defensive back T.J. Harrell; and St. Petersburg Catholic 2014 offensive lineman Reilly Gibbons.
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jdhometeam.