Our eighth 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.
51. Jose Gonzalez, Strawberry Crest
Position: Offensive line
Height/weight: 6-9, 340
Perhaps the biggest player on the HomeTeam 100, Gonzalez is relatively new to football, having only one season under his belt. Strawberry Crest, which finished 1-9 last year, didn’t see much success, but Gonzalez said he experienced a lot of personal growth, matching his mammoth size with gridiron skills.
Moving down South
Before coming to Tampa to live with his uncle, Gonzalez, who is Dominican, lived in Baltimore for many years as a child. The Florida sun is a familiar feeling, he said. “It’s been great, especially the weather. It feels like I’m still in the Dominican Republic. It’s nice and hot, and I don’t have to stress about snow and all of that.”
Leaving the diamond behind
Before picking up football when he moved to Tampa, Gonzalez trained in baseball, a sport that’s quite popular in his native country. He played baseball for four years, but never really took a liking to it. “It was big in the Dominican, but it didn’t really affect me like it did everyone else,” Gonzalez said.
Heart’s in the Dominican Republic
Gonzalez was born in the Dominican Republic and lived there until he was 5 years old. His mother still lives there, and he tries to visit her as much as he can. “I miss her all the time. We talk every day. I was there last December, and I try to go out there every time I have a bit of vacation.”
Before he had even played one high school football game, Gonazlez had four college offers, including one from UCF. Now, one year later, he boasts 20 offers from schools like Indiana, UCLA, Minnesota and Iowa State. “I didn’t expect (recruiting) to blow up this big. I just want to better my craft to be the best I can be.”
Head in the clouds
Gonzalez might be unusually tall, but in his family, he fits right in. Gonzalez’s mother and father are 6-1 and 6-6, respectively, and his cousin, who graduated from Strawberry Crest last year, is 6-7. “I experience (people staring) all the time, especially going through the airport.. There’s been certain moments where I’ve been distracted and I whack myself going through doorways.”
52. Zach Perkins, Berkeley Prep
Position: Offensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-5, 310
Anchoring Berkeley Prep’s offensive line once again will be Perkins, a three-star recruit who was named captain of the line last year as a junior. Perkins and the rest of the O-line helped Berkeley Prep gain more than 2,500 team rushing yards in 2018, and Perkins plans to help do that and more in his final season on the team.
Perkins, who has a 3.4 grade-point average, said he especially enjoys science and history and is looking forward to taking AP government and economics this coming school year. That being said, he plans to pursue a career as an athletic director once his playing days are over.
Under his wing
Though he’s always had size in his favor, Perkins admits that he wasn’t the most talented football player when he joined the squad as a freshman. Former Berkeley Prep and current Ohio State OL Nicholas Petit-Frere helped him improve his game dramatically. “He still comes back and helps me out. I’m very fortunate to have that.”
Doing for others
When he’s not playing football Perkins enjoys serving on the school’s community service council. Every year, the club organizes volunteer opportunities and charitable campaigns for Berkeley Prep students, including canned food drives and participating in the annual Joy of Giving drive around the holidays. “As a sophomore I saw the club and I thought it was pretty cool. It’s been fun ever since.”
Giving it a shot
Perkins, who used to play JV basketball for the Bucs, said he has always wanted to participate in track and field but never had the opportunity because it interfered with spring football. This spring, though, Perkins plans to throw shot put for the Bucs.
Taking some tours
Perkins said he hasn’t made a college decision yet, but he has narrowed down his offers and plans to make official visits to the University of Kentucky and Colorado State, among others. “I don’t care about the (school) size, I just want to go somewhere where they want me.”
53. Chance Coleman, Gaither
Height/weight: 6-1, 205
A leader by example, Coleman is a captain for a team with higher expectations than it has had in many years. After high school, expectations continue to rise for Coleman, who is committed to USF.
Camping with the kids
Coleman’s summer job, working as a camp counselor at the Tampa Elite Sports Academy, takes up at least 20 hours of his week — and he loves it. “I work with all ages, from first grade to eighth grade, playing games, teaching them rules and taking care of them. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but it’s a good challenge.”
When Coleman turned 16 he went to work, starting at Taco Bell prepping the food and then doing whatever needed to be done, “whether it was sweeping the floor or jumping in to clean the dishes.” He has worked a job ever since, taking only a little time off during football season. “Working a job is part of being a man. My parents have done so much for me and I think I need to do my part for them,” Coleman said. “It makes me feel good to work.”
Coleman’s dad is Cosey Coleman, a consensus All-American at the University of Tennessee and a guard for the Tampa Bay Bucs (2000-04) and Cleveland Browns (2005-06).
If not football ...
The dream is to play football professionally, but if that doesn’t work out, or maybe even if it does, Coleman said he might like to open up a daycare center. “I love kids and I love helping people. A daycare is perfect for that. I think there is a real need for good daycares. I could definitely see myself doing that.”
Coleman admittedly isn’t a great fisherman, but he loves to fish. “I just like sitting out there on the water when it’s peaceful. It calms me when I’m out there.”
54. Aamaris Brown, Armwood
Height/weight: 6-0, 185
The defensive back had a knack for finding the ball — and the end zone — in the postseason last year. His ability to deliver in big games helped him become a coveted prospect. Last month, the three-star recruit committed to Indiana.
Points off picks
In 10 regular-season games, Brown had three interceptions. He topped that total in the first two playoff games last year. Against Crestview in the Class 6A region quarterfinals, Brown returned an interception for a touchdown. His most memorable performance came a week later in the region semifinals against Lake Weir. Brown picked off three passes, including another for a score.
According to Brown, one of his best attributes is helping others in need. He did not go into specifics but said he tries to help teammates as much as possible.
Another bay area Hoosier
Brown had offers from 22 colleges, including Illinois, Kansas State, Maryland and USF. He spurned those schools for Indiana, which has become a prime landing spot for locals. The Hoosiers currently have 10 players who played high school football in the bay area, including former Armwood standout James Miller, now a sophomore.
55. JeJuan Sparks, Clearwater Academy
Position: Defensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-2, 327
A terror in the trenches, the Canadian native had 44 tackles (nine for loss) to go along with two sacks and a fumble recovery in his first season stateside. The three-star recruit committed to Indiana in June.
All about that bass
In sixth grade, Sparks learned how to play bass guitar. He does not have one anymore but when he did, he was able to play about four or five songs.
Time for jokes
Sparks said he is mostly serious, especially when it comes to football. “I’m always finding things to change or critique about myself.” Every so often, he lets his guard down when someone says something funny. “I’ll just be sitting there crying (laughing) at the littlest joke.”
At home with the Hoosiers
Last month, Sparks committed to Indiana. He chose the Hoosiers over offers from 15 other schools. “When I was there it just felt like home. Everyone was family. And I know with the coaches there that they can get me to the next level.” Next year, Sparks will join former Clearwater Academy teammates Sio Nofoagatoto’a and Kervens Bonhomme, who are freshmen at Indiana. “I wasn’t going to choose a school based of off my friends, but it did help for sure because I know with them being there a year already, they’ll help me a bit.”
56. Ludovick Choquette, Clearwater Academy
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 5-10, 200
In his first full season as a starter, Choquette put up some impressive numbers, rushing for 1,831 yards and 21 touchdowns. He had at least 200 yards rushing in five of those games.
Choquette, who is from Canada, played on a national team in Quebec. His ultimate goal was to play football in America. One of Choquette’s Canadian coaches heard about Clearwater Academy, and Choquette enrolled last year. The biggest adjustment, besides adapting to the speed of the game in Florida, has been becoming more fluent in English. “I’m fluent in French, but my English is getting better.”
Choquette goes swimming quite often in his host family’s backyard pool. But he reserves the deep dives for discovering nuggets about most other water-related items. “I’m always curious with things, like how you make bridges, what’s in the deeper seas and what we still don’t know about our world.”
After just a year of playing stateside, Choquette already has offers from Buffalo, Colorado State, Southern Mississippi and Tulsa. He said he will likely wait until the season starts before making a commitment.
57. Jordan Niles, Clearwater Central Catholic
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 5-8, 182
The Calvary Christian transfer gives the Marauders’ ground game some oomph. Niles rushed for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He also has a knack for scoring in meaningful games, which started in youth leagues.
Niles takes trips to the Northeast quite often. His favorite states are Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. The top travel destination: Times Square, which he visited recently. Now, Niles wants to venture outside the country. His older brother, Ben, is working on getting passports so the family can travel abroad.
Ben graduated from Dartmouth in 2015 and is in the final year of a doctorate program at Northwestern. “He’s always on me about my grades and keeping them in line.” Niles is pretty good in that department. He has a 3.4 grade-point average and has scored 1,240 on the SAT.
Niles has read at least 100 books. His favorite is The Power of Broke by Daymond John, the CEO of FUBU who also is an investor on the television show Shark Tank. Niles got the book signed by John during a greeting session a few years ago.
Three years ago, Niles had a memorable performance in the final game of his youth league career. The Countryside Junior Cougars trailed by a score in the waning minutes of their title game. They faced fourth and 20 from midfield. Niles delivered. He caught a long pass for a first down, then scored on a short run to win the game.
Taking his time
Niles has college offers from Southern Mississippi and West Florida and interest from three other schools. He said he will wait until after the season to make his decision.
58. Tim Williams, Clearwater
Position: Defensive line
Height/weight: 6-2, 265
The two-year starter had his most productive season last year, finishing with 49 tackles, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He now is one of the anchors up front for the Tornadoes.
Before games, Williams said he prefers to hang out in the junior varsity locker room where he can be alone. He listens to music, mostly Dreams and Nightmares by Meek Mill. Williams says it is a football song. Among the lyrics: “Seen my dreams unfold, nightmares come true. It was time to marry the game, and I said, ‘Yeah, I do’. If you want it, you gotta see it with a clear-eyed view.”
Williams has eight sisters and four brothers. On Sundays, you can usually find them at Largo’s Eagle Lake Park working out.
There is a lot of motivation for Williams to stay eligible throughout the season. For the past two seasons, he was suspended for the season finale against East Lake and was unable to play against his brother, Ray, now a senior with the Eagles. The teams square off in Week 2 of the regular season.
Williams is a three-star recruit listed by 247Sports as the state’s 37th-best player in the 2021 class. He has offers from five schools, including Florida and Florida State. Williams is in no rush to commit considering he still has two years left in high school.
59. Antony Guzman, Chamberlain
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 5-8, 175
Last season, Guzman began his varsity career with a bang, leading Chamberlain in rushing with 1,046 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 122 yards receiving and two more scores through the air. At 10.1 yards per carry, Guzman was a walking first down.
A grand finale
Guzman entered the final game of the season in 2018 with 834 yards, and hitting the 1,000-yard mark wasn’t even on Guzman’s radar, he said. Then he had some success in the Chiefs’ 51-0 rout of Strawberry Crest, and the result was a pleasant surprise. “They kept feeding me, and I was hungry for it, so I kept going for long runs.”
Guzman moved to Florida from the Dominican Republic when he was younger, and when someone told him about football, he jumped right in, playing for the now-defunct TNC Vikings. As a second grader he played with current Chamberlain teammates Jaylen Martin and Duke Smith. “It’s kinda cool. We’ve got memories, and we’ve come together.”
Back to his roots
Last month, Guzman traveled to his hometown of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to visit his father Tomas. Guzman lives in Tampa with his mother, who also recently visited Santo Domingo, where she married Tomas after more than a decade of being apart. Now the family is trying to get Tomas to America. “It’ll be better, because we’ve been apart for so long.”
Float like a butterfly
In addition to football, Guzman is interested in boxing and has even trained in a boxing gym to learn the fundamentals. Guzman said he likes watching Floyd Mayweather and applying some of his skills to the gridiron. “He’s not the strongest or the fastest, but he’s the smartest. He knows when to counter, when to attack.”
60. Cortez McKenzie, Lakewood
Height/weight: 6-0, 195
McKenzie is ready to start over. After playing in four games as a sophomore, he was involved in a post-game fight that resulted in a six-game suspension. He transferred to Superior Collegiate, which is not part of a Florida High School Athletic Association district, so that he could continue playing. He played in one game, against IMG Academy, before Superior Collegiate decided to enforce the suspension. Now he is back at Lakewood and eligible again to play. “I’m going to put on a show this year.”
He committed to the University of Miami after visiting the school in June. He said it’s a place he always wanted to go. “I’ve always been a big Ray Lewis fan, and he went to Miami. I’ve always followed Miami. I also like (former Lakewood and Florida player) Dante Fowler. They are my favorites. … A lot of the NFL players come back here, but I haven’t met (Fowler) yet. I will.”
McKenzie comes from a big family and has eight siblings. At one point, both his father and mother were incarcerated, so all of the family members stayed at his grandmother’s house. He now lives with his mother. “Had to learn to be tough.”
No time for TV
Most teenagers like to binge watch shows on Netflix or Hulu. Not McKenzie. He doesn’t have a TV in his room and doesn’t watch shows on a laptop. “I’ll watch football on Sundays. By Monday it’s back to work. I don’t have much time for that.”
Times correspondents Kelly Parsons and Scott Purks contributed to this report.