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Many top area recruits moving down to IMG

]Spring football: Practice at Lakewood Friday, May 9, 2014,  Saivion Smith.
[Note, players Identified by Coach Moore, spelling from roster. Saivion was not on the roster, so spelling from request.]
JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times
]Spring football: Practice at Lakewood Friday, May 9, 2014, Saivion Smith. [Note, players Identified by Coach Moore, spelling from roster. Saivion was not on the roster, so spelling from request.] JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times
Published Jan. 25, 2015

Take a quick glance at the Tampa Bay recruiting class for 2016, and a few big names appear to be missing.

Blake's Shavar Manuel, ESPN's No. 2 recruit nationally, is coming off a junior season in which he amassed a whopping 20 sacks. He'd easily be at the top of an area list if not for one thing: He's no longer attending high school here.

And he's not alone.

IMG Academy has successfully scooped up elite athletes from Tampa Bay over the past year. Manuel is the latest to bolt for the Bradenton school, and he'll see a lot of familiar faces.

Fellow five-star prospect Saivion Smith, who had moved from Boca Ciega to Lakewood right before school started, instead played his 2014 season with the Ascenders. Four-stars T.J. Chase and Malik Barrow left Plant City and Tampa Catholic, respectively, and St. Petersburg Catholic lost three-star fullback Tony Jones last spring.

Smith had friends at Lakewood, dad Anthony is an alumnus, and the Spartans field plenty of talent year after year.

But when the opportunity came to attend IMG, Smith didn't hesitate.

"When I first visited I knew I had to get over there," said Smith, who boasts offers from LSU, Pittsburgh, Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Baylor — many of which he had pre-IMG. "The facilities were great, but it was really an academic decision for me. It was hard leaving Lakewood. I knew they were going to be a good team and I have a lot of friends there. But IMG is best for me."

The athletics weren't so bad either, as Smith finished with 67 tackles, five interceptions and three blocked punts last season for the 10-1 Ascenders.

His father agrees the academic help was too much to pass up.

"For me it wasn't even about the athletics," he said. "We visited there three times and never once did we talk about athletics. That part is going to be there no matter where you are. For me, it was about the academics. It was the smaller classrooms. The one-on-one that you get.

"He's gone from a 2.5 GPA when he left to a 3.1 in the last grading period."

A typical offseason day for Smith is class in the mornings, workouts in the afternoons and nightly tutoring Monday through Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m. He said the routine might not be for everybody, but it works for him.

Smith doesn't know if more Tampa Bay athletes will come to IMG soon, but he knows they are curious.

"Every time I go back home people ask me about it,'' he said.