The Florida high school football playoffs have officially started.
The five-week stretch of games has proven to be a great opportunity for some under-the-radar prospects to make a final push in their recruitment. The playoffs have also provided a platform for several known prospects to establish themselves as elite talents.
In this year’s ESPN 150, there are several players who have made their biggest impact during playoff time.
The nation’s top-rated running back, Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, Fla./Glades Day), has saved some of his best performances for the playoffs. He rushed for 213 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in the Class 1B state championship game against South Daytona (Fla.) Warner Christian.
A year later, Taylor faced the same Warner Christian team and rushed for 248 yards and five touchdowns before being ejected for excessive celebration (he went to his knee after scoring his fourth and fifth touchdowns and was flagged for both).
Four-star running back Greg Bryant (Delray Beach, Fla./American Heritage), rated 27th nationally, had his breakout performance in last year’s Class 3A state title game against Madison (Fla.) County, rushing 39 times for 243 yards (both career highs).
Wide receiver Jordan Cunningham (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School), ranked 51st nationally, caught three touchdowns as a sophomore in the Class 2B state championship game against Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic.
There’s a good chance Taylor, Bryant or Cunningham will return to the finals in 2012 (of course, Bryant and Cunningham could see each other in a week for the highly anticipated game between American Heritage and University School if their team’s advance), but there will be other class of 2012 prospects that could really see their stock rise with a strong playoff run.
Juwan Brown, QB, Largo (Fla.) -- The two-star prospect has been on a tear this season and is likely the Player of the Year for the Tampa Bay area. He’s accounted for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception all season. Brown’s biggest challenge could come in Week 1 when Largo hosts a talented but underachieving Seffner (Fla.) Armwood squad.
Alton Meeks, QB, Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips -- If Meeks, a soft Cincinnati commit, is fully recovered from a broken leg suffered in September, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior will be a difference-maker in the playoffs. He’s become a more accurate passer this season and provides a power-running element that Dr. Phillips hasn’t had.
Lorenzo Woodley, RB, Miami Christopher Columbus -- If Daryl Chestnut’s injury keeps him sidelined, the 5-11, 200-pound Woodley will be asked to carry a full load. On Thursday, he rushed for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns in a 49-9 victory over Miami Dr. Krop.
Shykeem Pitts, QB/ATH, Davenport (Fla.) Ridge Community -- Pitts is back at quarterback after flirting with other positions on the offense. In three weeks, Pitts led Ridge to from obscurity to a district championship. The speedy athlete is most dangerous with the ball in his hands and will take every snap for as long as Ridge is alive in the postseason.
Janarion Grant, ATH, Dade City (Fla.) Pasco -- Grant missed the first six games with a hand injury and scored five touchdowns in his return game. In the last two weeks, the 5-11, 185-pound senior has scored eight touchdowns four different ways (rushing, receiving, special teams, defensive). A strong playoff run could lift Grant to top-tier status in the state.
Antwan Lee, RB/DB, Cocoa (Fla.) -- Although most of the attention goes to ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston it’s been a shared backfield with the 5-8, 165-pound Lee, who has rushed for 1,035 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Lee also has two interceptions on defense.
Shaquille Johnson, TE, Lake City (Fla.) Columbia -- Columbia has been a popular pick to make it to the Class 6A finals. And if the Tigers can get to Orlando, it will give the 6-4, 225-pound Johnson several more opportunities to have that breakout game that observers have been waiting to see for the past two years.
Did you miss last night’s playoff games? Here’s a quick set of links for them:
Sir Jackson scores on both sides of the ball as Gainesville (Fla.) Eastside shuts out Holiday (Fla.) Anclote.