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Football: Live early signing day updates

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This football signing cycle has been unlike any other. A dead period that has lasted for more than eight months. No live evaluations from coaches. No personal visits to check out campuses. Just about everything was done in a virtual setting because of the coronavirus pandemic. Which all leads to today, the start of the early signing period. Most of the ceremonies will not have as much fanfare as year’s past, due largely to social distancing requirements. But for the players, after months of Zoom meetings and virtual tours, will finally get some relief knowing where they will go to college. Better still, they will soon get to see their new campus — in person as a member of the team.

Check here for updates throughout the day.

A local flip

USF lost one of its commitments when Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, a three-star recruit, decided to attend Virginia Tech. Mamaudi had pledged his allegiance to the Bulls this summer and stuck with that commitment throughout most of the season. The Hokies became the first Power 5 school to offer in mid-November.

Two locals stay loyal to Illinois

East Lake’s Dylan Rosiek and Tampa Catholic’s DD Snyder both committed to Illinois this summer, in part because of their connection with head coach Lovie Smith.

Their devotion to the program was tested this week when Smith was relieved as coach. Still, it did not take long for the two to decide to stick with the Illini.

Rosiek made it official Wednesday morning.

Snyder, ranked among the nation’s top safeties, was not too far behind, making it official by late morning.

Nation’s top receiver is officially a Sooner

Plant City’s Mario Williams, the nation’s top-rated receiver according to ESPN, has officially signed with Oklahoma. Williams committed to the Sooners this summer. The two-sport star also plans to play baseball in college.

Florida’s class features plenty of area stars

Four local standouts — Armwood defensive lineman Desmond Watson, Armwood athlete Charles Montgomery, Jefferson tight end Gage Wilcox and Gaither defensive back Jordan Young — all made their commitments to Florida this summer and are expected to sign today.

Watson and Wilcox have already made it official.

Andrew Kilfoyl is the first local in USF’s class

Despite losing Carrollwood Day’s Desmond Mamudi, USF is expected to have plenty of area players in its early class. Gaither lineman Andrew Kilfoyl became the first, signing with the Bulls this morning. Kilfoyl’s older sister is former Academy at the Lakes softball star Lexi Kilfoyl, now at Alabama.

USF was not finished. Joining Kilfoyl as part of a strong contingent of locals was Clearwater receiver Cardrece Mobley and Clearwater Academy receiver Nickolas Tshivuadi. Both committed to the Bulls this summer and made it official on Wednesday.

Berkeley Prep’s RJ Garcia signs with Kansas State

RJ Garcia, a dynamic receiver for Berkeley Prep the past two seasons, made his college plans official by signing with Kansas State. He is the second Buccaneers player to join the Wildcats in the past two seasons. The other, Joshua Youngblood, had a stellar college debut as a kick returner last season before entering the transfer portal. Youngblood signed with Rutgers this morning.

Berkeley Prep ties pay off for Rutgers’ Greg Schiano

Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has plenty of connections to Berkeley Prep. After all, his son played at the private school . And Schiano spent two years volunteering with the football program following his departure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Those ties have paid off in recruiting. Two years ago, Schiano, then an assistant head coach at Ohio State, was instrumental in getting five-star Berkeley Prep offensive lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere to commit to the Buckeyes. When Schiano began his second stint taking over the Scarlet Knights this offseason, he landed another former Berkeley Prep standout in Mayan Ahanotu, who transferred from Minnesota. 

Now, add Austin Dean and Joshua Youngblood to the list. 

Dean, a linebacker/defensive lineman who helped the Buccaneers reach the Class 3A state semifinals, made it official by signing with Rutgers. He picked the Scarlet Knights over offers from Florida Atlantic, Harvard and Yale. 

Youngblood, who transferred from Kansas State, led the nation with three kickoff returns for touchdowns as a freshman last season and was named an All-American by several publications. He signed Wednesday morning, too.

Rutgers’ early class is expected to add another local, Tampa Bay Tech defensive lineman Henry Hughes. But there were some misses. The Scarlet Knights lost out on Clearwater Academy offensive lineman Albert Reese, who committed to Rutgers this summer before signing with Mississippi State.

Isaiah Bolden becomes first local recruit for Deion Sanders at Jackson State

Former FSU star and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders is filling out his first signing class at Jackson State by leaning heavily on transfers.

On Tuesday, Sanders’ son, Shilo, announced would be leaving South Carolina to play for his father.

Sanders added another prized prospect with former Wesley Chapel standout Isaiah Bolden signing with Jackson State on Wednesday. Bolden spent the past three years at FSU before entering the transfer portal in September. He announced his commitment to Jackson State in November.

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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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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