Commentary

Explosive McDaniel leads Madison County into "Bowden Bowl"

Originally Published: October 30, 2008
By Christoher Lawlor | ESPN.com

Jacobbi McDaniel is blessed with one great set of hips. They pivot quickly, tracking the ball carrier who seeks a crease in the line. They swivel like Chubby Checker dancing the Twist.

To say McDaniel can bust a move dancing the Wu-tang to the hip-hop beats of Pretty Ricky is an understatement.

"The girls love my dance moves," he said, laughing.

McDaniel, a defensive tackle at Madison County High in Madison, Fla., has the right moves on the field, too. He is a throwback player who sacks the notion that size (he's 6-foot-2, 280 pounds) always matters.

"Never mind his size; he's generates so much power from those explosive hips," Madison County coach Frankie Carroll said.

Those hips nearly powered him into another sport.

McDaniel, a left-handed hitter and third baseman, was a pro baseball prospect who regularly launched parabolic shots into the Florida night. Despite slugging 13 home runs and batting nearly .600 as a junior, McDaniel isn't the next Prince Fielder.

He says explosive hips and bat speed helped him drive tape-measure homers. As for football, "my hips enable me to beat double- and triple-teams while using proper hand technique."

McDaniel retired his bat and glove this past spring and will concentrate solely on football at Florida State. He'll enroll in January, and the next long ball he'll encounter will be one uncorked by a quarterback.

High School Bowden Bowl

The Seminoles have already received 19 verbal commitments, including 14 from the state of Florida. Here's a thumbnail of the three Florida State recruits (analysis provided by ESPN Scouts Inc.):

• McDaniel: "Overcomes his size deficiencies by routinely winning the leverage battle; defeats many bigger opponents by getting into a blocker's frame quickly, staying low and getting under his man's pads."

• Thompson: "Runs with a low center of gravity... Bounces off tackles and is surprisingly productive after contact. Has the speed and second gear to split defenders on the second level. He's very elusive in the open field and loses little on his lateral cuts."

• Downs: "Has a very wide catch radius and quick hands. Catches everything with his hands extended away from his body -- a big edge in traffic or jump-ball situations. Attacks the ball and is very competitive in every phase of the game."

Thompson, who rushed for more than 2,200 yards as a junior, is off that pace this year and is recovering from an ankle sprain but is expected to have plenty of touches against Godby.

"He's fought through adversity and he won't it get to him; the injury has tested his character," Carroll said.
-- Lawlor

With McDaniel, the No. 1 defensive tackle prospect in the ESPN 150, nearly 100 percent following an ankle injury suffered last month, Madison County, No. 39 in the ESPN RISE 50 national rankings, is headed for prime time.

Friday's game against Godby (Tallahassee), broadcast at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU, will give Florida State faithful a glimpse of their future. McDaniel and teammate Chris Thompson will oppose Godby's slick wide receiver Willie Downs in the "Bowden Bowl," referring to Bobby Bowden, the trio's future college coach.

Besides providing Great Bend bragging rights, the game pits two of Florida's top-ranked undefeated small schools. Madison (6-0), the defending Class 2A champion, is No. 7 in Florida's all-class poll, while Godby (7-0) is No. 17.

"Win, lose or draw, a game like this can only help both teams," Godby coach Shelton Crews said. "Playing a team the caliber of Madison only prepares you down the road for the state playoffs."

Said Carroll: "It's been crazy here all week. People calling for tickets, but the game's on ESPN. How many high school kids get that opportunity?"

When the opportunity arose for McDaniel to fulfill a lifelong dream to sign with the Seminoles, he jumped.

"How many players his size consistently run a 4.7 in the 40?" Carroll said.

McDaniel spurned offers from Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Georgia. He chose the Seminoles for several reasons but mostly because the program traditionally places several down linemen and defenders in the NFL.

In the past five years, Florida State has sent 10 defensive linemen or ends to the NFL. Over the years, the Seminoles have produced defensive standouts such as Deion Sanders, Derrick Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Bobby Butler and Corey Simon. McDaniel favors former Noles defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, now of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Florida State's proximity to Madison (Tallahassee is a 45-minute drive), coaching staff (notably defensive tackle coach Odell Haggins) and NFL lineage were key recruiting factors.

"I'd be lying if playing in the NFL isn't a personal goal, and coach Haggins is one of the best," McDaniel said.

Haggins has coached four first-round picks since 1998 -- Bunkley (2006), Travis Johnson (Houston, 2005), Simon (Philadelphia, 2000) and Andre Wadsworth (Arizona, 1998).

McDaniel, who along with Thompson will play in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4 at Orlando's Citrus Bowl, aspires to that lofty level but remains focused on repeating as Florida's 2A state champions and positive results against Godby.

The Godby Cougars are riding high entering Friday's game and mostly recently clobbered Wakulla 40-0. Downs might be the team's most versatile game-breaking player, Crews said, but 6-4 quarterback A.J. Graham, a three-year starter and major prospect, is the linchpin.

"It all starts with [A.J.]," Crews said. "We hope to protect him, give him time to pass. Defending a player like Jacobbi is like playing against 12 players.

"He's undoubtedly the best at his position in the nation. He has great feet and is strong as an ox and makes their defense go."

Last week, Downs made five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown while Graham threw for 293 yards and two scores and ran for another against Wakulla. Junior running back Lavorie Johnson, another weapon for the Cougars, ran for 89 yards and two TDs.

Godby's multifaceted offense starts with the spread, but its athleticism allows it to shift into formations rooted in the West Coast, Power and Arena League with Graham as the firing pin.

Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc., likes the exceptional athleticism on both sidelines.

"This is one of the best matchups we've shown [on the ESPN family of networks] this year," he said. "There is so much skill on the field, plus this is a small-town America game. This town is high school football all the way, with a big college atmosphere and feel. You can't ask for anything more."

Carroll estimates at least 5,000 will pack Madison County's field, known as Boot Hill. Madison has a population of 3,195 and is the county seat of Madison County.

With three future Seminoles on the field, led by McDaniel, talent abounds.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also for worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, where he ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y. and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.