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Undrafted locals find NFL homes



Mitch Wilcox

Three former area standouts were selected in the NFL Draft — Justin Strnad (East Lake/Wake Forest), Isaiah Rodgers (Blake/UMass) and Sterling Hofrichter (Armwood/Syracuse). That left plenty of other  locals who had to wait a little longer before signing as undrafted free agents. Here is the list of those who have signed so far. 

TE Mitch Wilcox, Cincinnati Bengals

High school: Tarpon Springs 

College: USF

USF’s Mitch Wilcox, a former standout at Tarpon Springs, spent the past weekend waiting to see his name scroll across the television as an NFL Draft pick.

It was hard for his neighbors in Tarpon Springs not to know Wilcox was a possible selection considering the banner that was placed on the side of the house.

For three days, Wilcox waited. The call never came. As an undrafted free agent, he spent the past two days fielding calls from teams before signing with the Bengals. Soon after, the family celebrated.

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.

Mitch Wilcox
Mitch Wilcox/Photo credit (including feature above): USF athletics

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., New Orleans Saints

High school: St. Petersburg Catholic/IMG

College: Notre Dame

The sturdy back was one of the first players the Saints signed as an undrafted free agent. 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.

WR George Campbell, New York Jets

High school: East Lake

College: FSU/West Virginia

Campbell, who spent four seasons at FSU, was a five-star recruit and the No. 3 receiver prospect in the class of 2015, according to 247Sports. In three seasons with the Seminoles (he redshirted in 2016), Campbell battled through numerous injuries and finished with 13 career catches for 206 yards. His best season was in 2017 when he had six catches for 122 yards. Campbell announced in February of last year that he would become a graduate transfer. He initially planned on going to Penn State, but changed his plans, opting to spend his final season in college at West Virginia. Campbell joined a Mountaineers offense that lost its top three receivers from last season.

CB Isaiah Brown, Buffalo Bills

High school: Tampa Bay Tech

College: FIU

This past weekend, Brown did not get the birthday present he wanted after being bypassed in the NFL draft. Still, it didn’t take long for him to get picked up. By signing with the Bills, Brown joins two other locals already on the roster: Ray-Ray McCloud (Sickles/Clemson) and Mike Love (Countryside/USF). Another area standout, Brandon Walton (Seminole/FAU), signed with the team as an undrafted free agent. As a senior at FIU this past season, Brown recorded 44 tackles and two interceptions.   

Brandon Walton
Brandon Walton/Photo credit: FAU Athletics

OL Brandon Walton, Buffalo Bills

High school: Seminole

College: FAU

The local list of Bills players grew with the addition of Walton as an undrafted free agent. The left tackle spent last season helping 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. 

DB Christian Angulo, New York Giants

High school: East Bay

College: Hampton

The former East Bay standout went on to have a productive college career. Angulo was the defensive MVP of the Chicago Football Classic thanks to his five pass breakups, three tackles and one interception that helped his team beat Howard.  He finished fifth in Division I-AA with 14 pass breakups this past season. Angulo was also named to the Big South All-Academic team, and was a second team All-Big South Conference selection.

OL Jackson Dennis, Arizona Cardinals

High school: Jesuit

College: Holy Cross

One of the anchors on Holy Cross’ line the past three seasons who helped the offense put up big numbers in the Patriot League. He joins Mason Cole (East Lake/Michigan) as the locals on the Cardinals’ line.

RB Napoleon Maxwell, Chicago Bears

High school: Admiral Farragut

College: FIU

After missing two season due to injury, Maxwell returned and became a dependable back, rushing for than 470 yards in each of his last three seasons. As a junior, he led the Panthers rushing attempts (128), yards (684) and touchdowns (7). This past season, Maxwell capped off his college career by rushing for 675 yards and tying for the team in touchdowns with nine.

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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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