Over the last 20 years the Tampa Bay area has grown significantly in population, and as families settled in communities around Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, their children began to play sports. Sometimes a surge in prospects in one particular area can be attributed to the simplest things, but even with the population growth, it took a couple of programs to really help grow the area into what it has become.
The programs at Seffner (Fla.) Armwood and Tampa (Fla.) Plant can take credit for much of the success of the area. Armwood won state championships in 2003, 2004 and 2011 (the last championship was vacated by the Florida High School Athletic Association in the spring) and made it to the final game in 2005 and 2010. The Hawks had several top prospects come through the program like former Under Armour All-American Petey Smith (Alabama), Torrey Davis (Florida), Eric Smith (Auburn), Matt Patchan (Florida), Eric Striker (Oklahoma), Matt Jones (Florida), Josh Grady (Vanderbilt) and Cody Waldrop (South Carolina).
Plant won state championships in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011 while also making the finals in 2010. Much like Armwood, Plant could not have accomplished so much without talented performers like Robert Marve (Miami, Purdue), Aaron Murray (Georgia), James Wilder Jr. (Florida State), Drew Madhu (Stanford), Orson Charles (Georgia), Eric Dungy (Oregon) and Philip Ely (Alabama).
There have been other programs that have contributed to the success of the area. Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson won a title in 2010 behind defensive lineman Tyriq McCord (Miami) and wide receiver Andre Davis (South Florida). Other programs like Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough, Tampa (Fla.) Robinson, Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit, Tampa Catholic and St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood have all done their part in churning out solid college football prospects.
How much has the area taken shape in the past few years? Well in this year’s ESPN 150 there are five players in the top 75. Since 2006, the number of four-star prospects in the area has nearly doubled.
Currently Tampa Bay trails only Miami-Dade and Broward in terms of producing talent in the state. In the last two to three years, it has passed West Palm Beach. And with strong classes in 2013, 2014 and 2015, the area will continue to solidify its position. If there’s an area that could continue to help the recruiting in Tampa Bay expand and eventually challenge Miami, it would be the programs in the “New Tampa” communities like Tampa (Fla.) Wharton and Lutz (Fla.) Steinbrenner.
Tampa Bay prospects in the ESPN 300: 8
Tampa Bay prospects rated by ESPN Scouts: 35
Highest rated Tampa Bay prospect: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Tampa (Fla.) Wharton
1) Leon McQuay III, S, Armwood: McQuay is down to five -- USC, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Oregon and Florida State. He has taken an unofficial to USC and an official to Vanderbilt with visits to Oregon, Michigan and FSU coming up in the next five weeks. Read more about McQuay’s situation in this week’s #BlueChipBattles.
2) Richard Benjamin, WR, Tampa Bay Tech: The ESPN 300 talent recently took an official visit to Purdue and has been looking at West Virginia, Texas A&M, Louisville, Missouri and South Florida as well. Benjamin was committed to UCF at one time.
3) Darryl Richardson, QB, Armwood: South Florida is hoping to bring Richardson in to challenge Asiantii Woulard, but Tennessee and UCLA are also in the hunt for the 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior.
4) Rodney Adams, WR, Lakewood: Originally committed to Florida, the four-star wide receiver says West Virginia, UCF, Houston and Vanderbilt are the schools he’s looking at.
5) Nigel Harris, LB, Hillsborough: South Florida and Vanderbilt have been Harris’ two favorite schools for a while, but keep an eye on the 6-2, 200-pound senior. He could rise on some other boards in the final months.
Hillsborough handed Armwood its first shutout in 12 seasons behind a clutch effort from sophomore quarterback Dwayne Lawson.
GAME(S) OF THE WEEK
Orlando (Fla.) Jones at Cocoa
ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston will lead Cocoa’s methodical attack against Jones’ four-star defensive end Devin Washington, a South Carolina commit. Keep an eye on Florida State commit Levonte Whitfield for some special teams excitement.
St. Petersburg (Fla.) Lakewood at Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit
Lakewood has rolled through a relative weak schedule thus far but this will pick up significantly this week with Jesuit. Last year, four-star wide receivers Travis Johnson and Rodney Adams staged a classic duel with both players going over 100 yards. Johnson, however, caught three touchdown passes and that proved to be the difference.