It’s becoming more and more common at the high school football level that this is not a game dominated by senior athletes.
Freshmen, sophomores, and in some cases, even eighth-graders have been turning in impressive performances while seniors just sit back and watch.
These freshmen and sophomores are not backing down. They know they can play and they have no plans to see time on the freshman or jayvee teams. Even coaches who used to have rules that all freshmen had to play on the freshman team, have relented.
Bill Gierke, former Edgewater coach and now the head coach at Orangewood Christian, is one of those coaches who liked to start high schoolers on the freshman team. He has, of course, backed off that rule and he’ll find he can’t afford to have those guidelines at smaller schools like Orangewood. Depth becomes a factor, but regardless of numbers, you can’t hold back talent.
Jimmy Martin, a 6-foot, 200-pound linebacker, is that talent at Orangewood. He’ll be on the field this year as a freshman. He’s good. He’s a monster athlete who will make Orangewood a much better football team.
Martin's strength sets him apart. He put up 30 bench-press reps of 135 pounds at the Orlando NUC combine in April. Teammate QB-WR and sophomore to be Alex Britton gave him the closest run at 27 reps.
Martin, along with several other Florida players, was selected as eighth-graders last season to the Eastbay Youth All-American game at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The event was held in conjunction with the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.
Harmony’s Riley Nicholson, another all-American selection, is one of the best freshman players in the state and probably the best player the Longhorns have with the exception of RB-CB Michael Santiago, a talented junior. Nicohlson plays all over and will start off at safety but don’t be surprised to see this gifted athlete roaming the field as middle linebacker.
Another name you'll hear a lot of down the road is Melbourne High 2014 WR-DB Carson Jackson. This kid is a competitor. He's fast, has good size and fundamental football intelligence. He runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and has a vertical leap of 34 inches.
Timber Creek’s freshman QB Tanner Hearn also took part in the Eastbay event in January, and he was sure to point out one thing come August two-a-days. He’s not out there to watch and learn. “I plan to start,” Hearn said at a combine just before spring football.
A top freshman QB out of Jacksonville First Coast is De'Andre Johnson, who gives the Jacksonville powerhouse quite a solid arm to rely on for four years, and Jacksonville Bolles has a future star in 2015 RB-S Dexter Carter Jr. (5-19, 150), the son of former FSU and NFL star Dexter Sr., who now coaches at Bolles.
Other freeshmen to watch this year: Fort Lauderdale University ATH Rashard Causey Jr. (5-10, 150, 4.61 40), Wellington ATH Shamar Jackson (5-7, 134)
One of the better running backs in the state is Sony Michel (5-11, 180), a rising sophomore at Plantation American Heritage. Michel already has three offers from Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame.
As they get older, the list gets longer, but other sophomores who will have impact this season are players like Saint Cloud WR Jordan Reus, just another big-time receiver on a team full of them. Interestingly, Reus might be the best one of the bunch. But don’t tell Cole Harvey, Brett Biller or Austyn Jandrew (Harmony transfer) I said that.
Orlando Olympia has a sophomore QB in Colby Brown (6-0, 160) who saw a lot of time last year as a freshman. Other sophomores expected to play big roles this season will be St. Pete Lakewood WR Donterio Fowler (5-9, 165), the brother of FSU 2012 commit Dante Fowler. Despite his 5-8 size, one of the best receivers in the state will be Lamar “Marty” Parker of Miami Booker T. Washington.
Another NFL son is Tampa Plant WR Austin Roberts (6-1, 184), the prodigy of ex-UM and NFL star Alfredo Roberts, who is currently Tampa Bay Bucs TE coach. Roberts might be the best sophomore receiver in the state.
Giving everyone a run for the top sophomore athlete in the state for 2014 will be the versatie Charles Nelson at Daytona Beach Seabreeze. He can score from anywhere on the field no matter the position he's playing.
Others rising sophomores, like Hollywood Chaminade Madonna QB Sean White (6-2, 193) have gotten a lot of attention, like Booker T. QB Treon Harris (5-10, 170), son of head coach Ice Harris; Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas WR Corey Holmes (6-1, 160) and DB Al Harris (5-9, 150), father of NFL Pro Bowler of same name; Orlando Jones ATH Alex Gomez; Oviedo ATH Chris Davis (5-11, 151); Hialeah WR Kendrick Edwards (5-6, 135); Oviedo RB-LB Phillip Harms (5-11, 208), who had 32 bench reps of 135 at the Orlando NUC, Union County ATH Andrew Jones (5-10, 167, 4.67 40, 30" vert.), Jacksonville Raines QB-WR Marvin Zanders (6-1, 170), Pompano Beach Blanche Ely DL-TE Brandon Campbell (6-1, 213), Tallahassee Lawton Chiles ATH Kristopher Harris (5-10, 207), Winter Haven OL-DL Maurice Spann (5-11, 274) and Miami American OL-DL Khairi Clark (6-4, 293).
Oviedo has already moved WR Davis around and he will head into August camp as the team's No. 1 quarterback.
Tarpon Springs East Lake High is starting to establish itself as a force in the Tampa Area and the underclassmen are going to solidify the future. Mason Cole is an anchor of that core, literally. He's 6-foot-4, 274 pounds and his athleticism and strength along the line is going to take him a long way. Cole should be a top prospect in the state by the time he's a senior, and even before. At one combine this spring he dominated the freshmen and sophomores so much, that he was asked to stick around at compete with the rising senior group, which he also dominated at times.
Westminster Christian School in Miami has David Thompson at QB right now. The 2012 prospect is a Miami combo commit for baseball and football. But this team will be in good hands for a few more years when 2014 prospect Hunter Boyett (5-11, 168) takes over.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.