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.
41. Nick Ferrini, Mitchell
Position: Middle linebacker
Height/Weight: 5-11, 185
The Mustangs won 11 straight games last season before losing in the second round of the playoffs to Ocala Vanguard. Ferrini was outstanding, recording 126 tackles and seven sacks. Here are five things to know about Ferrini:
On the water: Ferrini is an avid fisherman. He has a pontoon boat and a bay boat and mostly goes inshore fishing. His favorite targets are snook, trout and redfish. “Caught about eight snook the other day. And sometimes after practice I’ll go out fishing at night. It’s great being out on the water."
Second sport: When he was about 12 years old, Ferrini saw lacrosse on television. He immediately wanted to give it a try. Eventually, his father helped start a league in Trinity. He has played on Mitchell’s club team and is now a member of the school’s newly sanctioned FHSAA sport. “I love it. It’s a lot more physical than people think. You can get beat up out there. But it does help with football, especially the footwork.’’
Life after football: Ferrini said he would like to play football in college if it’s possible. But mostly he wants to get his degree and then enter the police academy. “I want to eventually be a sheriff. There is a guy down the street who is a sheriff and they work 15 days a month, 12-hour shifts. So the other 15 days I can be a charter boat captain."
Slight position switch: He has always been a linebacker since his freshman year at Mitchell. The only change is that he moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker when he was a sophomore. It’s not that big of a change. I like both positions and it was an easy adjustment.’’
High hopes on defense: The Mustangs were stingy on defense last season, allowing 13 points per game. With Ferrini back, expectations are high again. “We’re all really close. It should be a good defense again. There are a lot of good players coming back."
42 Ezeriah Anderson, Armwood
Position: Wide receiver
Height/Weight: 6-5, 185
A big target, Anderson was third on the team in receiving yards last season with 430. He is Armwood’s top returner at wideout with Jerome Ford (Alabama) and Warren Thompson (FSU) now in college. Here are five things to know about Anderson:
Marked improvement: After catching three passes for 119 yards and scoring twice in a lopsided win over King last October, Anderson started becoming more of a target in the passing game. In the playoffs, Anderson shined as a downfield threat, averaging 23 yards per catch.
Team player: Anderson does not just catch passes. He does the dirty work, too, such as blocking downfield and even lining up on kick coverage. Hawks coach Evan Davis singled Anderson out in a highlight video. “We are lucky to have guys who are stars but willing to play in all three phases of the game,” Davis tweeted about Anderson.
Crab consumption: One of Anderson’s favorite things is eating crab legs. He has them every other week. The most crab legs Anderson has devoured in one sitting? 13.
A sucker for shoes: Anderson is self-described “sneaker head." He owns 15 pairs of sneakers.
Top contenders: In the spring, colleges flocked to see Anderson. He has 14 offers and cut that list down in June to his six favorites: Boston College, Missouri, Oregon, Rutgers, Syracuse and USF. Anderson is no rush to make a decision.
43. Raymond Collins, Largo
Position: Offensive line
Height/Weight: 6-4, 285
The three-star prospect is an athletic lineman who has offers from 11 schools, including Michigan, Florida and Indiana. Here are four things to know about Collins:
Late start on the line: Collins was a tight end/ receiver growing up. It was not until last season that he was moved to offensive line because of his size. Collins made enough of an impression in that short period of time to become the nation’s 87th-best offensive tackle on 247Sports’ composite list for the 2019 class.
Basketball beginnings: In second grade, Collins began his venture into sports by playing basketball. He did not start playing football until the seventh grade and had to go to a Pop Warner league because they did not have a weight limit. Now, Collins plays basketball just for fun. Football is his main focus. But basketball has helped Collins become a better football player thanks to the quickness and speed and footwork he developed on the hardwood.
Hairy situation: Collins currently has afro dreads after previously sporting a low-cut fade. He started growing his hair out last year and has no plans to cut it, at least until he gets to college.
No rush: The list of offers is impressive, and Collins is waiting to see if more come his way. That is why he is not putting together a short list until after the season and will likely make his decision on or around the traditional signing day in February.
44. Isaiah Stephens, Tampa Bay Tech
Position: Wide Receiver
Height/Weight: 6-1, 175
Stephens was the main target for quarterback Michael Penix last season. He had 23 catches for a team high 448 yards and six touchdowns. He will be the top returning receiver on a team that must replace Penix. Here are four things to know about Stephens:
Breaking in the new guy: For the past two seasons, Stephens has had the luxury of playing with Penix, now at Indiana. The Titans used three quarterbacks in the spring and in 7-on-7 games, David Wright, Pete Stuart and Gabe Weldon. Wright may be the frontrunner to replace Penix. Whoever it is, Stephens knows he will play a role in breaking in the new quarterback. “We have a young quarterback so I’m helping out a lot more. “With Mike, it was fun because it was like having a coach on the field. If he saw something I didn’t see in coverage then he would let me know."
College bound: Stephens hasn’t made a commitment yet, but he has some good options. He said Iowa, Michigan State and Connecticut are among schools showing interest. There are seven schools so far that have made contact, and that is sure to rise through the fall. “Ever since middle school I wanted to play in college. By the time I got to high school I had that mind-set. I wanted to do whatever I had to do to make it to college."
A receiver first and foremost: Stephens is not a two-way player for the Titans. He is focused on being a receiver and having his best season yet. He said he might return punts if needed, but he has no intention of playing in the defensive backfield. He believes he is a well-rounded type of receiver. “I feel like I do everything pretty well. I try to balance my game and not just focus on one thing. I want to be an all around receiver."
Game face: Stephens said he likes to be by himself on game days. He’s the player who sits alone in his locker before kickoff listening to rap music and getting himself mentally prepared. “Once you’re on the field you have to switch to a different mind-set. You have to try to destroy the person in front of you on every play. But off the field I’m pretty laid back."
45. Walter Wilbon III, Plant
Position: Running back, linebacker
Height/Weight: 5-11, 210
Used more as a linebacker through most of the regular season, Wilbon III became the Panthers’ primary running back in the playoffs. He will continue to take on the bulk of the rushing load this season. Here are five things to know about Wilbon:
Like father, like son: Wilbon considers his father, Walter Wilbon II, his mentor, so much that the Plant senior has a picture of his dad’s Glenville State team on his Twitter page. The two not only share the same name but also the same birthday: June 19. There’s more. Wilbon decided to wear No. 27 at Plant because of a math equation that would pay homage to his father. “My dad wore No. 9 and 2 plus 7 equals nine, the same number he wore."
Emerging force: In the regular season, Wilbon had just 114 yards last season. But he averaged more than 9 yards per carry. Because the Panthers were somewhat thin at running back in the playoffs, Wilbon got the chance to carry the ball more. In five postseason games, Wilbon ran for more 463 yards to help Plant get to the state semifinals.
On the run: Wilbon likes to run to stay in shape. He runs as many as 2 miles every day. But there are no plans to enter road races.
Juicy dreams: One of Wilbon’s favorite artists is Juice Wrld, a rapper. His favorite song is Lucid Dreams.
Reelin ’em in: Wilbon has offers from Arkansas State, Boston College, Iowa State, Kent State, Ohio, Sanford and South Alabama. He said he plans to commit before the season.
46. Landon Moody, Bloomingdale
Position: Middle linebacker
Height/Weight: 6-2, 205
The Jesuit transfer was an all-state linebacker with the Bulls last season, recording 104 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. He also excels in the classroom and could end up playing at an Ivy League school. Here are five things to know about Moody:
Revolutionary: In fifth grade, Moody was voted most likely to start a revolution. “I’ve just always been a really good leader and really good at persuading people to follow me, so that was my superlative in fifth grade."
Two-wheel klutz: Do not ask Moody to go mountain biking. His friends did once and Moody learned a painful lesson. “I can’t rike a bike. I took three hours on a one hour mountain biking course and was covered in blood by the end. I easily fell 50 times.”
Old-time country: Moody likes listening to country music, but he prefers old school stars such as David Allen Coe, Waylon Jennings, Randy Travis and Hank Williams Jr. There are just a handful of current artists he likes: Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks and Chris Stapleton. “I just like the different sounds, and it’s really unconventional in today’s washed-out music scene.
Coaching aspirations: Moody is in his first season as the defensive coordinator for a youth league team (11-12 years old) in Dover. “These guys look really good. Coaching is something I think I’d like to get into in the future so this experience has been really good and my defensive scheme is raw.” Moody has yet to install any blitzes with his youngsters. “When I do they’ll blitz pretty regularly."
Student athlete: Football is not the only area where Moody excels. He does well in the classroom, too. Moody has a 4.8 weighted grade-point average and has scored 1390 on the SAT. So far, his only opportunity to play football at the college level is with Brown, an Ivy League school. But Moody’s options could expand with another strong season.
47. T.J. Robinson, Riverview
Position: Wide receiver, cornerback
Height/Weight: 6-3, 185
You’ll rarely find Robinson away from the field during games, as he sees time at cornerback, safety receiver and kick returner. He wants to be in on every play. Here are four more things to know about Robinson:
Leading the way: Riverview coach William Mosel says Robinson leads by example and with a forceful voice, assets that Mosel welcomes. “It’s so nice to have a player who everyone respects leading the team,” Mosel said. “T.J. has turned into a great leader.”
Loyal Shark: Robinson could have left Riverview at any time, including times when the Sharks struggled through difficult seasons. But Robinson held tight to Riverview. “My teammates depend on me and my coaches and teachers have supported me. There was no way I could leave all of them.”
Minnesota or bust: Robinson grew up in the Tampa Bay area but after his visit to Minnesota, he said the school felt like home. It wasn’t long after his visit that he committed, choosing the Golden Gophers over a rather long list of suitors, including UCF, FIU and Rutgers.
Math Mojo: Robinson said he likes math more than any other subject because it comes more naturally to him and he simply “loves working with numbers.”
48. Desmond Watson, Armwood
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-6, 318
The massive lineman pushed for playing time as a freshman last season, recording 10 tackles and two sacks. He will have a starring role in the trenches this year with the graduation of so many starters. Here are five things to know about Watson:
Old school aficionado: Watson’s favorite genre of music is R&B, especially from the 1980s and ’90s. He got into it thanks to his mother, Deonzia Woullard, who has an impressive knowledge of songs from that era. “If you put on R&B on Pandora she will be able to sing word for word for a good amount of time." Watson’s favorite group from that era is Jagged Edge.
Shower singer: Singing runs in the family. Watson boasts about his ability to belt out tunes — just don’t expect to hear his pipes in public. “Most of my singing is usually in private,” he said, noting that his favorite to place is in the shower. The song Watson likes to sing the most? So Anxious by Genuwine.
Liger love: Watson’s favorite animal is the liger, a hybrid offspring of a male lion and a female tiger. Napoleon Dynamite was not the source for Watson’s liger affection. He found out about the animal by watching a YouTube video on hybrids. “I like ligers because they’re huge, intimidating animals, and it just seems like they can overpower any opponents at will. I feel like I can relate.”
Brotherly advice: Watson’s older brother is former Armwood standout Darrian McNeal, now at Oregon. The two are complete opposites. Watson towers over his brother, who is 5-9, 163 pounds. Still, McNeal has guided Watson on what it takes to excel on the field. “Even though Pickle (McNeal) is way smaller than me I had to get out of his shadow ever since I started playing at age 4,” Watson said. “I would have to introduce myself as his little brother instead of Desmond Watson. Really, though, he taught me a lot, but I think he taught me most about competitiveness.”
Getting noticed: Despite having a limited role last season, Watson showed enough to impress colleges. He has eight offers from Division I-A schools, including Georgia, the team Watson said he has wanted to play for since the sixth grade.
49. Caleb Tate, Tampa Catholic
Position: Linebacker, running back
Height/Weight: 6-1, 195
The three-star recruit is a hard hitter who finished last season with 27 tackles, a sack and an interception. He is one of the leaders of a strong linebacking unit. Here are four things to know about Tate:
Up for the challenge: Tate says he is competitive at everything. “I hate losing. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a real game or a video game (Madden), I will always give it my all.” That drive is particularly noticeable on the field. “It’s my senior season, so I’m trying to have a dominate year, on offense and defense."
Amateur angler: One of Tate’s favorite pastimes is fishing. Freshwater, saltwater ... it doesn’t matter. The best trips are the deep-sea ones with his father, Mark. “I like deep sea fishing the best because I love being on the boat out in the water and the fish are bigger."
Numbers game: Tate wears No. 33 to pay homage to his father, who wore the same number when he was a defensive back at Penn State and in the NFL. “My dad plays a big role in my life and I’m hope continue his legacy." An added bonus is that Tate’s favorite NFL player is Jets safety Jamal Adams, who also wears 33.
Natural leader: With Tampa Catholic going through a transitional year, Tate is trying to become a stabilizing force. “I’m really trying to be a leader this year on and off the field. With all the crazy stuff that’s been happening this offseason — people transferring and new coaches. I’m just trying have a dominant year and make a run for states. I’m an older brother. I have a younger brother and sister so I know what’s it’s like to be a leader. I got a lot of people looking up to me and depending on me so I’m just trying to make sure I set a positive example and make TC one of the best teams in Tampa again.”
Careful consideration: Tate has narrowed his list of 16 offers down to a top five of Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Iowa State, Syracuse and Western Kentucky. He still has to take some visits and has yet to decide when he will make a final decision. “I want to take my time and make sure I pick the best university for me."
50. Rory Hicks, Clearwater Central Catholic
Height/Weight: 6-1, 193
An efficient passer, Hicks threw for 1,529 yards, 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season. If the spring is any indication, Hicks could have a monster season. Here are four things to know about Hicks:
Golf getaways: To relax, Hicks said he enjoys playing golf. He tries to go as much as possible during the season, often playing with family members. Hicks admits he cannot beat younger brother, Ryan, a former standout at Countryside who is now playing golf for the Naval Academy. “I never have and never will be able to beat him,” Hicks said of his brother. “I will always joke around a little to try to throw off his game. There’s nothing in particular. I just like to act like a goofball. It’s all in the moment.”
The quiet storm: Instead of listening to upbeat music to get pumped before games, Hicks said he prefers softer music to stay poised. His favorite songs? TLC’s Waterfalls and anything by Mumford and Sons.
QB factory: There are plenty of quarterbacks in the Hicks household. Rory’s older brother, Robby, was a quarterback for Countryside. Their father, Greg, quarterbacked Seminole. So who is the best quarterback in the family? “I can’t say on the record, but we will never know because I’ve never seen my dad’s tapes,” Rory said.
Perfect portly physique: Hicks said one of the most interesting things about himself is that he “has a dad bod at 18.” So how did he develop his middle-aged physique? “I guess I’m blessed,” Hicks said. “It runs in the family.”