Bradenton Manatee is USA Today’s top-ranked high school football team in the nation, and its quarterback, Cord Sandberg, is described by Baseball America as likely the best football/baseball prospect eligible for the 2013 MLB Draft.
But don’t think for a minute that Sandberg and his teammates don’t respect Central (1-1), which will visit Manatee (2-0) on Friday night at 7:30.
When first contacted by a reporter Monday afternoon, Sandberg had yet to view the film of Central’s 37-26 comeback win over Booker T. Washington.
But at 10:34 p.m., Sandberg felt compelled to text that same reporter the following message:
“I’m watching the Booker T. film,” Sandberg wrote. “[Central] will be a challenge for us to score on offense and stop on defense … very fast and athletic.”
Central has certainly been tested early, losing 35-3 at Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) in its season opener before rallying from 16 points down to knock off Booker T.
Grayson is ranked No. 1 by ESPN, and Booker T. was No. 7 (ESPN) before that loss. That win over Booker T. has helped Central moved four spots up to No. 15 in the ESPN rankings. But there is no rest for the Rockets, who now take on a Manatee team that is riding a 14-game win streak.
One of those wins was Manatee’s 2011 finale, a 40-0 victory against Jacksonville First Coast in the Class 7A state final. It was Manatee’s fifth state title.
Telly Lockette has had a much shorter tenure at Central, but he has been successful since he took over in 2008, leading the Rockets to their first-ever state title in 2010 and their first second-place finish last year.
Lockette, though, is well aware of the challenge facing Central this Friday at Manatee.
“They are a disciplined team, big and physical,” Lockette said. “[Sandberg] is a tremendous athlete who can run or throw. He’s a [Tim] Tebow-type kid.”
Sandberg, a 6-3, 215-pound left-hander, is a center fielder in baseball who has committed to play at Mississippi State if he doesn’t’ sign with a pro baseball team.
“It depends on where, when and how much,” Sandberg said of his decision, which will ultimately come down to the signing bonus he’s offered. “If I go to college, I will try to play both sports, but football would be my priority.”
The Rockets, though, are not concerned with any of that. They are focused on stopping the Manatee offense.
Lockette has noticed how Manatee has routed its first two opponents this year, including Miramar, 41-6, and Sarasota Riverview, 49-7.
Sandberg said if there is an area where Manatee is vulnerable, it’s at linebacker, where the players are relatively inexperienced.
It remains to be seen if Central’s elite athletes — running backs Joseph Yearby and Dalvin Cook — can take advantage.
Yearby, who has committed to Florida State, was switched to quarterback in the second half against Booker T., keying Central’s rally. He ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 75 yards, but Lockette insists the change was temporary.
“I have two QBs who can play,” Lockette said, referring to senior Brandon Diaz and junior Keith Reed. “We just didn’t get enough from [Diaz] in the first half [last week], so we had to make the switch.
“We still have [Yearby as a quarterback] in our back pockets, but he’s a running back.”