So much promise, so much talent … but we've yet to see that Jarius Pace. The best might not even come until his college career, but most people are hoping this fresh start at Lake Nona is just what Jarius Pace needed.
I spent some brief time with Pace on two occasions recently, and never once would I have picked him as a source of a coach's aggravation. But I'm not in the huddle. I'm not in the locker room. Those are the ones who truly know Pace.
He's taken on some baggage. He's been branded a trouble-maker. That's not Jarius Pace. His mom has been branded, as well, as someone who will take her boy and run whenever things get uncomfortable. "She wants me to have the best opportunity for academics," Pace said.
His new coach certainly doesn't see any of that.
"The first thing I want to say about Jarius Pace is what a really nice young man who really put things in perspective for me by making academics his No. 1 priority when he came here. That spoke volumes to me," Lake Nona coach Andy Hamre said. "As far as him being an athlete, an asset to this team … He's also probably one of the best running backs I have ever been around. He blocks, he runs incredibly well, he catches the ball well and he understands the concepts."
His old coach certainly didn't have any negative things to say either. Pace started out at Clermont East Ridge, and ran for 240 yards on 61 carries during his sophomore season. He said, sheepishly, that he had a "disagreement" with a coach there.
"We had nothing like that here. Jarius and I were very close … a great, great kid," says East Ridge coach Bud O'Hara. "I would have loved to have coached him, he just … if he had one fault he associated with the wrong people. We don't ask much out of our athletes but they have to conform to what we do ask them to do.
"We never had an issue with Jarius, he just never would do what we ask of him … in the off season … the weight room."
O'Hara would certainly love to have him this season. The Knights have some talent, but Pace would be a great equalizer. Of course, he would be that at any high school.
"I really hope for the best for him. He's a great talent and great kid," O'Hara said. "What's really hurting me is that I wasn't going to get to coach him, 'cause I love him … he can play for a long time in this game. He's got as much raw talent as I've ever coached."
And who would you compare him to, coach? "His brother, Jeremy Wright," O'Hara said. "He was another special player."
Wright will be the likely starting running back for Louisville this season after a stellar spring.
Speaking of his brother, Pace is kinda hoping he can get an offer from the Cardinals so he can join his brother at Louisville. So far he only has offers from FAU and FIU.
"He's really been the only one to have kind of an influence on my life," Pace said of Wright. "I really always looked up to him."
And Jarius has missed that since his brother, now a red-shirt sophomore, left for college.
He has kind of found that in another player carrying a bit of misdirected baggage himself. Kevin Sousa is also a transfer player, coming over from Cypress Creek when Lake Nona opened last year.
"He's made me feel comfortable over there. He's a great guy and a great quarterback," Pace said. "He's influenced me a lot to do the right things, kind of like a brother figure."
Pace stopped off at Orlando Olympia High for his junior season, when questions about his eligibility began to cause a stir. Once the FSHAA looked into the matter, Olympia had to forfeit the three games Pace played in and Pace was suspended for the rest of last season last year and the beginning of this coming season.
"Sept. 17," he says with a big smile. "I just can't wait for Sept. 17."
Let's hope Orlando University High is ready.
Chris Hays is the recruiting coverage coordinator for the Orlando Sentinel. You can reach him at OrlandoSentinel.com/recruiting.