Another national signing day is in the books. Let’s take one last look at how our local schools and athletes fared, and sneak a peek at 2014.
Top 10 Tampa Bay high school classes
1. Armwood: Armwood had the best class last year, and while not as formidable or deep, the Hawks are tops again thanks to Alvin Bailey (Florida) and Leon McQuay III (USC), who were also Under Armour All-Americans. Throw in Darryl Richardson, whose San Diego State commitment has us oozing with jealously (mmmmm...San Diego) and promising lineman Aaron Evans (UCF), and it’s tough to top.
2. Plant: The Panthers had the largest and longest signing day ceremony of any school in the bay area, celebrating 20 athletes over an hour and a half. There was also some quality to go with that quantity, with Paris Bostick (Georgia), Mitchell Wright (USF) and Tristan Cooper (Tulane).
3. Lakewood: The Spartans had a banner class, with more expected to sign. But Wednesday was all about WR Marquez Valdes (North Carolina State), WR Rodney Adams (Toledo), CBs Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin (UCF) and QB Tracy Johnson (Texas Southern). And heck, Adams and the Griffin twins signed their papers from an all-star game in Texas, adding a little oomph to the Spartans’ big day.
4. Hillsborough: Another top 10 finish for the Terriers, who sent Jordan Sherit (Florida) and Nigel Harris (USF) to major-college programs. Add in all-Hillsborough cornerback Jeremiah Green, who’s going to Alabama on a track scholarship, and that’s an impressive class.
5. Jesuit: In terms of sheer numbers (eight football, one soccer), the Tigers had the best day this side of Plant. Quality complements this quantity; half the football signees were Division-I guys. We’re very intrigued by Travis Johnson’s potential in a tight end-friendly offense (Cincinnati).
6. Pasco: It’s no surprise that the North Suncoast’s only two D-I football recruits came from the Pirates. Florida already has four-star defensive lineman and top-200 prospect Joey Ivie on campus, and Rutgers held off USF to snare do-it-all athlete Janarion Grant.
7. Tampa Bay Tech: This could be the start of a strong signing-day presence for the Titans. Richard Benjamin, who transferred from Middleton before his senior year, ended his circuitous recruitment by signing with Louisville. Antonio Guerad (UCF) and J.T. Thompkins (Bethune Cookman) round out a strong group.
8. St. Petersburg: Sean Covington was an All-American kicker who signed with UCLA, and tight end Jeremy Kerr was a Miami commitment before switching and signing with FSU. Quality, not quantity.
9. Countryside: Mike Love topped the class, finally getting that USF offer he craved after heavy interest from 20 or so other BCS schools. Brandon Pertile signed with Georgia State, A.J. Sattinger switched over from Temple to Coastal Carolina, and Joe Ganci (Georgetown), Ryan Pandy (Lehigh) and Ryan Yates and Jake Smith (Minot State) also signed.
10. Freedom: Nate Godwin (USF) and Issac Tanner (Western Kentucky) headed up a good football class, but girls basketball star Faith Woodard (Georgetown) and five-time state track medalist Sandra Akachukwu makes it a top-10 group.
Best recruiting effort in Tampa Bay?
1. Florida: Last year, the Gators signed our Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 football prospects. This year, they actually improved on that record. Once again, the Gators reeled in the 4-5-6 kids in Bailey, Ivie and Sherit, but instead of No. 2 they went out and got No. 1 -- Wharton’s Vernon Hargreaves. The Gators displace Miami from the top spot -- after a year where Miami cleaned up in Tampa Bay, the ‘Canes didn’t net a single top-25 player.
The rest of Florida?
2. FSU: Last year, the Seminoles lost out on Dante Fowler at the last minute. This year, they flip our No. 24 Jeremy Kerr in their favor, to go with No. 2 Ryan Green out of St. Petersburg Catholic. A down year for FSU quantity-wise, but good quality.
3. USF: After lots of summer-time hand wringing by the Bulls faithful about local recruiting efforts, new coach Willie Taggart came in and flipped Godwin (No. 18) from Minnesota, snatched up previously unoffered Love (No. 10) and undecided Harris (No. 19), and may have some hidden gems in Wright and Zach Benjamin.
4. UCF: Coming off a 10-win season and a win in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, the Knights capitalized on their momentum with an impressive haul in the bay area. UCF signed three of our top 25, including the top quarterback in the class, East Lake’s Pete DiNovo; highly-touted defensive backs, the Griffins of Lakewood; and two linemen with great potential, TBT’s Guerad and Armwood’s Evans.
5. FIU: Gaither’s Shug Oyegunle is a nice pickup for the Panthers, getting him away from Ball State.
Top out-of-state efforts
1. Old Dominion: Not one of the names that jumps out at you when you think local recruiting, but landing Plant’s Wesley Bullock, if he can get the academic scores, and possible steal Eric Hampson, a 6-6, 315-pound lineman out of Pinellas Park, is a pretty good haul.
2. Iowa State: The Cyclones seem to be in the running every year for three to four of our top players. Though they lost out on Love and Gaither’s Ernest Suttles, they were smart enough to be one of the first to go after Robinson’s Justin Madison and it paid off.
3. Georgia Southern: The Division I-AA powerhouse plucked Hernando County’s top two prospects, Hernando’s Tyrail Hawkins and Nature Coast’s Matt Breida. Both had Division I-A offers but chose the Eagles.
4. Nebraska-Kearney: Hey, we’d take Hernando’s Darren Hambrick, Pasco’s Damien Wilson and Bloomingdale’s Eugene Baker on our team any day. Not bad, not bad at all, Lopers.
John C. Cotey: I’m a fan of the V-neck sweater or sweater vest, so Alvin Bailey and Nate Godwin caught my eye. But I think Godwin’s old-school USF tie pushed it over the top for me.
Joey Knight: Jesuit’s Cameron Ruff (USF). The Tigers’ two-way lineman complemented his khakis and black sports jacket with a green bow tie. Distinctive without being gaudy.
Matt Baker: Hernando’s Darren Hambrick (Nebraska-Kearney) cleaned up real nice, with a new haircut and freshly-trimmed beard to go with a purple shirt and tie and black slacks.
Joel Anderson: Nicknamed “Smooth” by Plant coach Robert Weiner, Tristan Cooper (Tulane) lived up to the billing with a spiffy powder-blue sweater vest and a nice shirt-and-tie combo.
John C. Cotey: I’m not surprised Lakewood’s Rodney Adams went to Toledo, just a little surprised he passed on some warmer options. But I love it, because Adams+Toledo = MACtion!!!!
Matt Baker: The lack of surprises. Was anyone really shocked by a decision last week?
Joel Anderson: With options to stay close to home (USF) or matriculate along Tobacco Road (Wake Forest), Robinson’s Justin Madison chose Iowa State, which sits in a city with average highs of 47, 32 and 30 degrees November through January. He’d better invest in some winter gear.
John C. Cotey: I love the height of Ernest Suttles’ ceiling. He’s only been playing two years, has improved in leaps and bounds and after being corn fed for a few years should be a big-time playmaker for Nebraska.
Joey Knight: Strawberry Crest WR Karel Hamilton (Samford). I’ve got a hard time arguing with Chargers coach John Kelly’s assertion that Hamilton could play for any Division-I program. Iowa and USF made 11th-hour charges at Hamilton, a late bloomer who opened eyes in the summer and blew up in the fall, but the Brooklyn native chose to stick with the program that courted him longer and harder than anyone else.
Matt Baker: Pasco ATH Janarion Grant. The SEC’s loss is Rutgers’ gain. He’ll be a dynamic playmaker from the moment he steps on campus. I think he’ll develop into one of the best players in the Big East/Big Ten. A lot of schools will regret passing on Grant.
Joel Anderson: Hillsborough LB Nigel Harris. Before Willie Taggart got to town, Harris seemed bound for Vanderbilt, Wake Forest or Pitt. But after Taggart charmed the family and Harris had a blast on his official visit, the Bulls moved to the top of his list. Harris was spread thin at Hillsborough, playing tailback, linebacker and punter. Though he did them all well, he figures to excel on defense.
Who will be the best in college?
John C. Cotey: Well, Hargreaves obviously, but after seeing how Florida beefed up Dante Fowler, I can only imagine how scary Joey Ivie will be in a year or two.
Joey Knight: Barring something catastrophic, Wharton CB Vernon Hargreaves III appears poised to flourish at Florida. Perhaps no local signee is more equipped to contribute at the big-time level right away, as evidenced by the fact Gators coach Will Muschamp already is moving DBs (i.e. Loucheiz Purifoy) to offense.
Matt Baker: Other than Hargreaves? How about Lakewood’s Rodney Adams at Toledo? He has enough talent that UF wanted him, so he can become the Rockets’ latest star from the Sunshine State. MACtion, baby!
Joel Anderson: It’s hard to pick someone other than Wharton CB Vernon Hargreaves III. He was MVP of the Under Armour All-America game, standing out even among standouts. Barring injury or some other catastrophe, Hargreaves should move from playing on Saturdays to Sundays.
Best player still out there?
John C. Cotey: Largo’s Juwan Brown will end up somewhere, either at quarterback or safety. He’s too good not to make an impact wherever he goes.
Joey Knight: Robinson QB Zain Gilmore. The zone-read catalyst of one of the best offenses in program history, Gilmore was awaiting SAT results at press time. Since arriving from Blake in early 2012, he has “taken off” academically, posting a 3.0 GPA both semesters, according to former Knights coach Mike DePue. Had his grades been in order from Day 1, Gilmore would be a Division-I guy. Still might be.
Matt Baker: Pasco RB David Emmanuel. He’s a bowling ball of a back who had three 1,000-yard seasons for one of Tampa Bay’s top programs. He had offers from FAU and Memphis but is now considering Appalachian State. He can be a productive college back, wherever he ends up.
Joel Anderson: Wharton LB Rocky Enos. Often overshadowed by five-star teammate Hargreaves, Enos was one of the area’s leading tacklers and the other anchor of the Wildcats’ defense this past season. At 6 feet and 210 pounds, Enos might have been a little undersized for most major colleges. But his helmet-cracking style and knack for finding the ball should translate at the next level.
Best signing day nugget
John C. Cotey: Arkansas-bound Alex Collins’ mother took his signing papers and went off into hiding. Yeah, it’s not local, but Tampa Bay, you’re going to have to up your game next year, okay?
Matt Baker: High school rival Tyrail Hawkins (Hernando) called Nature Coast’s Matt Breida to ease his concerns before signing with Georgia Southern. Breida was having second thoughts - but not after speaking with his longtime competitor and future Eagles teammate. They’ll be college roommates. Aww.
Joel Anderson: Plant’s diminutive dual-threat Wesley Bullock, listed at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, has some interesting bloodlines. His mother shares a great-grandfather with late NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton and his paternal grandfather stood 6-foot-11. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in genes.
John C. Cotey: Nigel Harris and Shaquill Griffin make first-team all-freshman in the Big East.
Joey Knight: At least a half-dozen of Wednesday’s small-school signees never will set foot on their new campuses, mainly because they’ve never set foot on the campus to begin with. Not sure some even have seen a brochure from their colleges. Hate to sound cynical, but I think some kids signed Wednesday just to sign.
Matt Baker: Armwood’s Alvin Bailey has the best freshman season of any Tampa Bay recruit.
Joel Anderson: With USC losing two senior starters at safety, Armwood’s Leon McQuay III could lock down one of those positions heading into summer practice. .
Best sleeper for 2014?
John C. Cotey: Can I call Chase Litton a sleeper? I still can’t imagine he doesn’t have a bushel of offers by the end of summer. But if not, gimme Northeast DB Chris Jackson. Some 7-on-7 love gets him on the radar. Book it.
Matt Baker: Zephyrhills ATH Jordan Roberts. He’s one of Pasco County’s top athletes and won district titles in the 100 meters and high jump as a sophomore. Roberts is raw but one to watch.
Joel Anderson: Alonso OL Gary Brown. The 6-3, 275-pound tackle is rated a shade below the four BCS-caliber linemen in this class. But Brown could shoot up the rankings by the end of next fall.
Fearless, just-for-fun predictions for 2014
(Last year we were 1-for-10)
1. Mason Cole, East Lake Ohio State
2. Artavis Scott, East Lake USC
3. Vincent Jackson, Jesuit FSU
4. Jarvis Stewart, Largo Alabama
5. T.J. Harrell, Tampa Catholic Florida
6. Chase Litton, Wharton Georgia
7. Reilly Gibbons, St. Petersburg Catholic Notre Dame
8. Isaiah Wynn, Lakewood Florida
9. Corey Martinez, Tampa Catholic Florida
10. Kyle Gibson, Armwood FSU