Commentary

Florida becoming tight end central

Not known for producing TEs, Florida might have the nation's top three this cycle

Originally Published: March 24, 2010
By Jc Shurburtt | ESPN Recruiting

Typically, the state of Florida is known for annually producing great receivers, defensive backs, running backs, defensive linemen and, well, players at just about every position except tight end.

This recruiting cycle, however, it's a different story, as there are at least three elite prospects at the position.

[+] EnlargeAC Leonard
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comFlorida-commit A.C. Leonard looks like a perfect fit for that offense.
Florida commit A.C. Leonard (Interlachen, Fla./Interlachen), Brandon Fulse (Fort Meade, Fla./Fort Meade) and Nick O'Leary (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) are among the nation's top prospects at their position and could end up being the top three when ESPN Recruiting releases the ESPNU 150 later this summer.

"Florida has a trio of excellent tight end prospects, and few states over the last five classes have been able to produce this many high-caliber tight end prospects in one class," said Craig Haubert, who evaluates tight ends for ESPN Recruiting and has seen all three in person this spring. "All three tight ends can really strengthen any roster."

Leonard, who recently dominated the Badger Sport Elite 7-on-7 in Tampa and was named to the 2011 Under Armour All-America game roster, is perhaps the most versatile of the group. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder can line up all over the field.

His coach and uncle, former Minnesota Vikings safety Willie Offord, praised his versatility and is contemplating playing him at quarterback this season.

"He's definitely a system type of tight end," Offord said. "He's athletic enough to line up in the No. 1 spot but is big enough and strong enough to line up against a defensive end head up. To be honest, the kid could start at middle linebacker for somebody. I know that some schools love him just as a receiver and not even a tight end, and certainly, him being committed to Florida is a good fit in their spread offense."

The buzz around Tampa during the Elite 7-on-7 was that Leonard would be a perfect fit at the spot Aaron Hernandez nailed down this past season.

Like Leonard, O'Leary is a complete prospect at the position. He has perhaps the best set of hands of any player in the country, and his offer list, which includes schools from coast to coast, reflects that.

"He's got the best hands of any player I've seen in 20 years of coaching high school football," said Dwyer coach Jack Daniels, who also raved about O'Leary's work ethic and leadership skills.

It's not a surprise O'Leary works hard. He has athletics in his blood. His father played football at Georgia, and his grandfather is golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, who some forget won an NCAA golf championship at Ohio State. Not surprisingly, the Bulldogs and Buckeyes are two schools to watch in the recruitment of the 6-3, 256-pounder.

Fulse first emerged at the national Under Armour All-America combine on New Year's Day. The 6-4, 246-pounder, who looks like a basketball power forward, is a strong in-line blocker and can punish defenders after the catch because of his size. He has a host of offers, including Florida, Florida State, Miami, Georgia and Tennessee among others, but is wide open right now. The best guess is that one of the in-state programs or perhaps Georgia will end up with him.

South Bend snippets
Here are some tidbits on Notre Dame recruiting.

• Wide receiver DaVaris Daniels (Vernon Hills, Ill./Vernon Hills) has the Irish as his leader. Daniels was impressive at the national Under Armour All-America combine and has numerous offers.

• Fast-rising offensive tackle Jordan Prestwood (Plant City, Fla./Plant City) will be in South Bend from March 25 through 28 for an unofficial visit. The Fighting Irish were one of the first teams to offer Prestwood, who has picked up offers from Florida, USC and others since then. Notre Dame always has been a big factor here and will be in it until the end.

• The Irish also are in good shape with another fast riser, quarterback Bubba Starling (Gardner, Kan./Edgerton). He plans to visit Notre Dame unofficially again in the near future. He also plans to check out Alabama (the Tide recently offered) and perhaps Miami and Texas Tech as well.

• There is confidence around South Bend that offensive lineman Matt Hegarty (Aztec, N.M./Aztec) should have the Irish in his top five when he narrows it down this summer.

Pipeline to Tuscaloosa continues
The Alabama pipeline from Gadsden City High in Gadsden, Ala., continued when receiver Daryl Collins committed to the Tide earlier this week. Sources familiar with Alabama recruiting believe Collins is a solid receiver prospect with a nice upside. Collins joins Dre Kirkpatrick, the nation's top-rated cornerback for 2009, and wide receiver Kendall Kelly, who also signed in 2009 out of the school. Linebacker Jerrell Harris signed in 2008.

Clinton-Dix living the dream
One of the top safety prospects in the country, Hasean Clinton-Dix (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) was named to the roster of the 2011 Under Armour All-America game last week and was excited about getting the nod.

"Since my sophomore year, I have been dreaming of playing in the Under Armour game," Clinton-Dix said. "I am blessed to be awarded to play in it."

Alabama, Florida, Miami, Florida State, Michigan, USC and others have offered Clinton-Dix. Right now, the Tide are in very good shape to land him.

Spartans the popular choice
Michigan State continues to make noise with in-state prospects, as athlete Taiwon Jones (New Baltimore, Mich./Anchor Bay) pulled the trigger on a commitment during the weekend.

This is not a surprise to WR DeAnthony Arnett (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw), who is arguably the state's top prospect. The quiet talk among the state's prospects that the Spartans are the popular choice over Michigan is getting louder and louder these days.

"It's no secret now," Arnett said. "They are a good school and have been recruiting me very hard. It's a receiver school, and you can't go wrong with them. Every receiver that wanted to be great at State made it to the league, so it's a great school."

Muhsin Muhammad, Plaxico Burress, Derrick Mason, Charles Rogers, Andre Rison, Mark Ingram Sr. and others have laid the groundwork for that tradition.

Arnett added that the Spartans, along with USC and Notre Dame, are currently recruiting him the hardest.

An underrated decision
Perhaps one of the most overlooked storylines in the early stages of the 2011 recruiting cycle is the commitment of ESPNU 150 watch list running back Bishop Sankey (Spokane, Wash./Gonzaga Prep) to Washington State. Sankey is a talented running back and a big commit for the Cougars.

"I just really like the atmosphere as well as the coaching staff," Sankey said. "They are an up and coming program, and I'd love to have the opportunity to contribute to their future success."

Philly DE stock is rising
Two-sport athlete Shawn Oakman (Lansdowne, Pa./Penn Wood) is a 6-8, 240-pound jumbo player who projects as a defensive end and is starting to receive more attention on the gridiron.

Penn State recently offered Oakman, who had 136 tackles and 17 sacks this past season. Rice and Saint Joseph's have offered in basketball.

"I think I'm quick off the ball," Oakman said. "I get under the pads well. I also have quick hands. I want to work on my technique and speed. Penn State, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Rutgers are my top schools. They are all equal."

Prospects headed to Eugene Oregon will play host to several top prospects for its junior day on the weekend of April 3. Defensive end Brennan Scarlett (Portland, Ore./Central Catholic), running back George Atkinson (Livermore, Calif./Grenada) and linebacker Trey Madden (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) are some of the early names who could potentially attend.

The Ducks also officially offered athlete Darius Jennings (Baltimore, Md./Gillman School) on Tuesday.

Short stuff
Linebacker James Vaughters (Tucker, Ga./Tucker) was planning to make an unofficial visit to Texas this weekend, but his father says a death in the family likely will cause them to reschedule those plans. ... Another standout Georgian, Under Armour All-American athlete Quan Bray (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway) plans to make an unofficial visit to Alabama this weekend. ... North Carolina is the latest program to jump in with an offer for 2011 Under Armour All-American cornerback Nick Waisome (Groveland, Fla./South Lake). ... Offensive lineman Trip Thurman (Dover, Del./Dover) has nearly a dozen offers and plans to visit South Carolina unofficially Thursday.

JC Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at jcsespn@aol.com.