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Looking back at the NFL locals taken in the 2019 draft

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Diontae Johnson

The NFL draft starts Thursday. Here is a look at the three locals who were selected last year, led by all-purpose dynamo Diontae Johnson. 

Diontae Johnson
Diontae Johnson/Photo credit: Pittsburgh Steelers

WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

High school: Lennard

College: Toledo

Pick: Third round (66th overall)

The electrifying receiver and returner has made big plays his specialty since he was a star at Lennard. The highlights continued at Toledo, where he was a first-team All-Mid American Conference selection as a receiver in each of his last two seasons and was named the MAC special teams player as a senior in 2018. His versatility as a playmaker helped boost his draft stock last year.  The Steelers used the third round they acquired in the Antonio Brown trade with the Raiders on Johnson. Johnson stood out in his debut NFL season, finishing with 59 receptions for 660 yards and five touchdowns. His reception total was tops among rookie receivers last year and was one shy of tying the team rookie record. Johnson made an even bigger impact on special teams, leading the league with an average of 12.4 yards per return. That earned him second-team All-Pro honors as a punt returner.   

Amani
Amani Oruwariye/Photo credit: Detroit Lions

CB Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions

High school: Gaither

College: Penn State

Pick: Fifth round (146th overall)

As a junior with the Nittany Lions, Oruwariye had a breakthrough season, intercepting four passes to earn second-team all-Big Ten honors, the first cornerback from the program to hold that distinction in eight years. Better still, he did it despite spending the 2017 season as a reserve. A year later, Oruwariye became a full-time starter and was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior. He tied for the team lead with three interceptions to go along with 51 tackles. Projected to go in the second or third round, Oruwariye fell to the fifth. He played in nine games as a rookie with two starts and finished with 19 tackles and two interceptions. 

Byron Cowart
Byron Cowart/Photo credit: Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman

DL Byron Cowart, New England Patriots

High school: Armwood

College: Auburn/Maryland

Pick: Fifth round (159th overall) 

The anchor of Armwood’s defensive line, Cowart was ranked as the nation’s top overall recruit by most recruiting services as a senior. He began his career at Auburn, where he had a combined 12 tackles his first two seasons. Cowart left and sat out his junior season before transferring to Maryland. As a senior, Cowart played a pivotal role for the Terrapins in the trenches, recording 38 tackles and two interceptions. His rookie season with the Patriots was spent as a reserve, and he finished with two tackles.

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College Football

Former PHU/UCF star Jacob Harris goes to Rams in 4th round

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Jacob Harris, a former star at Palm Harbor University and Central Florida, was taken in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft.

He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns.

Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns.

With the Rams, Harris will join former East Lake star Tyler Higbee in a group of tight ends that features plenty of locals.  

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College Football

The local list of potential NFL picks

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The NFL Draft concludes Saturday. Plenty of locals have the potential to be picked. Below is the list of former area stars who could hear their name called. All were either on mock drafts or were selected to an all-star game or NFL Combine. 

Photos courtesy of UCF Athletics

TE Jacob Harris, Palm Harbor University/UCF

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft. He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns. Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns. 

OL Shane McGough, Gaither/Florida International

The younger brother of former Gaither and FIU quarterback Alex McGough redshirted as a freshman before becoming a consistent starter on the Panthers’ offensive line. He was an all-Conference USA honorable mention selection in 2018 and 2020. This past season, McGough started in four of FIU’s five games as a center.  

WR Antonio Nunn, Jefferson/Buffalo

Nunn, a dynamic deep threat at Jefferson, redshirted his first season at Buffalo before rocketing up the depth chart. He started every game the past two seasons, finishing with a combined 86 catches for 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns. Nunn was a third-team all-MAC selection in 2019 and second-team selection this past season. 

Photo courtesy of Indiana University Athletics

WR Whop Philyor, Plant/Indiana

A first-team, all-state selection at Plant, Philyor became Indiana’s most dependable receiving target during his college career. He finished with 2,316 all-purpose yards (2,067 receiving, 134 rushing, 66 kick return, 49 punt return) in 38 games (22 starts).Philyor also is the Hoosiers’ s all-time leader in double-digit catch games (7), ranks fourth in receptions (180), fourth in 100-yard games (7), ninth in yardage (2,067) and is tied for 16th in touchdowns (12). He capped off his career by setting a Big Ten bowl and Outback Bowl record with 18 receptions for 81 yards. 

DL Justus Reed, CCC/Virginia Tech

A first-team, all-state selection, Reed led Clearwater Central Catholic to its only state final appearance as a senior in 2013. He started out at Florida before spending three seasons at Youngstown State. This past season, Reed transferred to Virginia Tech as a graduate student. He started in 10 of the Hokies’ 11 games, finishing with 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks.  

Photo courtesy of USF Athletics

DB K.J. Sails, East Bay/USF

A highly touted high school recruit, Sails spent his first three years in college at North Carolina before transferring to USF. As a junior, he led the Bulls in interceptions with three and recorded 22 tackles this past season. Sails gained notoriety this past summer when he organized a unity walk during the social justice movement that was attended by about 400 teammates, coaches, administrators and community members.  

Oregon's Jordon Scott/Photo credit: Oregon Athletics
Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics

DL Jordon Scott, Pinellas Park/Oregon

The three-star high school prospect originally committed to Florida before signing with Oregon. He immediately became a force on the Ducks’ defensive line, earning FWAA freshman all-America honors in 2017. Scott opted to return to Oregon as a senior rather than turn pro and helped the Ducks reach the Pac-12 title game for the second straight season. 

Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics Communications

TE Pro Wells, Hollins/Texas Christian

As a senior at Hollins, Wells had a breakout season, finishing with 31 catches for 952 yards and five touchdowns. He played at Milford Academy and Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he became the No. 4 JUCO tight end in the nation. After redshirting in 2018 at Texas Christian, Wells turned a reliable red-zone target and led the team in touchdown receptions each of the past two seasons. 

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College Football

Tre McKitty goes to Chargers in the third round

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Georgia tight end Tre McKitty, who spent time at Wesley Chapel and Tampa Catholic before transferring to IMG Academy, was selected at the end of the third with the Los Angeles Chargers’ compensatory pick (97th overall). 

He becomes the first player with area ties taken in this year’s draft. 

A three-star recruit at IMG, McKitty started his college career at Florida State, where he played in 35 games and caught 50 passes for 520 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

McKitty (photo above courtesy of UGA Athletic Association) went to Georgia as a graduate assistant this past season. He finished with six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. 

The Chargers have a knack for bringing in local talent. Former Admiral Farragut standout Rayshawn Jenkins was selected in the fourth by the Chargers in 2017. Sean Culkin (Indian Rocks Christian/Missouri) and Artavis Scott (East Lake/Clemson) spent time with team as undrafted free agents.  

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