About 50 miles to the east of Tallahassee, Fla., is a small, passionate town where football is king.
Madison, Fla., home to Madison County High School, is a recognizable name to high school football fans in the Sunshine State thanks to years of success. It was all achieved by discipline, long periods of hard work and hope -- hope to someday make it to the next level.
Ira Denson (Madison, Fla./Madison County) fits that description well enough.
The 6-foot-4, 317-pound offensive lineman, ranked as a four-star prospect in the ESPN 150 and a Florida State commitment, wasn't always a proven commodity. He had to earn it.
It was during the Orlando Nike Football Training Camp that Denson emerged among top Florida prospects. Going head-to-head with Caleb Brantley (Crescent City, Fla./Crescent City), a Florida Gators' commitment and fellow ESPN 150 member, turned a lot of heads.
Denson got the best of Brantley more often than not, something a lot of offensive linemen won't be able to say.
"I just wanted a chance to prove that I could do it," Denson said.
By the first day of June, Denson told the FSU coaching staff that Tallahassee was the place for him and committed to the Seminoles. And by July, a budding talent knew he was headed for Oregon to take part in The Opening, a prestigious invite-only combine reserved for the top prospects in the country.
Brantley was there again this time, but Denson continued to hold his own against the other defensive linemen, too.
"There was a lot of great talent out there," he said of the experience. "I just tried to do my best. I did a lot of one-on-ones. It was good."
Winning the respect of analysts and scouts is one thing. Earning it from your peers is another.
Denson did both.
Denver Kirkland (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington), a four-star offensive lineman and one of the top remaining uncommitted offensive tackles in the country, gravitated to Denson. He cited his jovial personality off the field, but it was his angry manner on the field that demanded reverence.
"I like his intensity," Kirkland said. "He just loves the game. He's just like a phenomenal player -- I'd love to line up next to him."
Now firmly entrenched as a household name among recruiting junkies, Denson is regarded as he always thought he could have been.
His summer is behind him. He's proven what he needed to in terms of recruitment and showcasing his ability.
With this newfound confidence, he wants to bring his Madison County Cowboys back to the state finals again in 2012 and put a wrap on a solid high school career.
"I knew I wasn't a pushover from the beginning," Denson said. "Everyone kind of had different feelings, but I just had to show them I could do what I could do. Once I did that, people took notice.
"It is a great feeling. But I know that I still have to work hard to get better. I am working with my coaches all the time on technique and just getting better."
Denson is one of four Florida State commitments along the offensive line.