Two Sundays ago, we combed the rosters of Florida's colleges and ranked the state's top 25 players -- regardless of class -- relative to their NFL prospects. We had some fun with it, picking UF defensive end Carlos Dunlap, a projected top five selection should he choose to come out next April, for our No. 1 spot, followed by Miami true freshman defensive back and former Sanford Seminole star Ray Ray Armstrong, who to our knowledge never got on the field in Monday night's opener at FSU, and UF sophomore cornerback Janoris Jenkins No. 3.
Time will tell how well we did.
Some readers, of course, chose not to wait and went ahead and let us know. That's cool, too.
But we certainly didn't want to forget about a slew of other great players who chose to leave the state to play in college. Take West Virginia tailback Noel Devine, for example. The junior flash who made defenses miserable at North Fort Myers High rushed for more than 1,200 yards last season at WVU and entered this season as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He'll likely jump to the NFL in 2010.
Closer to home, though, former Orlando Cypress Creek standout Jammie Kirlew, now a senior at Indiana, has shown up on some watch lists as one of the 10 best defensive linemen that will be available in the next NFL draft. We caught up with Kirlew last week, before the Hoosiers opened the season with a 19-13 victory over Eastern Kentucky, and spoke to him about his future, as well as his present and past.
Kirlew, the 6-foot-3, 259-pound defensive end, chose IU over West Point and Navy. He also took unofficial visits to UCF, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
In 2008, he was one of six finalists for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, and was voted First-Team All-Big Ten by conference media and second-team by the league's coaches after finishing with 10½ sacks and 19½ tackles for loss -- the latter figure the most by a Hoosier since Adewale Ogunleye's 21 in 1997 --and leading all Big Ten defensive lineman in total tackles with 74.
Kirlew is on pace to graduate with a double-major in School, Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and financial management.
The Sentinel's Chris Harry spoke with Kirlew via phone call from Bloomington, Ind., and here are excerpts:
Q: The Hoosiers went 1-7 in Big Ten play last season. That could not have sat well with the senior class.
JK: "Definitely not. The majority of us, what we did in the offseason, after that last game, we got together and said we're not going to let this happen in our senior year. The young guys had to buy into our change. We did a great of job of coming together this summer. We had about 75 guys here working out, compared to like 35 guys in the past summer. It made a difference. Everybody is stronger and faster, and the younger guys aren't afraid to step up and say something. I believe a lot of it is going to transfer into the season."
Q: How did playing in the state of Florida prep you to play at the next level?
JK:"Oh man. When you're in Florida, you're playing against some of the best athletes, period. Everybody is big, strong and fast. The competition level is just amazing compared to other states in the country. I'm sure there are some other places that would love to compare themselves to us. But hands down, I believe, Florida has the best. Ohio, Texas, California, yeah, of course they've got their share. But Florida has the most."
Q:What was your recruiting experience like five years ago? Was it positive or negative?
JK:"It was definitely positive. It was pretty good. I think I took four or five visits and had a good time pretty much everywhere I went. Indiana just stood out. I had a gut feeling about it; an intuition. It was the right place. Everything came together here. Other places I went, yeah, they were nice. Indiana, though, just felt right. When I came here I was ready to commit on the spot."
Q: What separated the Hoosiers from the others?
JK: "I think it was the coaching staff. They had a charisma and attitude for everything. They had just got here and were ready to make changes. To have a solid foundation, knowing guys would be there for a while, that was positive for me. It was just different here, compared to other schools. I felt the players really got a long. I liked the attitude toward recruits and how they treated us. Bloomington [Ind.] is a small college town, a great place. There's a lot to do. I got to go to a basketball game against Ohio State, which was really, really crazy. I was into it."
Q: If you had to give a high school prospect some advice about the recruiting process, maybe two or three pieces of wisdom, what would you say is the most important thing to focus on as you enter that process?
JK: "I would definitely say do a lot of research. Know what you're going into. Know the history. Know the past about the place. See where they've been and where they're trying to go -- and learn enough about the people and coaches to get an idea whether they can get there. Know the defense and offensive schemes. Some guys go and don't understand the details and end up getting played in a way they did not expect. And you have to be comfortable with the coaches. You don't have that much time to spend with them, but you can get a sense of whether you'll be comfortable with them."
Q: What about that IU defensive line this season? In 2007, the other defensive end, Greg Middleton, set a school record with 16 sacks. Last year, he had four. After your big season last year, don't you guys have to have big years together for the defense to play to its potential?
JK: "Yes, we do. We've been on different pages in the past. We're on the same page this year. We've been together all offseason. We're focused on the team and leaving our legacy at IU. We want to create havoc. That's our goal."
Q: ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has ranked you as the No. 11 defensive linemen who will be available in next year's draft. What are your thoughts about the NFL?
JK: "Well, I didn't know that. It's an honor to be mentioned by a guy who knows so much and who's been doing it for so long. The NFL is definitely in the back of my mind. But right now, the focus is here on IU and changing the culture. One of my goals is leaving this program better than when I came. That's the goal of the senior class. If we do that, doors will open later on."