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Kiael Kelly’s Ball State commitment continues Group of Five local pipeline

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Kiael Kelly had offers from Illinois, Indiana and Syracuse, among others. Yet when the Gaither quarterback announced his commitment this past weekend, he spurned those Power Five schools and picked Ball State.

The Cardinals are rarely in the selection process among the bay area’s top recruits. After all, Kelly is the first local prospect to commit to the program in six years. 

Still, the choice should not be that surprising. 

Ball State is just the latest school from the Group of Five Conferences that has stood toe-to-toe with some major programs for top level talent by taking advantage of the current recruiting environment in college football. 

Last month, the NCAA extended the dead period to Aug. 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

That means college coaches cannot have physical interactions with any recruit. Campus visits, junior days, invitations to spring practice — all staples of the latest evaluation period — have been eliminated. 

Typically, big-time programs would blanket the state — and the country —to check out prospects during this time. Once a visit was scheduled, teams could show off their state-of-the-art weight rooms and athletic centers. 

That all changed this summer.

“We are all on the same playing field now,” former Bloomingdale coach Max Warner, now the quarterbacks coach at Bowling Green, said in April. “In the facilities arms race we can’t compete. We don’t have the recruiting staffs, or the media and graphic staffs as the Power Fives do but being in this situation we can try to out work them with a personal touch.”

That work is showing. 

Florida Atlantic already has three local commits in the Class of 2021: Tampa Catholic offensive linemen Jaden and Jordan Sandlin and Bloomingdale defensive back Jayden Williams. 

Buffalo landed a pair of bay area receivers, Lakewood’s Artez Hooker and Tampa Bay Tech’s Jamari Gassett, both of whom had offers from Power Five schools.

“I think the dead period has really given kids and parents a chance to really research schools and development relationships,” said Buffalo receivers coach Rob Ianello, who also serves as the program’s recruiting coordinator. “If they do it right they know more about you then they might normally. Both sides have a chance to do it right.”

Kelly, considered a three-star prospect by most recruiting outlets, started getting the attention of colleges after helping Jesuit reach the state semifinals each of the last two seasons. The offers kept coming after he transferred to Gaither in the offseason. 

His decision came down to a few simple factors. 

“(Ball State) believed in me and I have the opportunity to play early,” Kelly said.

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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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