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East Lake grad headlines local list of potential NFL picks

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Justin Strnad

The NFL draft starts Thursday and lasts through Saturday. Plenty of locals have the potential to be picked. The most likely candidate is Wake Forest linebacker Justin Strnad, a former star at East Lake who has been mentioned in nearly every mock draft. Below is the list of locals who could hear their name called. All were either on mock drafts or were selected to the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game or NFL Combine. 

Justin Strnad
Wake Forest’s Justin Strnad/Photo credit (including feature): Wake Forest Athletics

LB Justin Strnad, East Lake/Wake Forest

A team captain, Strnad was an all-ACC honorable mention selection this past season despite playing just eight games because of an arm injury. He still finished his senior season with 69 tackles, two sacks and an interception. Those helped Strnad land on the Bednarik Award watch list and get an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. He showed significant progress throughout his college career. As a sophomore, Strnad picked off three passes. He followed that by recording 105 tackles as a junior. Strand is the only local that has been in nearly every mock draft. He is projected to go anywhere between rounds 4-7.   

Mitch Wilcox
USF’s Mitch Wilcox/Photo credit: USF Athletics

TE Mitch Wilcox, Tarpon Springs/USF

The four-year starter is regarded as the best tight end in Bulls history. He set nearly every school record at the position, including career marks for receiving yards (1,326), receptions (100) and receiving touchdowns (11). Those numbers helped him become a Mackey Award candidate each of the last three seasons. More than just a dependable receiver, Wilcox routinely showed off his blocking ability and helped three USF rushers to 1,000-yard seasons (2016-18). He played in three bowl games, winning two, and was a three-time all-AAC selection. Wilcox also earned invitations to play in the East-West Shrine Game and take part in the NFL Combine. 

RB Tony Jones Jr., St. Petersburg Catholic/IMG/Notre Dame

A heralded high school prospect, Jones played in the Army All-American Game before heading to South Bend. He improved his rushing total each of the last three seasons with the Irish. As a senior, Jones became the 10th player in school history to have at least five 100-yard rushing games in one season, including a career-high 176 yards in a win over rival Southern California. He followed that with a 135-yard performance in a win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl, including an 84-yard touchdown that set the school record for the longest run in a bowl game. He finished this past season with 857 yards rushing and six touchdowns.

Sterling Hofrichter
Syracuse’s Sterling Hofrichter/Photo credit: Syracuse University Athletics

P Sterling Hofrichter, Armwood/Syracuse

A first-team all-state selection in high school, Hofrichter continued to receive acclaim throughout his college career. He was the Orange’s punter for all 49 games from 2016-19 and was a four-time Ray Guy Award candidate as the nation’s top punter. This past season, Hofrichter was one of three finalists for the award. His senior season was filled with plenty of other accolades, too. Hofrichter was selected to seven different All-America teams, becoming the first punter at the school to reach All-America status since Pat O’Neill (1991, ‘93). Finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in punting yards (11,651) and second in gross average (43.27) and punts (270).  

Darius Williams
Carson-Newman’s Darius Williams

DB Darius Williams, Northside Christian/Carson-Newman

After recording 65 tackles and picking off two passes in the first 10 games of his senior season, Williams tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, sidelining him for the final two games. Even worse, the injury prevented him from playing in the East-West Shrine Game at Tropicana Field. Still, that did not diminish the career he had at Carson-Newman. As a sophomore, Williams had 48 tackles and five interceptions, numbers that helped him become the school’s 122nd All-American. He followed that up by recording 55 tackles and an interception as a junior. 

OL Jake Fruhmorgen, Plant/Clemson/Baylor

A versatile lineman, Fruhmorgen can play just about any position in the trenches. At Plant, he was selected to play in the Army All-American Game. Fruhmorgen made a combined nine starts in his first two seasons at Clemson. He initially transferred to Florida and even enrolled in classes in 2017 before deciding to step away from football. Later that year, Fruhmorgen joined the Bears, where he played his final two seasons. His father, John, played at Alabama and for the Miami Dolphins.  

Brandon Walton
FAU’s Brandon Walton/Photo credit: FAU Athletics

OL Brandon Walton, Seminole/Florida Atlantic

The left tackle helped quarterback Chris Robison put up impressive stats thanks to solid protection.  Walton was a first-team All-Conference USA selection and the leader of a line that was a big reason the Owls and their high-octane offense won a conference title. In the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, Walton was part of a line that allowed just one sack and paved the way for 521 yards of offense. At least one publication had Walton going in the seventh round of the draft.  

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Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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College Football

Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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College Football

Football: Local list of 2022 commits

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The Tampa Bay area always produces a tremendous amount of football talent. This year is no different. Several seniors have already pledged their allegiance to colleges. Here is the list, which is expected to grow considerably in the next few months. 

Armwood

WR Kye Stokes

College: Ohio State

Berkeley Prep

LB TJ Bullard

College: UCF

TE CJ Hawkins

College: Florida

Related: Berkeley Prep’s CJ Hawkins commits to Florida

Calvary Christian

OL Preston Cushman

College: Mississippi

Carrollwood Day

DL Brandon Cleveland

College: North Carolina State

Clearwater Academy

CB Rhyland Kelly

College: Minnesota

Clearwater Central Catholic

LB Melvin Jordan 

College: Oregon State

Gaither

DL Mario Eugenio

College: Michigan

Hillsborough

RB Jordaan Bailey

College: Pittsburgh

DB Adrian Ramsey

College: Howard

LB Joseph Sipp Jr.

College: Colorado State

Jesuit

WR Jaydn Girard

College: Wake Forest

ATH Junior Vandeross

College: Toledo

Related: Jesuit’s Junior Vandeross commits to Toledo

King

OT Tony Livingston

College: Florida

Related: Tony Livingston transfers to King

Lakewood

TE Amari Niblack

College: Alabama

Pinellas Park

PK Robert Gunn III

College: Clemson

Related: Pinellas Park’s Robert Gunn III commits to Clemson

Sickles

WR Javohn Thomas

College: USF

Tampa Catholic

OL Chris Williams

College: Florida A&M

Wharton

LB Daveon Crouch

College: Boston College

Wiregrass Ranch

QB Rocco Becht

College: Iowa State

Related: Wiregrass Ranch’s Rocco Becht commits to Iowa State

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