When Ryan Shazier walked across the stage two weeks ago in New York, put on the Pittsburgh Steelers cap and embraced the NFL’s commissioner, it sent a message to every youth and high school football prospect in South Florida that dreams do come true.
Players from this area have not only made it happen in high school and college, but also they have shown so much skill and athleticism that this region of the country continues to be a pipeline that ushers quality football talent from local football fields and brings it to the professional level.
Whether it’s Shazier, a one-time Plantation standout who carved out a positive reputation at Ohio State before landing with the Steelers in the first round (15th selection), or a dozen other South Florida-bred athletes who found a home this year with NFL teams, the reality is that the next great football prospect might be lining up at a school near you this fall.
There is no secret that South Florida has become ground zero during spring football each year, as hundreds of colleges flock to programs from Deerfield Beach to Homestead. That’s why having a first-round selection like Shazier or former Miami Northwestern standout Teddy Bridgewater being selected in the first round is no longer a surprise.
For Bridgewater, who was picked by Minnesota with the final pick of the first round, there was really never any doubt to when the Louisville standout would be picked. Even though he was picked 32nd, there are those who still feel that he was by far the most NFL-ready quarterback coming out of college this year.
Although Bridgewater didn’t wow many with his pro day workouts, there were teams such as the Vikings who felt otherwise. Remember, many felt during the season that if he was the No. 1 overall pick by Houston, it would not be a total surprise. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on what he did over three years — leading the Cardinals to over 30 victories — they opted to dwell on what he did in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.
While Shazier and Bridgewater were South Floridians chosen in the first round, former St. Thomas Aquinas and Southwest Miami defensive back Lamarcus Joyner was impressive enough for the St. Louis Rams to select him in the second round.
The FSU product, who grew up in Miami-Dade’s inner city, just down the road from Bridgewater, was easily one of the most athletic football players in this year’s draft. He is a true South Florida product, having played youth football and high school in two counties and being viewed as one of the nation’s premier athletes.
The South Florida talent rush didn’t end with those three. Nebraska’s Stanley Jean Baptiste, who attended tiny Westlake Prep and was coached by current Champagnat Catholic coach Mike Tunsil, was another area player who was selected. The New Orleans Saints chose the safety in the second round.
The explosion continued into the third round with St. Thomas Aquinas defensive back Dezmen Southward (Wisconsin), who was chosen by Atlanta, and lineman Brandon Linder (University of Miami), who was selected by Jacksonville. More South Florida players were picked in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds.
“When you look at all the South Florida talent that got drafted and those who signed on as free agents, it is truly amazing,” Miami Central assistant coach Alexander Snipes said. “We take great pride in the athletes we produce down here. It speaks volumes for all the programs in Miami-Dade and Broward.”