March 14, 2010

Florida commit leads star-studded 7-on-7

TAMPA, Fla. - There was talent all over the field in the BadgerSports Elite 7-on-7 on the campus of USF over the weekend. 11 teams competed in the passing tournament. All of them were loaded with Florida talent and most of the teams were stocked with numerous players with FBS scholarship offers.

In the end though, a team based out of Jacksonville proved that a scholarship tally doesn't automatically grant a championship. The Miami-based South Florida Express was a team consisting of upwards of ten players that already have numerous college opportunities. Jacksonville-based Pro Impact had two. Unfortunately for the South Florida Express, one of those players was Florida commit A.C. Leonard.

Over the course of the two-day event, Leonard left no doubt that he was the top performer. He was simply unstoppable.

Listed at only 6-foot-2, Leonard plays much, much bigger. He gets up field with smooth ease, has the strength to run through defensive backs literally crawling all over him and when the ball arrives he has incredibly soft hands. Looking at his measurables on paper, Leonard would be considered an undersized tight end but to see him play on Sunday, he looked like the complete package.

There were other players on the Pro Impact squad that had great tournaments but Leonard was the bell cow and deservedly the MVP of the event.

Leonard's supporting cast was led by two players that excelled on the defensive side of the ball. Ahmad Christian out of Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian was Leonard's only teammate with offers (FIU and Iowa State) and he played like it. Playing cornerback, Christian was a very consistent performer, locking down almost everybody he faced.

Playing opposite of Christian at cornerback was William Union. Though slightly undersized at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Union was a big-time playmaker. In fact the play of the tournament came from Union. Leading the South Florida Express by four with time winding down in the championship game, the Miami squad was knocking on the door of the goalline for the game-winning score. On a fade route to win the game, Union rose up, high-pointed the football and pulled down a game-sealing interception.

Valiant in defeat

Though his day ended in disappointment, Teddy Bridgewater had a tournament to be proud of as the quarterback of the South Florida Express team. Bridgewater is a bit of a mystery at quarterback. He's so athletic and has tremendous tools but he is also extremely raw, hasn't received a lot of position instruction and he can come across as bored at times playing the position.

However, some of those same factors that can be construed as negative are the same factors that make Bridgewater special. As unpolished as he is, Bridgewater's potential could be through the roof with some individual quarterback coaching. Also his nonchalant attitude under center is what gives Bridgewater a calm that allows him to make clutch throws and bounce back from negative plays.

The intangibles and confidence that Bridgewater possesses are hard to quantify but they find their roots in his fun-loving approach to the game.

"That's what it's all about is having fun but not being too cocky with it," Bridgewater said. "I think I played great .I had a lot of fun out here this past weekend. It's been nice. I want to thank Badger for inviting us and thank the coaches for getting us up here."

When breaking down his own game, Bridgewater has a easy comparison for himself.

"I think I bring what Vince Young brought to the game when he was in college," he said. "He's a dual threat quarterback that can run and kill you with his arm also. I can read the field and pick defenses apart."

Bridgewater has plans to graduate high school in December and enroll in college early. He has also targeted a November decision date around his birthday. Currently he lists Alabama, Florida, LSU and Miami as the schools that stand out the most.

Big bodies abound

Florida is known for speed not size. Every year there are numerous undersized athletes that emerge from Florida to run circles around major college players around the country. However, if the talent over the weekend were representative, you would think that Florida was a breeding ground for big-time tight end prospects.

Leonard led the way and would have to get the nod on the weekend due to his championship performance. Right behind him though, Nick O'Leary put together an absolutely dominating performance. The two are very similar tight ends both in body and skill set. O'Leary is extremely strong and physical getting upfield and catches everything he touches. He manages to bring really unique athleticism to a very blue-collar mentality on the football field.

Though he's not a true tight end, O'Leary's teammate on his SoFla Palm Beach County team deserves mention among the dominating big-bodies. Kelvin Benjamin is a sight to see at 6-foot-6. He is a matchup nightmare for cornerbacks and when he turns on the intensity level he is tough to stop. Not many defenders at any position can out-battle Benjamin for a jump-ball and he runs better routes than you would expect out of a receiver of that size.

The only real knock on Benjamin looks to be that he is not a high-effort player every play. When he turns the intensity on, he can be dominating but it looks like a tough sell to his coaches to get him to bring that level of intensity and focus to every series.

Brandon Fulse also deserves note for his level of domination throughout the event. Similar to O'Leary and Leonard, Fulse was the favorite target of an extremely talented team out of central Florida. He runs well, has a great frame and catches the ball like a receiver. Fulse absolutely has the athleticism and the ability to be a college tight end but due to his body and frame, he may have the most upside on the offensive line.

Finally, the team out of Southwest Florida had three prospects that had a physical presence in the tournament. Though Clay Burton didn't compete on Sunday, he had a strong performance on Saturday as a wide receiver, showing some good versatility.

Burton had teammates in Jeff Heuerman and Aaron Lynch that formed the largest duo at the event. Heuerman is a true tight end at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds with a great frame. Lynch played tight end and wide receiver despite being recruited as a 6-foot-6, 245 pound defensive end.

Lynch stands out just with his size alone but his athleticism was very evident as he showed plenty of ability at the tight end position. His skills and size at the tight end position are very reminiscent of former four-star Aaron Douglas from the class of 2008 - now a starting offensive tackle for Tennessee.

Strong secondaries

Success in a passing league often boils down to skill in the secondary and not surprisingly some of the top teams in the event also had the top defensive backs. Three of the more notable defensive backfields as a unit came out of the Treasure Coast team, the South Florida Express and Orlando-based Big Timers.

Treasure Coast's secondary consisted of Keelin Smith at one corner and his fellow Florida State commit Lamarcus Brutus at safety. The other safety position was manned by a versatile and athletic Terrell Floyd while the other corner spot was held down by an undersized but big-play ready Wonderful Terry.

The South Florida Express had a host of players that rotated in and out in the secondary. Andrew Johnson was a mainstay at corner and proved to be one of the best at the event. Jabari Gorman, Wayne Lyons, Jeremy Cash, Gerrod Holliman, Jonathan Aiken and sophomore Deon Bush were among several other consistent playmakers, all from the South Florida Express secondary.

The Big Timers team featured a trio at safety that was extremely unique. Hasean Clinton-Dix showed that he can do much more than support the run with very good pass coverage ability, ball skills and hips. Karlos Williams is another huge safety that roamed the backfield with a frame that looks like it could easily grow into a linebacker.

The third safety of the group helped his stock tremendously with his performance all weekend in Roderick Ryles. Ryles was perhaps the most explosive of the three going downhill and breaking on balls in front of him. He also showed good ball skills, can get off the ground quickly and is a quick reactor.

All three safeties were that much better due to the fact that one of the top corners at the event was playing underneath them in Nick Waisome.

Sleepers emerge

  • A.J. Sebastiano has already made his name known among Dade County residents over the past few months just in his practices with the South Florida Express but now the rest of the state is familiar with what he is capable of. Sebastiano not only has an uncanny ability to get open and great hands, but he also has a knack for the spectacular play and a toughness about his game.

  • Wide receiver Isiah Meyers was part of an incredibly talented team but was continually making the big plays in the passing game. He has enough size, speed and ability to be a very productive receiver at the next level.

    Playing alongside teammate Andre Davis both during the season and in seven-on-seven, Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson's Chris Moore can get overlooked but this weekend, Davis was the more dangerous threat. He had a great weekend catching the football, showing speed after the catch and making himself big in traffic.

  • A.J. King was a teammate of Davis during the weekend on Team Tampa and though he doesn't have as much size, he is extremely explosive after the catch and was one of the more dynamic and exciting players to watch due to his quick feet and big play ability.

    Next in line

    There were a number of promising underclassmen that made impacts on the weekend on both sides of the ball. Some of those names included safety Deon Bush, WR Angelo Jean-Louis, QB Evan Moore and FS/WR Latroy Pittman.

    At running back, sophomore Matt Jones should carry on the tradition of freakish looking running backs in the Tampa area after James Wilder Jr.'s departure next season. Jones is a huge as a running back and looks very similar in stature to Wilder. Already with offers from Georgia and South Carolina, the Seffner (Fla.) Armwood back will likely get more interest every time a college coach sees him in person.

    Other standouts by position

    Quarterback - Phillip Ely, Kade Bell, Quentin Williams.

    Running Back - Tre Mason, Tacoi Sumler, Demetrius Hart

    Wide Receiver - Ronnie Anderson,

    Athlete - Dallas Crawford

    Linebacker - LaQuentin Smith, James Wilder Jr.

    Defensive back - Harmon Brown, Corey Tindal, Ruben Gonzalez

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