First Coast boasts first-class talent
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- First Coast High School has earned the reputation for being one of the top talent-producing programs in northern Florida, and the classes of 2011 and 2012 will perhaps be the best yet for the program.
In recent years, players like Ryan Stamper (Florida), Nigel Carr, Jermaine Thomas and Avis Commack (Florida State) and Shaq Wilson (South Carolina) have come out of First Coast and made an impact at the college level.
In the 2010 class, Clemson signed defensive end Tavares Barnes after the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder had been committed to Florida State for most of the process.
But the next two cycles could outshine the rest from a sheer talent standpoint. Here's a look at the prospects:
Class of 2011
Derrick Mitchell, DT: Mitchell, who committed to Florida State on Tuesday night, is a 6-foot-6, 290-pound defensive tackle prospect with tremendous upside. Mitchell transferred into First Coast from Wolfoson High this past season and blossomed under the direction of defensive coordinator Fred Culver. He had multiple scholarship offers before committing to FSU, where his father played basketball.
Eric Beverly, RB: Beverly was one of the Seminoles' early commitments for the 2011 class. The talented running back has good vision and soft hands for catching the ball out of the backfield.
Jared Henry, S: Henry, who transferred in from Jackson High, picked up his first scholarship offer, from Maryland, earlier this week. He has a reputation as a hard-hitting safety and is an outstanding student. Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.), Syracuse, North Carolina State, Duke and Iowa State are among the programs showing interest, in addition to the Terps. Henry had 100 tackles last season.
Daron White, RB/WR: The speedy White ran one of the fastest times in the 40-yard dash at the Jacksonville Under Armour Combine, a 4.45. The 5-foot-8, 180-pounder averaged 10 yards per carry last season behind Beverly. Georgia Tech is one of the programs showing heavy interest.
Kenneth Myers, WR: Myers is a 6-foot-3 receiver who averaged more than 18 yards per catch last season. Memphis, Central Florida and Florida State are showing attention. Myers also looked good at the Jacksonville Under Armour Combine earlier this month.
Chris Mixson, LB: The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Mixson is a big hitter who has the chance to earn a Division I scholarship this season.
Louis Fields, DT: Fields may be a bit undersized to play in FBS, but he's an outstanding interior defensive tackle prospect for an FCS or Division II program. He's quick off the ball, and he's strong, with a 335-pound bench press.
Chris Terry, DE: Terry is the son of former University of Georgia and NFL player Chris Terry, who is a Jacksonville native and played at Ribault High. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder sat out last season because of academics (parent's decision) and has the frame and athleticism to be an excellent defensive end. The Bulldogs are showing interest, along with a number of other programs.
Class of 2012
Chris Black, WR: Black could be one of the top prospects at his position in the country during the 2012 recruiting cycle. Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Clemson and South Carolina are among the early verbal offers for Black. The Sunshine State has several talented prospects at this position for 2012. Avery Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla./Ely) and Latroy Pittman (Citra, Fla./North Marion) are two more getting early buzz in addition to Black.
Shaquille Beverly, CB: The younger brother of Eric, Shaquille Beverly is a physical defensive back who had more than 20 tackles in the secondary as a sophomore last season. Obviously, Florida State will be a factor when the time comes.
Brandon Brooks, WR: Brooks caught 76 passes for Episcopal High in Jacksonville as a sophomore before heading to First Coast. The coaches there are high on his potential athletically and also love his high character.
Justin Osborne, WR: Osborne is the third rising junior receiver at First Coast with Division I potential.
Wittek is next at Mater Dei
The same high school program that produced Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart of USC (now with the Arizona Cardinals), Washington Redskins and former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan and Southern California starter Matt Barkley in the past decade has another Division I prospect at signal-caller for the 2011 class.
Matt Wittek (Santa Ana, Calif./Mater Dei) threw for 2,158 yards and 15 touchdowns last season (his first as a starter, taking over for Barkley) and has scholarship offers from California, Clemson, Duke, Florida, North Carolina, UCLA and Oregon State. He is getting attention from other programs, including USC, as well.
"I definitely got a lot better as the season went on," Wittek said. "By the end of the season, our offense was unstoppable almost. My confidence and level of play was raised considerably as the season went on. We have a great coaching staff here and we all knew what we were doing."
Wittek moved to California from Connecticut prior to high school, so he could go to school at and play football for Mater Dei. Following in the footsteps of Barkley, Leinhart and the others is not the easiest thing.
"I love being the quarterback at Mater Dei," Wittek said. "Sometimes you get a lot of attention from the teachers and the other kids, but it is all in fun. It's a fun experience for sure."
As for his college choice, Wittek says he is not bound by geography.
"I literally will go anywhere in the country," he said. "I came all the way out here just for high school, so I am not afraid to go anywhere if it is the best fit."
The best fit, according to Wittek, will be a place with a pro-style offense, a great campus atmosphere and where he gets along with the coaching staff.
"I am going to wait and visit some of the schools [unofficially this spring and summer] before I develop any leaders or anything," he said. "I want to see what all of these places are about."
Gators looking for quarterbacks
Florida does not have much in terms of quarterback depth behind next year's projected starter, John Brantley, so look for the Gators to potentially attempt to sign two prospects at that position in this year's class.
Many believe that Christian LeMay (Matthews, N.C./Butler) is a similar prospect to Chris Leak. Like Leak, Lemay is from the Charlotte area. LeMay threw 44 touchdowns and only had two interceptions last season. He is widely considered to be one of the top prospects at his position in the country for the 2011 class. Florida must beat out nearly 40 other programs for LeMay, but the Gators are strongly in the mix.
Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty) picked up an offer from the Gators shortly after an impressive showing at the Under Armour All-American Combine on New Year's Day near Orlando. The 6-foot-4, 224-pounder has a big arm and good speed (he was timed at 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Driskel was impressed with the Gators during a recent visit for a junior day. Auburn has been on him for a long time as well.
Florida also has offered Wittek, and given his openness to playing anywhere in the country and the Gators' success in California for the 2010 class (the nation's top prospect, defensive end/athlete Ronald Powell, was from Rancho Verde in Moreno Valley and signed with the Gators, as did elite cornerback Joshua Shaw of Palmdale), you can expect Florida to be in the mix.
One situation to watch very closely as it relates to blue-chip quarterbacks, Florida and this class is the Tim Tebow situation. If Tebow's draft stock is lowered and there is talk about him as being unprepared to play in the NFL because of Florida's scheme, opposing recruiters will try to use that against the Gators at that position. With that, it's hard to say that it will matter a whole lot given the recruiting success the program has had in spite of negativity. Simply put, the Gators are a bit untouchable right now on the recruiting trail, so it's likely going to take more than some talk about Tebow's draft status to have a damaging impact.
Stock rising for Ohio OL
Chase Hounshell (Kirtland, Ohio/Lake Catholic) is starting to see his stock rise as he recently picked up a BCS conference offer and is expecting more.
"Recruiting is going really well," he said. "I visited Vanderbilt last week and loved everything about it. They offered. After that, I went to Cincinnati and they said they want to watch just a little more film, but things are looking good for them to offer, too."
Michigan, Michigan State and Virginia also have been showing interest.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pounder, who has a bench press max of 350 pounds, said that he plans to visit Ohio State and Purdue this coming weekend. He grew up, as most do in Ohio, a fan of the Buckeyes.
LSU makes an impression on Flowers
Offensive lineman Sedrick Flowers (Galena Park, Texas/North Shore) attended LSU's junior day last weekend, and the Tigers made an impression. LSU told Flowers he would have a chance to play defensive tackle, which is where he wants to play in college despite being one of the top offensive guard prospects in the country.
Texas and LSU are the top two, with the Longhorns considered to be the favorite. He also has offers from Alabama, USC, Texas A&M, Kansas, TCU, Oklahoma State and Houston. Junior-day visits to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma are possibilities. He has attended Houston, Texas and LSU junior days.
Oklahoma State has pair from Denton Guyer
The Cowboys struck gold in quarterback J.W. Walsh and picked up a second Guyer 2011 prospect Tuesday in defensive end Jimmie Bean. Bean, who measures at 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, had offers from Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota and Houston.
Guyer has two other junior prospects with offers: corner Josh Stewart and receiver Quinten Gardener. Wake Forest and Iowa have offered Stewart, while Iowa has offered the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Gardener.
Linebacker Steve Edmond (Dangerfield, Texas) committed to Texas earlier this week, becoming pledge No. 14 in the 2011 class. Some believe the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder may be the best player to date to commit to Texas. Pittsburgh joined South Carolina in offering defensive end Deion Barnes (Philadelphia, Pa./Northeast) on Tuesday. "The coaches [at Pitt] say that I fit into their defensive system and I agree," Barnes said. "The academics are good at Pittsburgh. They led the nation in sacks last year and have some defensive ends projected as first-round picks. It looks good." ESPNU150 watch list wide receiver Rashad Greene (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Saint Thomas Aquinas) visited Florida State unofficially during the weekend for the Seminoles' junior day and liked what he saw. New Mexico hired former Tennessee and South Carolina assistant David Reaves as its quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator recently. Reaves, who is Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin's brother-in-law, is a solid recruiter with good connections to the Tampa Bay area. To have the year they did on the field, Mike Locksley & Co. had a good recruiting year, and Reaves will add to that. ESPNU 150 athlete Miles Shuler (Long Branch, N.J./Long Branch) recently ran the nation's top 55-meter dash time at the Eastern States Championships meet in New York.
JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.