Our seventh annual countdown of the top 100 football players in Tampa Bay — consisting of athletes who attend a public or private school in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando counties. Past performances — spanning the fall, spring and summer — and promise of big things to come are all taken into consideration.
81. Javion Hanner, Zephyrhills Christian
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 5-9, 188
Hanner is in his second year at Zephyrhills Christian after transferring from Pasco. He will be the Warriors’ top ball carrier after gaining 914 yards last season. Here are five things to know about Hanner:
Black sheep: He is the only one in his family who plays sports. The rest of them are musical and sing in a choir. “They don’t know anything about football. They know when I score a touchdown but that’s about it. I used to sing with them when I was little but then my mom said my voice got too deep. I play drums a little, but that’s it.”
Bright future: Hanner is a good student, good enough to get interest from Ivy League schools like Harvard and Colgate. He said he has no favorite and plans on making visits later in the year. He would like to study law or sports medicine. “My mom wants me to go to an Ivy League school. She doesn’t care about football as much as the academics. She’s thinking about the next 40 years, not the next four years.”
Small world: Hanner grew up in Dade City and liked baseball most as a kid. His coach was Mike Penix Sr., whose son, Mike Jr., ended up as a standout quarterback at Tampa Bay Tech and is now at Indiana. Penix Sr. saw that Hanner was an athlete and mentioned he should try football. “I played flag football my first year and loved it,” Hanner said. “Then I moved to regular football and have been playing it ever since.”
Motivation: Hanner has never been the biggest player on the team. Most times he’s one of the smallest. That’s what keeps him going in the offseason. “If I’m going to play against all those big boys I have to be ready. I’ve got to work out every day. I learned that when I was 14 and a freshman. All those teams on our schedule with big players.”
Setting the pace: Last season was the first that Zephyrhills Christian played as a member of the FHSAA. The Warriors when 8-3 and qualified for the playoffs. They have a good chance of doing the same this season. “We’re a small school and don’t get a whole lot of recognition. It’s nice to be part of the team that sets the standard for future teams."
82. Jalen Bussey, Tampa Catholic
Position: Running back
Height/Weight: 5-8, 155
With Tampa Catholic losing so many playmakers in the offseason, Bussey could become the focal point of the offense, especially after rushing for 618 yards and six touchdowns last season. Here are five things to know about Bussey:
On the move: Bussey was in Augusta, Ga., and lived in Charleston, S.C., before the family moved to Tampa in 2009. He said they came to this area because his mother got married and there was a job opening in Tampa.
Home cooking: Bussey’s go-to dish is chicken parmesan. He particularly likes the way his mother and grandmother make it, so much that Bussey is scared to try cooking the meal on his own. “Of course I’m going to root for mom’s cooking over anything, but grandma’s for sure is better than any restaurant. I haven’t tried it because my mom makes it so good. I don’t want anything less than that because if I mess it up I won’t eat it.”
Video superjock: The competitor in Bussey comes out in video games. He likes playing Madden and NBA2K with his friends. His favorite team in Madden is the Atlanta Falcons because of their explosive offense. His favorite team in NBA2K used to be the Toronto Raptors but now it is the New York Knicks after they drafted former Tampa Catholic standout Kevin Knox. “I’ll definitely play with my boy Kevin Knox this year.”
Taking his time: Bussey has offers from Eastern Kentucky, North Dakota State and Southern Miss. He wants to hold off committing so he can take his official visits and see if more schools offer after the first couple of games this season.
Mr. 2000: One of the goals Bussey has this season is to rush for 2,000 yards. If he does that, he’ll definitely earn another desired result: first-team all-Hillsborough County.
83. Agiye Hall, Armwood
Position: Wide receiver
Height/Weight: 6-3, 185
Hall has gotten faster, stronger and bigger over the past year, which should be a concern for opponents because Hall already was pretty formidable as a freshman last year at Durant. An all-around interesting character, here are five things to know about Hall:
Guitar Hero: Hall recently started playing the electric guitar and said “I love it.” In particular, Hall likes rock-n-roll and is constantly discovering talent from the 1970s and 1980s.
Potatoes and peanut butter: Hall has gained 20 pounds of muscle in the past year by lifting weights and “eating a lot of mashed potatoes and peanut butter.” Hall said he eats mashed potatoes “every single day.” He’s also increased his bench press from 150 pounds to 200.
If not football, then ...: “I could see myself being a hairstylist. That seems like a good job.”
Other sports: Don’t be surprised if you see Hall wearing Armwood basketball and track jerseys in the winter and spring seasons. “I was just focused on football at Durant, but I’m ready to try more sports. But football is still my best sport.”
Down the road: With big hands, a tremendous vertical leap and a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash, Hall is already getting interest from major college programs, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia and UCF. “But I’m waiting a while before making any decisions on college. I’m just going to keep on grinding and see what happens. I have time.”
84. Jael Feliz, Alonso
Height/Weight: 6-2, 215
Feliz has quietly led by example the past two years, but this year he has taken a more vocal role, stepping up his intensity. Here are five things to know about Feliz:
For the love of track: Feliz ran track full-time for the first time last spring, competing in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races. His best event was the 400, where he clocked a personal-best 51 seconds, which is particularly impressive considering he weighs 215 pounds. Feliz, however, said that more importantly, “the experience made me stronger physically and mentally. I fell in love with track.”
Loyalty over leaving: In three years, Feliz has worked under three head coaches, a situation that made him contemplate leaving Alonso for another school, several of which he said were seeking his services. Feliz stayed with the Ravens because he believed in new head coach Ron Perisee and felt a great sense of obligation to stay with his teammates and friends.
Broken hand: Feliz broke his hand during the first game of the season last year. Feliz finished that game vs. Sickles, took the next week off after getting a cast, then finished the rest of the season playing with the cast. He also led the team with 102 total tackles, averaging a whopping 11.3 a game.
What’s ahead: Feliz doesn’t have any firm offers from colleges at the moment, but that is expected to change dramatically through the season. “In the past year (Feliz) has gone from a good high school football player into an exceptional high school football player and a definite college prospect,” Perisee said. “There is no doubt that will be quickly apparent.”
New York, New York: Feliz spent the first seven years of his life in New York City before his family moved to Tampa. Feliz says he still loves to visit relatives in New York, but he’s happy that he’s in Florida to play football.
85. Corey Peterson, Nature Coast
Height/Weight: 5-11, 180
He may not be the biggest player on the field, but Peterson has a knack for being around the ball. He had 96 tackles, third best on the team, as a junior. Here are five things to know about Peterson:
Position change: When he was called up to varsity as a freshman, Peterson was a defensive end. He didn’t get to play much and a friend suggested he try linebacker. He made the switch in his sophomore year and found a home. “It took some time to understand how to play the position. I made my mistakes, but I’m comfortable there now.’’
From the mat to the field: Peterson is also a wrestler. He wrestles between 180-195 pounds. Training can be grueling in wrestling, but Peterson said it helps him be a better football player. “Mostly it helps you not get tired. It also helps with the muscles in your legs.”
Lone wolf: Peterson has one brother and three sisters, but he is the only one who plays sports. His siblings and his mother, Sabrina, come to his games when they can and offer support. But his mom wasn’t so sure about football at first. “She was scared to watch. She’s okay with it now, but at first she was afraid I would get hurt.”
Mood swing: Peterson said he is pretty laid back off the field. In order to get ready for games he sits by himself in a chair and listens to hip hop. Then, when it’s time to play the game he’s in the right mood to be a football player. “I try to be nasty out there. I don’t mean nasty like making bad hits or anything, but just being tough.”
Optimistic: The Sharks went 7-3 last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs. The defense gave up 18.4 points per game. Several key players on defense return, which has Peterson feeling good about the upcoming season. “I think we’ll be better than last year. We’re not going to give up as many points as we did.”
86. Chris Butash, Carrollwood Day
Height/Weight: 6-2, 205
After throwing for 2,088 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior, Butash finally started to shed his anonymity, especially with college programs. Last month, he committed to Holy Cross. Here are five things to know about Butash:
Camp Gruden: Two years ago, Butash was able to spend the summer learning the intricacies of the quarterback position from the ultimate guru, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and current Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Butash and a few teammates also met with Gruden to watch film. “I wouldn’t say it was much of a Gruden QB Camp,” Butash said, referring to the show Gruden hosted on ESPN. “He was there to help build the football IQ of all players of the team. I learned a lot in regards to footwork and breaking down pre-snap reads because of him. In fact, we still keep in touch to this day.”
Dedicated decision: When Butash announced his commitment to Holy Cross, he wrote on his Twitter page: “Fly high Thomas …This one’s for you!” The message was in reference to his close friend who died two years ago. “This is a hard topic for me to discuss,” Butash said. “Yes, I dedicated it to him. He is my one of my best friends. He ended up taking his own life the summer leading into my sophomore year, and it has been two years since then. I will continue to carry on his spirit, because I feel like he is with me at all times.”
Making the move: After Butash’s freshman season, he transferred from Sunlake. He has spent the past two seasons at Carrollwood Day and became a full-time starter last season. “I have nothing negative to say about Sunlake. I just felt that CDS would better prepare me for my future and open up more opportunities for elite educational institutions such as Holy Cross.”
Horse play: Butash owns two horses, Cruz and Flynn. They live on the 10 acres of land his family owns in Wesley Chapel. He rides his horses often, though not competitively. “I’m scared to gallop.” The animal lover also has three dogs, a German shepherd, a great dane and a mutt.
Out of the shadows: Because of the team’s record (combined 4-13 the past two seasons), Butash has not gotten the same recognition of some of the area’s other quarterbacks. “I don’t necessarily pay so much attention to rankings or the idea of playing at the bigger school to gain more notoriety. If anything, I use thoughts like that as motivation to keep being successful at what I do as a player and student. I am going to do my best to start a legacy at Carrollwood, and place it on the map.”
87. Jalen Spencer, Zephyrhills Christian
Position: Defensive end/linebacker
Height/Weight: 5-9, 210
Spencer was a major part of the Warriors’ 8-3 season in 2017 and he figures to be an even bigger player on defense this season. Here are four things to know about Spencer:
The nickname fits: His teammates call him “Mr. Sack Man.’’ That’s because he led Pasco County with 21 sacks as a junior. “I’m a monster.”
From big city to small town: Spencer moved with his mother from Fort Lauderdale to Zephyrhills before his freshman year. His older brother played at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, and Spencer can remember going to those games. “I thought about transferring to St. Thomas Aquinas before my junior year. But I decided to stay here. I like the school and I like the program.’’
Knack for the sack: Spencer may not be the biggest lineman in the area, but he has a way of getting into an opponent’s backfield. He said he has played on the line since he started playing football. “It’s just natural to me. It’s my speed off the ball. It’s something I work on all the time.”
In the zone: Spencer said he likes to be by himself in the hours before game time. He sits by himself on the bus or in the locker room and listens to Kodak Black or YFN Lucci. “I like to be in my zone.”
88. Anthony Roussos, River Ridge
Position: Fullback/middle linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-0, 208
Last season was Roussos’ first full season on varsity. It also allowed him to play with his big brother, Mikey, who was a senior wide receiver and cornerback. Here are five things to know about the younger Roussos:
School of hard knocks: Roussos always looked up to his brother. He would play against Mikey and his friends in pickup football games, and he wanted to do whatever Mikey was doing. “I told my mom that if Mikey’s playing football, then I’m playing football. I’d always play against people who were older than me, and I think that gave me a real boost.”
Position switch, sort of: He played strong-side linebacker as a sophomore, but expects to move to weak side this season. He also expects to get more carries at fullback. He had 21 carries for 85 yards last season. “I’d say I like defense better. I like to make hits.”
Go fish: Roussos likes to fish when he isn’t on a football field or in a weight room. He started out fishing in ponds but has graduated to saltwater fishing and beyond. “Lately I’ve been doing some deep-water fishing. I have a friend who just got a boat. And I also started spearfishing. Just about 12 feet of water with a snorkel and mask. It’s a lot of fun.”
The next level: Mikey Roussos is a freshman at Columbia University in New York City. Roussos said he would love to follow his big brother there but doesn’t have an offer just yet. “You never know. Anything can happen.”
High hopes: The Royal Knights were 7-4 last season and made the playoffs. With Roussos anchoring the defense and some promising talent on offense, optimism is high. “We have lots of talent and we’re not just focused on ourselves. We’re very focused right now. It’s like we are a big family.”
89. Kyle Benedict, Carrollwood Day
Height/Weight: 5-10, 165
A two-sport starter, Benedict has posted the biggest numbers in football. Last season, he had 983 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. Here are four things to know about Benedict:
State success: Benedict has been a starter on Carrollwood Day’s baseball team since he was in eighth grade. Last season, the Patriots made it to the state semifinals. He would like to have a deep run in football. “One of our biggest goals is to have a home playoff game. We haven’t had a home field on campus for very long, and it would mean so much for the seniors to host a postseason game as a reward for all the work they’ve put it.”
Good chemistry: As an eighth grader, Benedict played a lot on special teams. He developed into a starting receiver and had a breakout season last year. That performance was due to large part to the rapport he developed with quarterback Chris Butash. “We’re good friends and there’s a lot of trust with each other.”
Go fish: One of Benedict’s favorite hobbies is fishing. He likes to go to lakes and ponds in the area and catches largemouth bass, mudfish and gar, all depending on whether he uses live bait. He does pay a price with his pastime. Benedict has a dozen poles, not counting the nine to 10 he has snapped.
High standards: Benedict has a 4.53 weighted grade-point average and has scored 1270 on the SAT. He has opportunities to play for high-academic schools such as Amherst, Chicago and Rhodes. He also has some interest from Brown and Davidson.
90. Isaiah Knowles, Seffner Christian
Height/Weight: 6-0, 190
Knowles feels confident that the Crusaders are ready for a huge turnaround in 2018 after going 1-8 in 2017. “Last year was a rebuilding year and the good news is that we did rebuild,” said Knowles, who led the Crusaders to a 7-4 record as a freshman quarterback in 2016. “We are much stronger, faster, smarter and more confident after a lot of hard work. I guarantee we will be much better this year.” Here are five things to know about Knowles:
School for life: Knowles is one of a handful of juniors who has attended Seffner Christian every year since the first grade. “This place is home. I am loyal to it.”
History buff: A favorite interest of Knowles is studying the French Revolution, American Revolution, Civil War, World War II and many other historical events. “We can learn a lot from studying our past. What some people went through is amazing.”
Sixth-grade star: Knowles has played quarterback from the time he started playing football for the Brandon Cowboys at 9 years old. Knowles continued starting at quarterback as a sixth grader for Seffner Christian’s middle-school team before taking over the starting varsity role in the spring of his eighth-grade year.
Bombs away: Knowles could throw a football about 25 yards as a sixth grader. He recently threw a football more than 60 yards during casual drills.
College prospects: As Knowles has grown taller (more than 7 inches the past two years) so has the interest from colleges. Rhode Island recently made Knowles a firm offer and many other schools have shown strong interest.