Shaquem Griffin is about to join a long line of NFL draft picks from Lakewood

The Lakewood Effect: A look at the St. Petersburg high school program that continues to produce NFL draft prospects at an eye-popping rate.
Published April 20, 2018|Updated April 20, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — Former Lakewood High coach Brian Bruch started each season with the same spiel. He cautioned his players about not becoming obsessed with a professional football career, reciting statistics to emphasize the difficult the odds of being drafted by an NFL team.

The players were usually skeptical.

"To them, I was full of it," said Bruch, who coached the Spartans from 1992-2004. "They would hear me give this speech and then tell me about three guys from their neighborhood who are playing in the NFL. For just about everywhere in the country, it's like a million-to-one shot to make it as an NFL draft pick. For these guys, at least what they are familiar with, it's like 32-to-1."

According to an NCAA participation report, there were 1,083,308 students who played high school football during the 2015-16 school year. There are roughly 240 players selected annually in the NFL draft, meaning there is about a 2.2 percent chance of a player getting drafted each season.

At Lakewood, the chances are significantly higher, based on the school's penchant for producing pros.

The Spartans have had 12 players drafted, among the most of any area high school program. The list is expected to grow when the 2018 NFL draft commences Thursday in Arlington, Texas.

Last year, Lakewood was one of only 10 high schools nationally that had two players selected (Shaquill Griffin and Rodney Adams). What makes the list so remarkable is the number of high draft picks. Seven of those 12 were selected in the first three rounds.

Dante Fowler, taken third overall by the Jaguars in the 2015 draft, is the highest local pick from the area.

And that group of Spartans does not include those who made it to the NFL as undrafted free agents, such as Aveion Cason, Cornell Green and Bernard Reedy.

The list of draft prospects expected to add to Lakewood's legacy next week:

* Georgia's Isaiah Wynn is projected to be taken late in the first, or early in the second, round and could become the highest pick ever among offensive lineman in the area.

* UCF's Shaquem Griffin, the star of the combine, could join his twin, Shaquill, as a draft pick.

* USF's Marquez Valdes-Scantling has been climbing mock draft boards and is now projected as a sixth- or seventh-round pick.

Lakewood is overflowing with draft picks, so much that you could practically bump into one just driving down the street.

That is exactly what happened this past week to Ernest Givins. The former Spartan, who was drafted by the Houston Oilers, in the second round in 1986, was pulling out of his driveway when he spotted the Griffin twins.

"I asked them what they were doing on this street and they said they grew up just down the road," Givins said. "I didn't even know we were neighbors until then."

A few years before, Givins was boarding a plane when he glanced over at the cockpit and noticed Pat Terrell, a former Lakewood star who was taken in the second round by the Rams in 1990.

"I asked Pat if he was flying this plane," Givins said. "He was the pilot. The Lakewood draft picks, we're everywhere."

Even current Spartans coach Cory Moore spent time in an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent.

"I can remember listening to games from my house in Lakewood Estates,'' Moore said. "I was too young to go but I could hear the band play and I wanted to play there someday. And then when I got older I would see guys like William Floyd, Ed Dixon, Tom Carter and I was in awe. I wanted to wear the same uniform as them one day.''

The number of NFL draft picks Lakewood has produced rivals that of some of the nation's powerhouse programs.

But the Spartans do not have the same championship pedigree.

Lakewood, which opened in 1966, has never won a state title and has made just one state semifinal appearance. In fact, the Spartans have won just nine playoff games, the first coming in 2001 during Bruch's ninth year with the program.

Givins said the proximity of public schools in St. Petersburg makes it hard to be a perennial power. Bruch said the problem is not having enough talented players throughout the roster.

Moore said it's about getting players to believe in the team concept.

"It's a team award, it's not an individual award," Moore said. "We've had a lot of talented players who have gone on to do big things. Kids see them and want to be like them, which means they want to have the ball and score the points.

"What every team needs are the guys who do all the hard work and don't get the pats on the back. We need more of those guys. We'll get there some day. It's out there for us. We're knocking on the door.''

But there is one local title the Spartans hold. They are the undisputed kings of producing highly-touted NFL prospects, especially in the last 35 years.

"I don't know if you'll ever see a run like this anywhere else," Givins said. "It's crazy to think how many there have been."

Staff writer Rodney Page contributed to this report. 

The Lakewood legacy: Spartans taken in the NFL draft

Dante Fowler, from the 2012 day he signed with the Florida Gators at Lakewood and the 2015 day he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. [Times/wire file]
Dante Fowler, from the 2012 day he signed with the Florida Gators at Lakewood and the 2015 day he was drafted No. 3 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. [Times/wire file]
Rodney Adams (Toledo, USF; Vikings, Colts), 5th round, 2017

Ricky Anderson (Vanderbilt; Cardinals), 11th round, 1985

Tron Armstrong (Eastern Kentucky; Jets, Dolphins, CFL), 5th round, 1984

Tim Carter (Auburn; Giants, Browns, Texans, Rams), 2nd round, 2002

Tom Carter (Notre Dame; Bengals, Bears, Redskins), 1st round, 1993

William Floyd (FSU; 49ers, Titans), 1st round, 1994

Dante Fowler (Florida; Jaguars), 1st round, 2015*

Ernest Givens (Louisville; Oilers, Jaguars), 2nd round, 1986

Jonte Green (New Mexico State; Lions, CFL), 6th round, 2012

Shaquill Griffin (UCF; Seahawks), 3rd round, 2017*

Louis Murphy (Florida; Raiders, Panthers, Giants, Bucs, 49ers), 4th round, 2009*

Pat Terrell (Notre Dame; Rams, Packers, Panthers), 2nd round, 1990

Notable undrafted Lakewood players who landed in the NFL

Bernard Reedy from his days with the Lakewood Spartans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. [Times files]
Bernard Reedy from his days with the Lakewood Spartans and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. [Times files]
David Booze (Eastern Kentucky; Browns)

Pat Carter (Louisville; Ravens, Dolphins, Bucs, Seahawks, Broncos)

Aveion Cason (Illinois State; Rams, Chiefs, Lions, Cowboys)

Cornell Green (UCF; Raiders, Bucs)

Cory Moore (Bethune-Cookman; Vikings)

Rashod Moulton (Fort Valley State; Jaguars, Broncos)

Bernard Reedy (Toledo; Falcons, Bucs, Patriots)*

*Active players