ST. PETERSBURG -- With less than a month to go before the Class of 2013 makes that final decision on National Signing Day, some of the attention has been shifted to the next class — the rising seniors who make up a very talented group of 2014 prospects that could be as good as we have had in South Florida.
From now until the summer, there will be enough testing and football events to determine which athletes will be the ones that colleges across the country will begin to covet.
For many, it all started last weekend as part of the Under Armour National Combine at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, where nearly 200 of the finest football talent attended a combine that featured Deion Sanders as one of the instructors.
When it comes to showcasing football talent, South Florida is never far from the epicenter, and that was more than evident last week as several area players flocked to the event to pout themselves in that national spotlight as dozens of state, regional and national recruiting analysts came to watch and rate some of the prospects.
For University School receiver Emmanuel Soto, Booker T. Washington defensive end Chad Thomas and Hallandale defensive back John Battle IV, it was the opportunity to display skills that colleges have already watched. They were matched against some of the premier talent on the country, and after nearly five hours, they were all standing tall.
“This opportunity to come here and go against marquee talent was exactly what I had hoped to do,” said Soto, who helped his Suns win the school’s first football title. “We learned and also had the chance to compete. It was well worth the trip.”
Soto, like many other elite area performers, will stay in shape for the South Florida Express 7-on-7 season, which gets started right after Signing Day.
For Battle, the opportunity to finally get the recognition the 6-2, 180-pounder has been searching for was the highlight of the trip. He also was one of the few who had some one-on-one time with Sanders, who taught technique and gave some valuable pointers.
“This is one of the best defensive backs to ever play,” Battle said of Sanders. “I watched what he was teaching and applied it. I know what was learned at this combine will go a long way in the recruiting process.”
Thomas was perhaps one of the most watched prospects on the field. After all, at 6-5, 226, he was the player who was not hard to spot, and coming off a state championship, everyone wanted to talk and evaluate him.
“Lot of fun,” he said. “We were going to have a couple of other juniors come here as well, but for one reason or another, they were unable to come.”
Thomas was being watched by teammates Matthew Thomas and Denver Kirkland as well as coach Tim Harris Sr., who took part in the Under Armour all-star game that evening.
Several other South Florida rising prospects also made their way to the event. Athletes such as Henderson “Prince” Gray of Monsignor Pace and Cornelius Floyd from Gulliver Prep were there to make a statement.
“It gave me a chance to get on the map against players that many believe are the best in the country,” said Gray, who would blow up in a major way at an event that has long been reserved for the best 10th and 11th graders in the country. “I went against some of the top defensive backs in the football portion of the event.”
In addition, Hialeah quarterback Alin Eduoard (6-2, 180), Richard Yeargin III (LB, 6-4, 208, Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna), Henry Bussey (RB, 5-8, 160, Hialeah), Tyre Brady (WR, 6-4, 185, South Dade), Dominique Elverson (LB, 6-0, 224, Hialeah), Corey Holmes (WR, 6-1, 166, St. Thomas Aquinas), Lajuan Hunt (RB, 5-8, 178, University School), Andrew Korakakakos (LB, 5-8, 200, University School), Marcus Leslie (DB, 5-9, 170, Coral Reef), Mardre London (RB, 6-1, 196, St. Thomas Aquinas), Dave Montas (OL, 6-2, 276, Hialeah), Cameron Rigby (RB, 5-6, 162, Miramar), A’lique Terry (OL, 6-1, 291, Hialeah), Jaboree Williams (LB, 6-1, 205, Fort Lauderdale) and talented defensive back Quincy Wilson (6-2, 200, University School) were also on hand.
“Great opportunity to get my name out there,” said Terry, who will be a four-year starter for the T-Breds next season. “When you have the chance to show what you have against elite competition, you do it. The experience only makes you better.”