Irish after Wilder, Story
TAMPA, Fla. -- One of the top prospects in the country continued to be specify which position he prefers to play in college, and several fast risers impressed at the Elite Scouting Combine on Saturday at Jefferson High.
Athlete James Wilder II (Tampa, Fla./Plant) was the top overall prospect at the event and impressed as usual in drills and one-on-ones. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder said in an interview after the event that he still wants to play running back in college, even though many believe that linebacker is his best position.
"Those that say that just drive me to work even harder and prove them wrong," Wilder said. Georgia Tech, Michigan State and Notre Dame recently joined Alabama and others in recruiting him as a running back, he said.
Wilder is focusing on spring football practice, which is just around the corner, and is getting ready to take some unofficial visits in the summer. Schools may not receive much notice as to when Wilder will show.
"I like to go on unofficial visits and just call coaches up and ask if it is OK if I show up at a certain time," Wilder said. "On the official visit, I know that everything is going to be perfect. That's why I like to take unofficial visits, because then you get to find out how things really are."
Wide receiver Ja'Juan Story (Brooksville, Fla./Nature Coast) had a dominant performance and continued his rise toward being one of the top prospects at his position in the nation.
The 6-3, 190-pounder ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash. He used his speed, size and hands to make several impressive plays during one-on-ones.
"It was fun competing with some of the best local athletes," Story said.
He has more than 20 scholarship offers at this point.
"It's been hard work and dedication pretty much," Story said. "I come out to practice, and I work hard and give it 110 percent. Plus, I am successful. That's pretty much how I have done it. I have to see all of the opportunities out there. I am just going to have to take it slow."
Story said that Notre Dame is recruiting him intensely, although the Irish have not offered. Kentucky, Pittsburgh and North Carolina have been coming at him the hardest, Story said. Locally, Florida State and Miami have offered. The Seminoles were the first to offer.
"In the summer, I am going to visit a whole bunch of out-of-state schools," Story said. "I have visited a bunch of in-state schools except Florida and Miami, but I plan to visit them real soon. Then, during the summer, up north I go."
From a football standpoint, he has several things he wants to work on as well.
"I have to work on my route-running," he said. "I need to get that more crisp. I also want to work on my takeoff off the line."
DeBell shows out
Like Story, offensive tackle Zach DeBell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./Tarpon Springs) has emerged during the past four months. The 6-6, 265-pounder did 20 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press (his personal best) and was solid in one-on-one drills.
DeBell recently picked up offers from Louisville and Kentucky to bring the total to 13. But he is putting visits on hold for now.
"My folks and I haven't planned anything," he said. "I am taking the SAT on May 1, so I've just been focused on that and keeping my grades up. I would like to get out and see Missouri, Michigan and Maryland at some point. Missouri especially, they've been recruiting me very hard."
DeBell also said he would like to return to Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia. Those trips were not very long, he said, and he wants to return to check out things such as the dorms where the football players live and other aspects of each program.
Wide receiver/athlete Ruben Gonzalez (Tampa, Fla./Robinson) had an excellent showing. The 6-3, 197-pounder tested well (19 reps of 185 and 4.65 in the 40). His most impressive skills were on display in one-on-ones, during which he caught everything, moved extremely well and showed good hands.
Gonzalez also has the right size and enough athleticism to perhaps project as a safety or linebacker in college.
"This combine was all about competition, of course," he said. "I am very big on competing, so I just had to show up and show my talents, and I came out successful on just about every chance I got, except for on one bad throw."
Western Kentucky is his only FBS scholarship offer at this point. South Florida, Rutgers and Georgia Tech have showed strong interest.
Cards after Francois
Defensive lineman/linebacker Giovanni Francois (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast) had an excellent combine, as he looked good in drills and ran a 4.51-second shuttle. On the recruiting front, one Big East program is coming after him harder than any other.
"Louisville is recruiting me the hardest," Francois said. "One of their coaches is supposed to come by the school and check on me this coming week. They are coming after me harder than anybody."
Francois added that Florida International and Alabama, which has not offered but is evaluating him at its Jack linebacker position in its 3-4 defense, are also coming after him hard.
Another Freedom linebacker
Linebacker Keith Lewis (Tampa, Fla./Freedom) has been one of the hottest names on the combine circuit this spring. His teammate and fellow linebacker Anthony Harrell is another to look out for. The 6-1, 211-pounder looked good in one-on-ones and ran two outstanding times in the L-cone (6.94 seconds) and short-shuttle (4.19) drills. Duke has verbally offered. Harrell had 125 tackles, 7 sacks and 2 interceptions last season for Freedom.
Lewis also had another outstanding showing (he showed excellent lateral movement and coverage skills during one-on-ones) and is approaching 10 scholarship offers.
Sleeper at Seminole
Wide receiver Roger Dixon Jr. (Sanford, Fla./Seminole) may not be the biggest player on the field at 5-9, 150 pounds, but he is one of the fastest. Dixon, the son of a former University of Florida sprinter, used his speed to get open and burn defensive backs multiple times in one-on-one drills.
Dixon also ran the second-fastest 40 time (4.44 seconds) at the event and posted a 4.09-second shuttle and 7.0 L-cone. He is still looking for his first scholarship offer but has interest from Louisiana-Lafayette and a number of other programs.
Red Raiders on top
Texas Tech is the leader for linebacker/athlete Ramik Wilson (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson).
"They are at the top," he said. "I am supposed to be going out there for a visit this summer and then want to go out there and watch them play Texas for my official visit."
Wilson also has offers from Illinois, Purdue, Iowa State, Memphis, South Florida and East Carolina. The 6-3, 220-pounder had 105 tackles and 10 sacks last year and will play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment this season, he said.
The following Class of 2012 prospects had some eye-catching moments during the combine:
• Running back Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) ran a 4.53-second 40. The 6-2, 225-pounder should be a national recruit during the next recruiting cycle.
• Defensive end Tyriq McCord (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson) is a player to watch during the next recruiting cycle. He was outstanding during one-on-one drills, has a great frame and is quick off the ball. The 6-3, 210-pounder is getting early interest from South Florida, Central Florida and South Carolina. He also likes Florida State, Clemson and Miami.
• Linebacker/defensive end Dante Fowler (St. Petersburg, Fla./Catholic) had a good showing. The 6-3, 220-pounder could be one of the most-sought-after prospects from Pinellas County in years.
• Wide receiver Andre Davis (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson) was outstanding during one-on-ones and showed off the ability to make tough catches, which makes him a highly desirable prospect. Davis has great hands and is very athletic. He also looked healthier than he did three weeks ago at the Miami Nike Football Training Camp in Coral Gables, Fla.
• Offensive lineman Tyler Pierson (Clearwater, Fla./Countryside) has offers from Kansas and Colorado State, and the 6-4, 278-pounder says that Illinois is showing strong interest and could be on the verge of offering. Pierson was one of the better offensive linemen at the event.
• Defensive tackle Brodrick Lee (Tarpon Springs, Fla./Tarpon Springs) picked up an offer from Western Kentucky this past week. The 6-1, 290-pounder looked as though he had been working hard on conditioning and in the weight room since we last saw him on Feb. 28 at the Bradenton Under Armour Combine.
• Wide receiver Frankie Williams (Tampa, Fla./Robinson) is a prospect to watch. The 5-9, 175-pounder was impressive during one-on-one drills and posted good testing numbers, including a 6.97 L-cone and a 4.44-second shuttle.
J.C. Shurburtt covers recruiting for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.