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With three Tampa Bay area standouts, Clemson set for Alabama

Former East Lake standout Artavis Scott finds running room during Clemson’s victory over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Scott, Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud next face Alabama in their hometown stadium, Raymond James.
Published Jan. 2, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. — To many local prepubescents, Raymond James Stadium is Mecca, a hallowed site of one youth football championship or another. Artavis Scott, Pinellas County native, spent a childhood trying to get there as a player instead of a patron.

He never succeeded.

"My teams weren't good enough," he acknowledged.

But his current one is. In the waning minutes of 2016, he still was trying to process that reality.

"Oh man," the Clemson junior receiver said. "It's unreal."

The College Football Playoff championship game suddenly has a local story line … in triplicate.

Scott, an East Lake alumnus, joins fellow Tigers receivers Ray-Ray McCloud (Sickles) and Deon Cain (Tampa Bay Tech) as former bay area high school stars who get Alabama for a homecoming opponent at RayJay next Monday night. A fourth local, Tigers offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen (Plant), is away from the team for personal reasons. A fifth, wide receiver TJ Chase (Plant City), is a redshirt freshman.

"It's big, man," said McCloud, a sophomore who exited Sickles as Hillsborough County's all-time rushing leader (Jesuit's Malik Davis has since surpassed him).

"Looking at my phone, just a lot of people hitting me up, 'You comin' home,' this and that. I only played in Raymond James once in my whole life, and I'm from there."

Should No. 3 Clemson (13-1) upset the top-ranked Crimson Tide (14-0) in a rematch of last season's title game, it would become the third national champion with at least three bay area players on its two-deep roster since Florida in 2008 (FSU had three in 2013).

Scott and Cain have played in all 14 games this season, McCloud in 12. Cain, suspended for last season's playoffs for an unspecified team-rules violation, had a 9-yard reception on third and 5 on the second scoring drive of Saturday's 31-0 romp over Ohio State in a national semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.

Having partially redeemed himself, he spent the aftermath figuratively pinching himself in a University of Phoenix Stadium locker room.

"It's always a dream come true," Cain said, "to come play on a big stage in your hometown."

All are scheduled to arrive Friday in Tampa with least 33 catches, led by Scott's 73. His two against the Buckeyes gave him a school-record 242 for his career. He entered that game tied for that mark with Sammy Watkins.

It was Scott's second milestone in two weeks. He earned a communications degree in less than three years and participated in commencement ceremonies just before arriving in Arizona. In the immediate wake of Saturday's triumph, he said he hasn't decided whether he will make himself eligible for the 2017 NFL draft.

All he knows for sure is he's heading home to the hallowed confines on Dale Mabry. The dream he never realized as a grade-schooler has been attained as a graduate.

"I remember losing last year (to Alabama)," Scott said. "And when I found out we (could) make it to Tampa, that's been on my mind, man, just to get back home and play in front of my hometown."

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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