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Undrafted locals find NFL homes

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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

College football: Athlete update

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The top performances from former area stars in week five of the college football season. 

DB Dane Belton, Jr., Iowa: The former Jesuit standout had one of the Hawkeyes’ six interceptions in a win over Maryland.

QB Devin Black, Sr., Bethune Cookman: The former Armwood standout accounted for 258 yards (131 rushing, 127 passing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in a loss to South Carolina State.  

DL Zachary Carter, Sr., Florida: The former Hillsborough standout recorded three tackles and a sack in a loss to Kentucky.  

QB Austin Day, Sr., Marist: The former Clearwater standout threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Valparaiso. 

RB Jerome Ford, Jr., Cincinnati: The former Armwood star ran for 67 yards on 17 carries in a win over Notre Dame. 

RB Dominic Gonella, So., North Dakota State: The former Bloomingdale standout ran for 37 yards on seven carries in a win over North Dakota. 

WR Travell Harris, Sr., Washington State: The former Jesuit standout had seven catches for 46 yards in a win over California. 

DB Kym-Mani King, Jr., Iowa State: The former Mitchell standout recorded three tackles and picked off a pass in a win over Kansas. 

RB Keyvone Lee, So., Penn State: The former American Collegiate standout ran for 74 yards on eight carries in a win over Indiana. 

DB T.J. Limehouse, Jr., West Florida: The former Armwood standout recorded a team-high 16 tackles in a win over Delta State. 

LB Micah McFadden, Sr., Indiana: The former Plant star recorded eight tackles in a loss to Penn State. 

QB Braxton Plunk, Jr., Mount Union: The former Plant City standout threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Otterbein. 

QB Tyler Riddell, Fr., East Tennessee State: The former Chamberlain standout threw for 268 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wofford. 

WR Mike Roussos, Sr., Columbia: The former River Ridge standout averaged 19 yards per kickoff return and 15 yards per punt return in a loss to Princeton. 

RB Deon Silas, Fr., Iowa State: Ran for 30 yards and a touchdown on three carries in a win over Kansas. 

RB Brian Snead, Jr., Austin Peay: The former Armwood standout ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in a loss to Tennessee State. 

TE Michael Trigg, Fr., USC: The former Carrollwood Day/Seffner Christian standout had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in a win over Colorado. 

RB Treshaun Ward, Fr., FSU: The former Tampa Bay Tech standout accounted for 95 yards (66 rushing, 29 receiving) in a win over Syracuse. 

LB Kee Whetzel, Sr., West Florida: The former Countryside standout recorded 10 tackles and a ½ sack in a win over Delta State. 

WR Mario Williams, Fr., Oklahoma: The former Plant City star had three catches for 29 yards in a win over Kansas State. 

LB Stephon Williams, Jr., West Florida: The former Calvary Christian standout recorded five tackles and 1 ½ sacks in a win over Delta State. 

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College Football

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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