As offseason AAU basketball has taken off in popularity, so too have year-round passing leagues for prep gridiron stars. The high school football season and roar of the Friday night crowd are still close to five months away, but 26 talented Southern Florida prospects quenched their thirst for action in an elite seven-on-seven team culminating with a second-place, regional finish Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
Two months ago, Brett Goetz, a financial advisor by trade and recruiting fanatic at heart, was asked to coach and put together an area all-star team to compete on a national level. Goetz did not disappoint and quickly assembled an eye-popping roster filled deep with talent and blazing speed. The South Florida Express are comprised of multiple Division I and ESPN 150 Watch List prospects, including Under Armour All-Americans linebacker Frankie Telfort (Miami/Gulliver Prep) running back Jaamal Berry (Miami/Palmetto) and athlete Victor Marc (Hallandale, Fla.).
"Yes, the final roster was certainly like a dream team of South Florida football prospects, but
players in South Florida are known for being great competitors and this team was no different. There were no egos, just guys working hard to get better at the sport they love," said Goetz.
Forty-five players practiced and essentially tried out for four consecutive Sundays before the final roster was trimmed to 26 for the tournament. The high-profile players did not rest on their physical prowess, headlines and countless scholarship offers to earn their spots; they sought out the best competition in practice each week to test and improve their skills as future college football players.
"We said at the very first practice that there would be no preferential treatment for anyone, and that players had to earn their spots. These kids worked extremely hard, pushed each other and at the same time built great friendships for the future," said Goetz.
In Goetz's eyes, the big-name prospects like Berry, Marc, Telfort, athlete Brandon McGee (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation), quarterback Eugene Smith (Miramar, Fla.), cornerback Ricardo Dixon (Hallandale, Fla.) and safety Vladimir Emilien (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) did not disappoint. The ESPN 150 Watch List prospects were very much as advertised in regards to their recruiting attention and combined 60-plus scholarship offers between them.
"Jaamal [Berry] is a super competitor, extremely fast and possesses great hands. Frankie Telfort is just a physical freak with great makeup speed, and Victor [Marc] is a phenomenal athlete with deceptive size who can play anywhere," said Goetz.
He also eagerly noted that several under-the-radar prospects -- like receivers Steadman Bailey (Miramar, Fla.), Sterling Griffin (Opa Locka, Fla./Monsignor Pace) and Conner Vernon (Miami/Gulliver Prep) -- performed well at practice and against elite competition at the regional tourney.
Class of 2010 quarterback Brandon Doughty (Coconut Creek, Fla./North Broward) also had a strong showing Sunday with good athleticism, great arm strength and poise beyond his years.
The Express went undefeated in their first four 25-minute contests and continued to win in the single-elimination round before suffering a two-touchdown defeat to Team Florida 2, led by ESPN 150 Watch List quarterback Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla./Plant). Despite the loss, the South Florida Express qualified to play in the national seven-on-seven tournament comprised of the top two teams from the other regional tourneys held in Las Vegas and Akron, Ohio, (dates have yet to be determined).
Win or lose, if this team can serve as a microcosm for the speed, competitiveness and overall talent represented by Southern Florida in 2009, next fall should be an exciting year once again for high school football in the area.
Franklin lands a system fitter at Auburn
In his first recruiting season as offensive coordinator for the Auburn Tigers, former Troy coordinator Tony Franklin quietly landed his first system-fitting quarterback this week in ESPN 150 Watch List prospect Raymond Cotton (Mobile, Ala./Faith Academy). The dual-threat signal-caller is a bit raw in terms of throwing mechanics, but Franklin, known as a spread guru, has one heck of an athlete with great speed and a live arm to mold at the college level in his high-tempo system.
Cotton chalked up close to 700 yards on the ground with his striking foot speed and large frame to break countless tackles. The future Tiger also threw for 1,500 yards and shows playmaking qualities with the ball in his hands. If Franklin can improve Cotton's passing fundamentals, he could have a dangerous quarterback like he had with Omar Haugabrook at Troy.
Michigan raids Ohio
Michigan struck twice in Ohio this week, beating out Ohio State for ESPN 150 Watch List athlete/safety Justin Turner (Massillon, Ohio/Washington) and plucking a sleeper for the Buckeyes' backyard in Isaiah Bell (Youngstown, Ohio/Liberty).
Bell needs some polish fundamentally, but he is great football player with exceptional size, blazing speed and great instincts at the position. He projects best as a high-point safety in a Cover 2 scheme in which he can utilize both his great range to play over the top of deep-outs and striking underneath closing burst to break on short-to-intermediate throws.
The Youngstown native's ball skills, playmaking ability on special teams and potential for continued physical development on his tall, rangy frame make him a can't-miss prospect in our eyes. Bell chose Michigan over just a handful of schools, including Bowling Green and Cincinnati.
Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year Jelani Jenkins (Wheaton, Md./Good Counsel) accepted his invitation to play in the Under Armour All-America Game on Wednesday. Check out ESPN.com's new index page for up-to-date information on the game.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.