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Looking back at the NFL locals taken in the 2019 draft



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 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

Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits



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



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



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. 


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


DL Mario Eugenio

College: Michigan


RB Jordaan Bailey

College: Pittsburgh

DB Adrian Ramsey

College: Howard

LB Joseph Sipp Jr.

College: Colorado State


WR Jaydn Girard

College: Wake Forest

ATH Junior Vandeross

College: Toledo

Related: Jesuit’s Junior Vandeross commits to Toledo


OT Tony Livingston

College: Florida

Related: Tony Livingston transfers to King


TE Amari Niblack

College: Alabama

Pinellas Park

PK Robert Gunn III

College: Clemson

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


WR Javohn Thomas

College: USF

Tampa Catholic

OL Chris Williams

College: Florida A&M


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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