Commentary

Michael Irvin among top Raiders

Picking just 15 tough when sorting through great St. Thomas Aquinas players

Originally Published: September 22, 2011
By Corey Long | ESPN Recruiting

Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas has produced many great players throughout the years. Here's a look at the 15 best (in alphabetical order).

Billy Brown, WR/DB, Class of 1995
Brown was one of the key reserves for Aquinas during its first state championship run in 1992 as his 59-yard touchdown run clinched a 24-9 victory over Tallahassee (Fla.) Leon. He was part of a prolific receiving corps that included Bobby Brown (Notre Dame) and Ben Stafford (Wake Forest). Billy Brown had 36 receptions for 827 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior. He signed to play football at Florida State but gave up the sport after one season and transferred to Florida Atlantic to concentrate on baseball.

John Congemi, QB, Class of 1982
Congemi was the signal-caller for two of St. Thomas Aquinas' district championships, which included an 11-1 season in 1981, the program's first double-digit win season under coach George Smith. Congemi went on to play college football at Pitt, where he finished second all-time in passing yards (behind Dan Marino) and won the 1984 Fiesta Bowl MVP award. Congemi played professionally in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League for seven seasons. He has been an analyst for the Miami Dolphins and a college football analyst for ESPN Regional television.

[+] EnlargeMichael Irvin
James D. Smith/Getty ImagesNo list on great St. Thomas Aquinas players is complete without Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Irvin.
Cameron Davis, DL, Class of 1992
Davis was the centerpiece of Aquinas' front four in the early '90s. Davis committed to Florida and was part of the nation's top-ranked freshman class. He recorded more than 60 tackles and nine sacks with the Gators, playing most of his career as a backup. Although his career ended with a national championship in 1996, Davis missed the game due to a knee sprain.

Tavares Gooden, LB, Class of 2003 Gooden was rated as one of the top linebackers in the nation in his class after recording 90 tackles and 10 sacks as a senior. Gooden also excelled at track, where he won a state championship as a discus thrower in 2002. Gooden played college football for Miami and started three seasons for the Hurricanes. He was a third-round selection by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2008 NFL draft and started in 2009. He was cut by the Ravens in September and picked up by the San Francisco 49ers.

Leonard Hankerson, WR, Class of 2007
Hankerson was part of a three-year stretch where Aquinas made the state championship game each year, losing all three times to Lakeland. Hankerson finished his senior season with 39 receptions, 803 yards and 14 touchdowns. He played college football at Miami and was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2010, when he hauled in 72 passes for 1,156 yards and 13 touchdowns. After a strong performance in the Senior Bowl, Hankerson was a third-round selection of the Washington Redskins in the 2011 draft.

Stefan Humphries, OL/DL, Class of 1980 Humphries was named "Athlete of the Year" by the Miami Herald in 1980. He would go on to play college football at Michigan, where he was an All-American in 1983. Although his NFL career was marred by injuries, he was a part of the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won Super Bowl XX. Humphries retired from football in 1988 and went into a career in medicine and rehabilitation. He is currently the medical director at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Wash.

Michael Irvin, WR, Class of 1984
One of the NFL's top receivers of all time, Irvin first starred at St. Thomas Aquinas and later at the University of Miami, where he was a key member of the Hurricanes' 1987 national championship team. Irvin was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl championships in the 1992, 1993 and 1995 seasons as part of an iconic offense that included Pro Football Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith (they were collectively known as "the triplets"). Irvin's career ended prematurely when he suffered a cervical spinal cord injury in 1999. He had 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns in the NFL and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Lamarcus Joyner, DB/KR, Class of 2010
Joyner came to Aquinas by way of Southwest Miami High School in 2009. He was named the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year by USA Today and the top-rated cornerback in the nation by ESPN (No. 6 overall prospect). Joyner had 1,090 all-purpose yards on 79 touches as a senior and was selected to play in the 2010 Under Armour All-America Game. He committed to Florida State and was part of the nation's sixth-rated class. Joyner is currently a starting safety for the Seminoles.

[+] EnlargeBrian Piccolo
AP PhotoBrian Piccolo's life was cut short by cancer, but his legacy lives on at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Brian Piccolo, RB, Class of 1961
Piccolo was a football and baseball star at St. Thomas Aquinas (then known as Central Catholic) before leading the nation in rushing as a senior at Wake Forest. Piccolo joined the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent and shared the backfield with Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in the late '60s. Although Piccolo died at 26 due to embryonal cell carcinoma, his legacy lives on through the Bears' organization. The Piccolo Award is given to the Bears player who best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor demonstrated by Piccolo. St. Thomas Aquinas named its football stadium after Piccolo and in 1970 his story was made into the movie "Brian's Song," which starred James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. The movie was remade in 2001 with Sean Maher and Mekhi Phifer.

Twan Russell, LB, Class of 1992
Russell was an integral part of Aquinas' top defensive squads in the early '90s. He was also a track star, winning the state championship in the 300-meter hurdles in 1992. Russell played college football at Miami and led the Hurricanes in tackles as a senior. Russell was a fifth-round selection by the Washington Redskins in 1997 and spent seven seasons in the NFL playing for the Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons. He is currently the director of youth and community programs for the Miami Dolphins and the founder of the Russell Life Skills and Reading Foundation.

Tony Sands, RB, Class of 1988
A three-sport star (football, track and wrestling), Sands became St. Thomas Aquinas' all-time rushing leader during his high school career. He went on to play college football at Kansas, where he set a school single-game record in rushing yards (396) and carries (58). Sands had a short-lived NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals. He has been running his own athletic training facility since 1993. His clients include current NFL cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Atari Bigby.

James White, RB, Class of 2010
White was a three-year letterman for St. Thomas Aquinas, rushing for 2,568 yards and 38 touchdowns in his career. He and backfield mate Giovanni Bernand (North Carolina) led Aquinas to a state championship in 2008. A three-star prospect out of high school, White signed with Wisconsin. As a true freshman White rushed for a team-high 1,052 yards and tied the freshman record with four touchdowns in one game. He was the consensus Big Ten Freshman of the Year and named a first-team Freshman All-American by The Sporting News.

Keith Wilkerson, RB, Class of 1993
Wilkerson was the star running back on Aquinas' 1992 state championship team and had a memorable 210-yard, two-touchdown performance in Aquinas' state quarterfinal victory over Deerfield Beach in the same year. In the state championship against Tallahassee Leon, Wilkerson gained 97 yards and scored twice. Wilkerson was named a high school All-American for his efforts in 1992 and signed to played college football at Ohio State, but left the program after one season.

Major Wright, DB, Class of 2007
A three-year starter for Aquinas, Wright helped lead the Raiders to Class 5A state finals appearances in 2004-2006. Rated 90th in the ESPNU 150, Wright played college football at the University of Florida. Wright was named a freshman All-American by several publications in 2007. He started all 14 games for the Gators' national championship team in 2008 and was second on the team with four interceptions. After his junior season Wright decided to forgo his senior year and was drafted in the third round by the Chicago Bears.

Sam Young, OL, Class of 2006
Young was arguably the top offensive lineman in the Class of 2006. Rated 19th in the ESPNU 150, Young was Florida's Gatorade Player of the Year as part of a 14-1 Aquinas team that made the state finals. Young played college football at Notre Dame, where he became the first true freshman to start the season opener on the offensive line. He was a first-team Freshman All-American in 2006 and made 50 consecutive starts for the Fighting Irish. Young was a sixth-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 and is currently on the Buffalo Bills' roster.

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.

Corey Long

Reporter, RecruitingNation