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Looking back at the NFL locals from the 2018 draft

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Griffin twins

Lakewood ruled this draft with three players from the school selected within the first five rounds, including the feel-good story with Shaquem Griffin being reunited with his twin brother Shaquill in Seattle. There were plenty of other area stars who have not only stayed in the NFL but also made an impact. Here is a look back at the local picks in 2018. 

Isaiah Wynn
Isaiah Wynn/Photo credit: Courtesy of the New England Patriots/David Silverman

OL Isaiah Wynn, New England Patriots

High school: Lakewood 

College: Georgia

Pick: Round 1 (23rd overall)

As a first round selection, Wynn not only added to Lakewood’s NFL legacy but also became the highest draft pick ever among area offensive linemen. Former Armwood and Florida standout Mike Pearson, who was selected 40th overall by Jacksonville in the 2002 draft, currently holds that distinction. Wynn battled through injuries his first two seasons, including a torn Achilles that sidelined him his rookie season in 2018 when the Patriots won the Super Bowl. He came back from a toe injury and started the final six games of the season, including his first postseason appearance in the AFC wild card loss to the Tennessee Titans. 

Mason Cole
Mason Cole/Photo credit: Arizona Cardinals

OL Mason Cole, Arizona Cardinals

High school: East Lake

College: Michigan

Pick: Third round (97th overall)

An Army All-American selection, Cole graduated early and quickly became a fixture for Michigan in the trenches. In 2014, he became the first true freshman offensive lineman to ever start a season opener for the Wolverines. Cole showed his versatility throughout his college career, playing just about every position on the line. He was a second-team all-Big Ten selection in each of his final two seasons at Michigan. By going in the third round, Cole became the highest-selection ever from East Lake. In 2018, he started all 16 games at center for the Cardinals. Cole was used mostly as a backup interior lineman this past season, starting two games at left guard. 

Shaquem Griffin
Shaquem Griffin/Photo credit: Seattle Seahawks

LB Shaquem Griffin, Seattle Seahawks

High school: Lakewood

College: UCF

Pick: Round 5 (141st overall)

Griffin has always defied odds. At Lakewood, he excelled in track and football, despite having just one hand. He joined his twin brother, Shaquill, at UCF. After being stuck on the bench for two seasons, Shaquem wanted to leave. He stayed. So did his brother. It was the right move. Shaquem thrived as a linebacker in his final two seasons with the Knights. Still, he was a longshot to make an NFL roster. Shaquem was a late invitee to the combine. No matter. He used his track skills to make headlines by running the 40-yard dash in a jaw-dropping 4.38 seconds.The Seattle Seahawks saw enough. They took him in the fifth round, a move that reunited him with Shaquill.

In two seasons, Shaquem has recorded a combined 16 tackles.  

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers

High school: Lakewood

College: USF

Pick: Round 5 (174th overall)

The two-sport star showed off his track speed in college, first at North Carolina State (2013-14), then at USF (2016-17). Valdes-Scantling’s breakout season came as a senior with the Bulls when he set career highs for receptions (53), yards (879) and touchdowns (6). That got the attention of NFL teams. In Valdes-Scantling’s first two seasons with the Packers, he became a dependable target with a combined 64 catches for 1,033 yards and 4 touchdowns.    

WR Deon Cain, Pittsburgh Steelers

High school: Tampa Bay Tech

College: Clemson

Pick: Round 6 (185th overall by the Indianapolis Colts)

After helping Clemson win the national title in 2016, Cain played one more season before declaring for the NFL Draft. Selected by the Colts in the sixth round, Cain tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during the 2018 preseason ending his rookie campaign. He had four catches for 52 yards with the Colts last season before being released in November. After getting picked up by the Steelers, Cain had five catches for 72 yards.    

WR Ray-Ray McCloud, Buffalo Bills

High school: Sickles

College: Clemson

Pick: Round 6 (187th overall)

At Sickles, McCloud became Hillsborough County’s all-time leading rusher, a record that was eventually passed by Malik Davis (Jesuit/Florida). In three years at Clemson. McCloud became a multidimensional force. He left after his junior season to declare for the draft. Picked by the Bills in the sixth round. McCloud bounced around his first two seasons and is now back in Buffalo for his second stint with the team.  

QB Alex McGough, Seattle Seahawks

High school: Gaither

College: FIU

Pick: Round 7 (220th overall)

After a stellar career at FIU, McGough was taken by the Seahawks. He spent just one season with the team before spending the 2019 offseason and preseason with Jaguars. Waived in August of that year, McGough signed with the Texans and is still with the team under a reserve/futures contract. 

WR Auden Tate, Cincinnati Bengals

High school: Wharton

College: FSU

Pick: Round 7 (253rd overall)

The former Wharton and FSU star was one of the final picks of the 2018 draft. Still, Tate did more than survive being cut. Last season, he became one of the Bengals’ best offensive weapons. Before being put on injured reserve in December of last year, Tate was the team’s second-leading receiver with 40 catches for 575 yards and a touchdown. 

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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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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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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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