High School Recruiting

Larry Blustein: Late-blooming high school players often overlooked by college scouts

Jackson’s Xavier Bailey returns a kickoff as Cardinal Gibbons’ Jonathon Graham defends at Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013.
Jackson’s Xavier Bailey returns a kickoff as Cardinal Gibbons’ Jonathon Graham defends at Traz Powell Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. Miami Herald Staff

As we head toward the halfway point of the 2014 high school football season, many of the standout football players who were predicted to have great seasons are off to a fast start.

In an area of the country that annually produces nearly 200 FBS-level prospects, there are always going to be those who are overlooked — for one reason or another. Athletes who might have been injured last year or during the spring — or perhaps underclassmen who have matured the past eight months.

Talk to any college coach who has spent time in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and all will agree that borderline prospects a year ago — or as recently as the spring — could be overlooked by schools who haven’t had the chance to watch, evaluate and offer these talented players since May.

“Four months is a long time for an athlete to grow and become a major prospect,” Miami Central head coach Roland Smith said. “We have a few players on our team who have matured a great deal in the months since spring, so I can understand how many of the players are overlooked.”

While there are several football players who haven’t received the attention from colleges — with dozens of offers waiting in the balance — there are a core group of prospects who have jumped out the past four months — and for the most part — colleges have not jumped on them the way they should be.

Here are 10 very hot football players who should have 10-plus offers by now, but because they may not have been viewed at the right time, are flying way beneath the radar:

Xavier Bailey, DB, 6-0, 180, Miami Northwestern: Starting out at Miami Beach, then moving to Jackson, this is a big-time defensive back/special teams player who has found a home with the Bulls. Just as recently as the first district game against Carol City, he made a solid impact with his speed and athletic ability, faking a punt and sprinting for a TD and receiving a fumble.

Shawn Curtis, LB/RB, 6-2, 230, Doral Ronald Reagan: A huge reason that the Bisons have been a force the past two years, this is a total package who can play on both sides of the ball, has plenty of size and athletic ability and gets it done in the classroom. This is a player that should have schools banging down the door.

Dusan Etienne, OL, 6-7, 300, Hollywood Hills: Nobody has watched his prospects take off more than this giant of a lineman during the past three months. Winning the MVP of an Ocala Lineman Challenge that was run by former NFL linemen, this impressive prospect went from another two-way line prospect to one of the elite in the state — and has continued to back it up for the Spartans this season.

Jhakari Harrison, QB, 5-11, 170, Coconut Creek: Easily one of the most underrated of the quarterbacks in the Class of 2016, this three-year starter routinely throws for more than 250 yards and has proven that he belongs in the conversation with the best juniors in the state. A very accurate passer who has the skills and athletic ability to get better the next few years. You can guarantee that during the next evaluation period, his stock will soar.

Brett Israel, QB, 6-0, 170, Parkland Douglas: Another versatile run/pass quarterback prospect who has been overlooked. Losing most of his linemen and receivers from a year ago, he has guided the Eagles to a surprising start, including an upset over last year’s district champion Deerfield Beach. A very accurate passer who also runs the ball very well, he is another talent who will watch his stock rise as colleges watch his film and see him in person.

Joe Riggins, LB/S, 6-2, 205, Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons: With a few offers on the table, this linebacker/safety prospect has been playing at a high level for two years. One of the hardest hitters and instinctive players you will find, Riggins has a nose for ball as you will see by watching him play. He is always around the ball and has the endorsement from his coaches, teammates and the opposition.

Ivan Smith, RB, 5-11, 170, Miami Christopher Columbus: Make no mistake that this is the next outstanding runner in South Florida. A very elusive player who started to show signs last year, but has really made a difference this season with his speed and instinctive running. As he gets stronger and gains more weight, colleges will continue to see a junior who has the chance to be very special the next two years.

Gee Stanley, LB, 6-1, 200, Coral Gables: If you are looking for another great football talent who has emerged from his safety position this year, this is one of the outstanding football players on the rise. Had a huge offseason and as the Cavaliers continue to build toward the playoffs, you can guarantee that this is a talent that will start getting plenty of looks from colleges all over the country. By next spring, he should be one of the best in South Florida.

Keir Thomas, DL, 6-2, 220, Miami Central: With no offers yet, this Miami Northwestern junior transfer is the mystery of the season so far. Easily one of the most dominating players on a team that could have one of the premier defensive units nationally, this is a prospect who should have Ohio State, Alabama, Miami, FSU interested because he is a tremendous football player who has already earned the respect of nationally rated teams as well as the local programs who have been blown away by his talent, quickness and ability to dominate.

Donavan Thompson, LB, 6-0, 200, Miami Central: If you have watched the Rockets play last year or already this season, nobody has to tell you much about what many are calling the best linebacker in South Florida, and perhaps the state. Just a junior, Thompson had 56 tackles in the first three games alone — against nationally rated Hoover (Alabama), Stevenson (Georgia) and Miami Booker T. Washington. A true middle linebacker who stops the run, gets to the quarterback and drops into pass coverage. With such a need for a position like this, it seems like an insult that USF is the only school with an offer. Colleges who are not on him will miss out on a game-changer.

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