Welcome to high school football’s offseason, where Friday night games have been replaced by weekend exposure combines and 7-on-7 competition.
The days of putting equipment away after December, taking it out briefly for spring practice in May and then once again for the hot, summer month of August has ended.
The race for a college scholarship has raised the stakes in an area of the country that simply has no equal. The talent that South Florida offers up annually is better than anywhere in the country — and every college coach knows that very well.
The gates were lifted and the NCAA deemed it was safe for its member schools to hit the road this past week — and while the recruiting dark period came to an end — schools flocked to this area in huge numbers.
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No matter where you looked, schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Louisville, Cincinnati and Minnesota headed to Miami, Fort Lauderdale — and in every community in between — to talk with coaches, see players, check grades and see if there were any athletes missed out.
“This is how it’s been down here for as long as I can remember,” said Champagnat Catholic coach Mike Tunsil. “All the major colleges come here because we provide something no other area can give all these schools — top-flight athletes.”
In areas such as California, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, there are always going to be plenty of talented football players. But when it comes to South Florida, stellar football prospects have the opportunity to show up 12 months a year.
Last weekend kicked off what appeared to be a very busy next seven months. The South Florida Express 7-on-7 tryout took place Saturday and Sunday — with over 200 athletes showing up for one of many teams that will be competing this offseason.
The tryout at McArthur High brought football talent in from as far away as West Palm Beach, Naples and as near as Hollywood and Miami. It was a showcase event that thrust many athletes into the spotlight for the first time. For others, like St. Thomas Aquinas sophomore standout Sam Bruce, it was just another step in what has been a successful process.
“Coming here and getting the chance to compete against the best of the best is what this all about,” Bruce said. “This sets the stage for the offseason, which should be interesting.”
With well over 200 participants — many we will have the chance to see throughout the offseason — it’s hard to single out every performance. But if you go around and watch, you see a few who deserved to get some recognition.
Here are a few that caught the eye:
•Class of 2015 - Damon Arnette, DB, St. Thomas Aquinas:
One of the up and coming players who could really be a force this offseason. Was one of the players this team looked at to help get back to state in 2014.
•Class of 2016 - Chris Cotto, WR, Hallandale:
Easily one of the emerging stars of this — or any other class. A tremendous route runner who has speed and has a knack of getting up and coming down with the ball. Also plays on special teams.
•Class of 2015 - Rashad Fenton, DB, Carol City:
One time Norland standout is now getting it done for the Chiefs — and most who have watched him play believe that he will be very special this offseason. Will be among the interception leaders during 7-on-7.
•Class of 2017 - Emmanuel Greene, WR, Coconut Creek:
If you have had the pleasure of watching this young man compete, you already know that he dominated as a 9th grader at the varsity level — and figures to be among the best in south Florida for years to come.
•Class of 2015 - Christian Irving, LB, American Heritage:
Was Boyd Anderson’s most athletic player before departing last year for University School. Not only can he play linebacker and safety, but is also a very good running back and one of the best wrestlers in the state.
•Class of 2017 - Jordan Merrell, WR, Dillard:
While it’s a long way before colleges can fully appreciate this rising star, after this offseason, this will be one of many players that they will be talking about, fondly. Tremendous future ahead of him.
•Class of 2016 - Freddie Pinder, Jr., WR, Southridge:
It seems that the Spartans have this kind of athlete come out of the program every year, but if you spent time breaking down this young man’s game, you will understand that he is indeed very special - and this offseason will back that up. Big time prospect in the making, here.
•Class of 2015 - Sheldrick Redwine, DB, Killian:
One of the most overlooked players last year — and as the offseason begins — he is starting to turn heads with his football-playing skills. Is a ball-hawk who will come away with nearly every pass thrown in his direction. Another prospect who has the chance to be very special.
•Class of 2015 - Koron Rozier, WR, Coconut Creek:
After spending the past few years at nearby North Broward Prep, this coming offseason will show many across south Florida how special this prospect is. Has the opportunity to play this game at a high level for years to come. Very physical for his size.
•Class of 2015 - Bernard Scott, QB, South Broward:
Because this team has not had success, this is a prospects that may be one of the best you will find. Playing quarterback for the Bulldogs, this is really a receiver who reminds many of current NMB standout Steve Ishmael. He is that good of a football player.
•Class of 2015 - Emonee Spence, WR, Flanagan:
With all the quality players getting hyped this offseason, this is one who not only has the stats and production to back up his play — but if you see him in the offseason — you will have a better grasp at how talented he is.