After looking at this year's defensive class produced by the state of Florida, the safety position stands out pretty quickly. In fact, the strength of the entire position this year comes out of the Sunshine State, as the top four safety prospects in the country reside there, as do three other talented high-point defenders.
Florida State commits Karlos Williams (Davenport, Fla./Ridge Community) and Keelin Smith (Port Saint Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast), Alabama pledge Hasean Clinton-Dix (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) and Ole Miss verbal Gerrod Holliman (Miami/Miami Southridge) headline this selective group. Each has excellent size and sought-after physicality.
In our eyes there is not much separating the top two safeties (Williams and Clinton-Dix); however, Williams gets the nod because his 6-foot-2, 210-pound chiseled frame projects better to the college game.
ILB Tony Steward (St. Augustine, Fla./Pedro Menendez)
Steward is arguably the best-looking college prospect on the defensive side of the ball in the 2011 class. He has prototypical measurables (6-1, 225 pounds) and is perhaps the hardest-hitting linebacker we have evaluated since starting the ESPNU 150. Great pursuit speed, explosion and awesome power are what first stand out when watching this tackling machine. The comparisons to last year's No. 1 ILB from the Sunshine State, FSU commit Jeff Luc, are worthy but Steward is a step faster and has a bit more length on his frame. He is not just an explosive downhill run stacker; he doubles as a running back for Pedro Menendez, displaying his good athleticism and speed. The No. 9-ranked player in the ESPNU 150 is currently uncommitted, but will take official visits to Florida, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State and UCLA.
Remember this name
DT Nile Lawrence-Stample (Davie, Fla./Nova)
The Seminoles were one of the first programs to offer this one-time sleeper who has a lot of ability to develop in Tallahassee. An intriguing prospect to evaluate, Lawrence-Stample showed flashes of great athleticism playing linebacker at roughly 265 pounds last fall, but lacked a lot of experience with his hand on the ground as a projected defensive tackle. The now 300-pounder may take some time to polish in regards to hand technique and pass-rushing skill set, but Lawrence-Stample has rare athleticism at that size you can't coach. For a defender with his bulk, he is quick in the short area and should be able to create some disruption in the trenches if deployed in a shade technique as a one-gap defender. What makes you believe this ESPNU 150 DT has a chance to be a difference-maker up front is the evidence of good speed, burst and lateral quickness he shows for such a wide-bodied defender.
Taking up residence
Here are the colleges doing the best with defensive prospects from Florida.
FSU has done well in-state since Jimbo Fisher took over the reins in Tallahassee. In hopes of producing a stingy Seminoles defense, FSU has held on to some of the best defensive backs in its own backyard. Williams and Smith are two of the biggest and most athletic in the country. Smith's teammate, Lamarcus Brutus (Port Saint Lucie, Fla./Treasure Coast), is another top-15 safety committed to FSU and may be the most instinctive of the trio. Lawrence-Stample could be the wild card in this defensive class and will be joined by fellow Florida DT prospect Derrick Mitchell (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast), an active and versatile defensive lineman.
With three four-star defensive ends committed, including two in the ESPNU 150, to say ND has done well defensively in Florida would be an understatement. Brian Kelly and his staff are looking to the Sunshine State in an effort to make Notre Dame a stronger and faster defensive team. Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, Fla./Island Coast) is the No. 7-ranked end and while a bit raw, he can get after the quarterback and has nice upside. Anthony Rabasa (Miami/Christopher Columbus) will likely be deployed as a stand-up linebacker in ND's 3-4 and like Lynch he can collapse the pocket as a pass-rusher and is well-rounded. Clay Burton (Venice, Fla./Venice) has good size and could play with his hand on the ground at the end spot or could fit in the role of a rush outside linebacker. He runs well for his size and has good quickness off the ball to be a presence off the edge in South Bend.
At this stage, the Gators do not boast the in-state defensive talent they signed a year ago but still hold commitments from a few very talented defenders. Corner Nick Waisome (Groveland, Fla./South Lake) and projected outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) are rated in the top five nationally at their respective positions and both possess big-play talent. Waisome is one of the quickest and more instinctive cover corners in 2011 and the explosive Shazier could emerge as one of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers. Athlete Louchiez Purifoy (Pensacola, Fla./Pine Forest) was a late bloomer on the recruiting trail, but quickly emerged as teams saw his great size-to-speed measurables at defensive back on the camp circuit.
Ole Miss went into Florida and plucked out a nationally rated safety prospect in Holliman and an underrated corner in teammate Andrew Johnson (Miami/Miami Southridge). Rebels fans are probably aware of the great skill set they are getting in Holliman, but Johnson is a solid land as well. He lacks size but is savvy in coverage, finds the ball and comes up with a lot of big plays. Outside linebacker Serderius Bryant (Sanford, Fla./Seminole) does not possess prototypical size and speed on paper, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more productive and high-motored linebacker in the state of Florida.
The Crimson Tide hold two defensive commits out of Florida thus far -- one is great at pressuring the pass and the other excels at defending it. Clinton-Dix has all the physical tools for Nick Saban to mold him into in All-SEC defensive back sooner than later. D.J. Pettway (Pensacola, Fla./Catholic) is a physical defensive lineman who can cause some havoc at end and could potentially develop into a valuable swingman.
The Canes don't have a large group of in-state defenders currently on board, but ESPNU 150 defensive end Anthony Chickillo (Tampa, Fla./Alonso) was a great get. The bloodlines (Chickillo's father and grandfather both played for the Canes) appear to have helped Miami land the No. 8-ranked defensive end. Chickillo can anchor the run and pressure the quarterback with great hand usage.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for ESPN Recruiting and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school levels.