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.
31. Sio Nofoagatoto’a, Clearwater Academy International
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/Weight: 6-3, 310
The three-star recruit, who committed to Indiana in June, emerged as a force last season with 90 tackles, 13.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in 14 games with the Knights. Here are five things to know about Nofoagatoto’a:
World traveler: Nofoagatoto’a was born in New Zealand, raised in American Samoa and lived in Australia before coming to Clearwater last season to play for the Knights. He found out about Clearwater International through an uncle who is a good friend of coach Jesse Chinchar. “I felt like playing for someone who I consider family would be a no brainer,” Nofoagatoto’a said.
Football factory: As a child in American Samoa, Nofoagatoto’a learned the game of football. The sport is immensely popular on the island. There are at least 30 American Samoa players in the NFL and more than 200 on rosters of Division I-A programs. “People call it ‘Football Island’,” Nofoagatoto’a said. “It’s the biggest thing on the island. I would say the island revolves around football. We produce a lot of NFL players and I’m proud to be from there.”
Guitar hero: When Nofoagatoto’a has spare time, he likes to play the guitar. One of his favorite songs to play is Location by Khalid.
Game, set, match: Nofoagatoto’a loves to play volleyball. The 300-pounder was captain of his school’s volleyball team in Australia. “It’s just a sport I fell in love with,” Nofoagatoto’a said. “I’m always at (Clearwater) beach playing. It’s great cardio work and great fun.
Hoosier hotspot: A coveted prospect, Nofoagatoto’a has offers from 21 colleges. In June, he ended his recruited by committing to Indiana, a popular destination for locals. He joins Clearwater Academy teammate Kervens Bonhomme, who pledged his allegiance to the Hoosiers in June. “I just felt like I could fit in with the culture and the scheme,” Nofoagatoto’a said of Indiana. “I also know that when I come in they lose a lot of bodies at defensive tackle so my chances of playing as a true freshman are high. The combination of playing Big Ten football while receiving a world class education was really attractive to me. I also feel like Coach (Tom) Allen and his staff are building something and I wanted to be part of it.”
32. Joshua Youngblood, Berkeley Prep
Height/Weight: 5-11, 185
A calm leader with solid perspective, Youngblood believes the Bucs are poised to be much improved in 2018. Five things to know about Youngblood:
Track star: For the first time last spring, Youngblood put a full commitment into running track, and the results were very interesting. Youngblood, for instance, improved his long jump more than three feet, finishing with a personal best of 22 feet, 9 inches, which puts him in the conversation for guys to watch next season. He also ran the open 100-meter dash one time and clocked a time of 10.89 seconds, which is intriguing because he hadn’t really practiced the event. He would have run more 100-meter events but was prohibited by a leg strain.
Business man: Youngblood said he not only wants to work for a Fortune 500 company one day, but he wants to own one. “I like the chess match of running a business. You have to be smart with every move.”
Beat that drum: Every Sunday you can find Youngblood behind the drum kit at his church, keeping the beat in time. Youngblood says he enjoys playing on Sundays but that’s probably about it for him when it comes to playing music.
Faster, stronger: From the time he was a freshman at Berkeley, Youngblood as improved his 40-yard dash time from 4.68 seconds to a blazing 4.39 seconds and has increased his bench press to 275 pounds.
Temple Time: Youngblood had several offers from other schools, including FAU, Georgia Southern and Cincinnati, but he decided to firmly commit to Temple, where he is expected to be a slot receiver and a kick and punt returner.
33. Solomon Brown, Largo
Position: Defensive back
Height/Weight: 6-0, 180
Each week, the Minnesota commit goes toe-to-toe with the opposing team’s best receiver, winning nearly every battle. Last season, Brown had 73 tackles and two interceptions for the Packers. Here are five things to know about Brown:
Two kinds of football: In Brown’s sporting life, soccer had a slight head start on football. “I ran around on the soccer field for a little bit,” he said. Brown tried other sports, too, such as basketball and track. It did not long for soccer to give way to football. “I just love football too much."
High standards: Academic excellence is a family trait. Brown’s older brother, Harry, was a standout linebacker at Largo who went on to play at Florida Tech. Harry recently graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and is now a project engineer for a local company. Solomon takes after his brother and boasts a 3.6 GPA and has a qualifying test score. He is even thinking about becoming an engineer, too.
Fish tales: Brown enjoys fishing with his friends. He has caught redfish, snook and trout. The toughest one to reel in was a 30-inch snook. “It was a hard fight. I thought I almost lost it.”
Getting focused: Before games, Brown goes through a pregame ritual. He takes a nap, then plays tonk, a matching card game, with his teammates. After that, Brown listens to music, mostly rap artists such as Future, Kodak Black, 21 Savage and Young Thug.
Big get for the Gophers: The three-star prospect picked Minnesota over offers from 20 other schools. Brown made his commitment during a visit in June. “Minnesota checked everything off my list, and I felt like it was a home away from home."
34. Jaquan Sheppard, Zephyrhills
Position: Wide receiver, cornerback
Height/Weight: 6-2, 188
On a team full of skill players, Sheppard may be the most explosive. He is a deep threat on offense and can shut down receivers on defense. Here are four things to know about Sheppard:
Next-level talent: Sheppard said he has offers from 23 schools, including USF, Tennessee and Kentucky. He is being looked at as a wide receiver. “Right now I’m just getting ready for the season to start. I’m sure during the season I’ll take some visits, but right now I don’t know where."
Big-time player: Sheppard caught 35 passes and had a team high 13 touchdowns as a junior. None were bigger than the one he caught in the final minute of the playoff game against River Ridge to seal a 35-31 win. He caught a 66-yard touchdown pass. “That was definitely a highlight. That is one I’ll never forget."
Talk, talk, talk: If a receiver is lined up across from Sheppard, they can expect an earful the entire game. In fact, he said he likes to talk even when he’s a receiver. “I’m talking all the time. It’s part of the game. I’m still making tackles, but I’m going to be talking, too."
Both sides: If Sheppard had it his way, he’s always play on both sides of the ball. “I really don’t know which side I like the best. I like to score touchdowns, but I also like to hit."
35. Brett Seither, Clearwater Central Catholic
Position: Tight end
Height/Weight: 6-5, 228
After hauling in 12 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns last season, Seither is poised for a big season on an offense that returns plenty at the skill positions. Here are four things to know about Seither:
Smack talk: Usually, Seither is laidback. On the field, though, he has a tendency to get too into the game, often jawing with his opponent. “A lot of times I’ll just talk and joke around with people and say funny stuff to get in their head. It’s just random stuff that comes to me.”
The great outdoors: If Seither is not playing football, he prefers hunting or boating. When Seither lived in Maryland, he would go deer and duck hunting with his dad, Bert. Now, his spare time is spent boating in Tampa Bay.
Homesick: Seither grew up in Warwick on Maryland’s eastern shore. In August of last year, the Seithers moved to Florida because they had family down here. Seither’s dad, a pilot, also wanted to retire in the area. “The move was tough. I miss Maryland all the time.”
Terrapins on top? Perhaps no player in the area had a more meteoric rise this past spring than Seither, who now has 27 offers from colleges, nearly all coming in the last three months. One of the schools that offered was Maryland, his dream team growing up. But the Terrapins are not the only program Seither is considering. In fact, Seither said he has no clue whether he wants to play college football up north. He likely will wait until the end of the season to make his decision.
36. Jeremiah Ashe, Freedom
Position: Defensive back, receiver
Height/Weight: 6-2, 200
A slick skill player, Ashe had an impact on both sides of the ball last season with 247 yards receiving and two touchdowns on offense to go along with 50 tackles and six interceptions on defense. Here are five things to know about Ashe:
Overcoming obstacles: Ashe had a tough childhood in Key West. His father was never in his life. His mother, Lechant Thompson, died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve when he was 11. Ashe went to live with his grandmother, Janet Thompson, who became ill and died roughly two years later. After that, Ashe either stayed with friends or was out on his own for about eight months. His aunt, Monica Thompson, found out about his ordeal and decided to have him live with her in Tampa. “I look up to my aunt a lot because she took me in when I had nobody and she’s raised me as her own for six years. Everything I’ve been through is what made me love football. Without all of the adversity in my past, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Catching up: Because of the turmoil in Ashe’s family life, he missed a lot of time from school, so much that he was a 13-year-old seventh grader when he arrived in Tampa. “School is hard for me, but I know I need it to get where I want to be so I work hard and keep it at the top of my priorities." His GPA is 2.4 and he is still working toward a qualifying test score.
Having a ball: Ashe is consumed by sports. In his spare time, he plays basketball or flag football at a nearby community center.
The ultimate weapon: One of Ashe’s greatest assets on the field is his versatility. This season, he will play safety, cornerback, receiver, even some at quarterback.
College quest: Ashe has offers from 13 schools, including Rutgers, Toledo and USF. He is waiting to narrow his list to see if more offers come his way. “I’m going to use all the opportunities I have to get to college and earn a degree. It’s my only way out so it’s my biggest priority to make sure I succeed.”
37. Jeromy Reid, Gaither
Height/Weight: 5-11, 190
A breakout junior year puts Reid on our list. He gained 1,110 yards for the 7-4 Cowboys last season. Here are five things to know about Reid:
Held out: The reason there wasn’t much known about Reid prior to last season is because he didn’t play as a sophomore. He attended Leto, but when his grades slipped his mom pulled him off the team to concentrate on school. He transferred to Gaither last year and was finally able to show what he could do. “I’ve gotten a lot better with school," Reid said last season. “Now everything is better."
Gamer: After the second week of the season, Reid suffered a slight hamstring pull. He was limited in practice, and when he did practice, he was unable to go full speed in games. But he still broke 1,000 yards, which impressed coach Kirk Karsen. “I bet you he sat out a total of 10 quarters last season. He would’ve easily, easily, led Hillsborough County in rushing last season. But he just couldn’t go a whole game. He was about 75 percent in our playoff game (a 56-0 loss to Viera)."
Big goals: Now that he is completely healthy, Reid would like to expand on what he did last season. That means not only breaking 1,000 yards rushing again, but also getting 1,000 yards receiving. “We talked about his goals for next season and that’s what he said he wanted to do. He’s such a good receiver that we’re going to get him the ball in space much more this season."
Next level: Reid has about 10 offers prior to his junior year, including USF. That number is expected to go up throughout his senior year.
In the family: Reid’s brother, Allen Sampson, played at Gaither in 2007 when Karsen was an assistant coach. That factored into his decision to transfer to Gaither. “I saw (Karsen) coach my brother when I was little. My brother always liked (Karsen) and he said he was a good coach. I thought (Karsen) would make a great head coach.”
38. Kennedy Roberts, Clearwater Central Catholic
Position: Defensive line
Height/Weight: 6-2, 265
Using an assortment of moves, Roberts spends most of his time in the opponent’s backfield. Last season, he had 105 tackles, six sacks and two forced fumbles for the Class 3A defending state semifinalist Marauders. Here are four things to know about Roberts:
No phony: The lineman does not change his personality to conform to those around him. “I’m myself wherever I go. I never change my personality for anyone. I always joke a lot and I enjoy making people laugh all the time. But I also know there’s a time to be silly and a time to be serious.”
Singular focus: Roberts says he believes in the law of attraction. Let him explain. “If you visualize something in your head, and you truly believe in it, and you work for it, it will happen. Everything I do and everything I get I’ve visualized it already so when the time comes I am fully prepared for what’s about to happen.”
Family first: The reason Roberts plays football is so he can eventually take care of his family, especially his mother, Ashiki Roberts. “I want to provide for her so she can live a life with no worries about finances and so she can do whatever she wants in life because she sacrificed her time and gave a lot of her life to take care of all six of her kids. She’s my main inspiration.”
Numbers game: Roberts wears 99 because he said it is the highest ranking you can achieve in Madden and because the toughest players in the NFL wear that number, such as J.J. Watt.
Hoops on hold: With 24 offers from colleges, 16 coming this past spring, Roberts still has to figure out where he wants to play football at the next level. Once a decision is made, likely after the season, he said he will figure out whether he wants to continue playing basketball, which he picked up three years ago.
39. Jontrell Oliver, East Bay
Position: Defensive end
Height/Weight: 6-3, 225
Oliver has lofty goals for his final season, as he wants to get at least 15 sacks and help his team reach the playoffs. Here are three other things to know about Oliver:
Leaning toward Temple: Oliver has offers from Temple, Boston College, Marshall and South Dakota. Even though he has not visited the campus yet, he said Temple ranks as his top one. “Temple has communicated more to me and I like their facility. Coach (Jim) Panagos has talked to me, and I like their style of play. They have an up-tempo style and they’re just nonstop.”
He wears 14 for his former coach: Two years ago, Oliver’s coach, Robert “Bo” Marthaller, passed away. “He’d always push me to do better and came to see me play. He wore No. 14 in college (at Oregon State) ... when I couldn’t play he still pushed me; in practice he still cared about me, he kept telling me, ‘We need to get you going when you can play cause I am ready for you.’”
He looks up to Eric Berry: Oliver admires the the Kansas City Chiefs safety’s style of play and regards him as one of the best safeties in the NFL. He also admires his preservation through a battle with cancer.
40. Dylan Ridolph, Wiregrass Ranch
Height/Weight: 6-0, 210
This will be Ridolph’s second season as a full-time starter. He was a menace to opposing defenses last season, with 89 tackles and 15 sacks. Here are five things to know about Ridolph:
Nervous tick: Most players have pregame rituals. Ridolph’s is a bit unusual. He has to throw up before every game. Yes, vomit. “The only time I didn’t throw up last year was against Gaither and we lost. I just get so nervous that I throw up. I have to make sure that I eat something that isn’t too heavy because it’s coming out. After that I feel fine. I actually feel better."
What’s in a number? Ridolph said he thinks he was about middle-school age when his dad showed him a documentary on former Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman, who was killed while on duty with the Army. Tillman wore No. 40 and from then on it became his number. “He was a good football player but a great and brave man. Watching that made me proud to sport No. 40."
A love of football: He said he tried other sports, especially baseball, but football has been his passion. There is the physical part, but he also loves the action. “No matter how bad practices may be at times, or the workouts, it’s all worth it. There’s nothing better than being up or down in the fourth quarter and you know you have to hold the other team from scoring. I just love the energy."
History buff: Ridolph has a 4.2 grade-point average. His favorite subject in school is history. “I like learning about historical figures from the past. I’d say my favorite era is the Roman time period. That or the times of the Black Plague.”
In the future: Ridolph doesn’t know if football will be an option in college, but he has narrowed down what he wants to study. He said he would like to either be a lawyer or an orthopedic surgeon. “I don’t mind all the classwork.”