A Closer Look at Central Florida’s Edge Rushers

Central Florida’s class of 2022 has a variety of edge rushers in all shapes and sizes. It’s a great group to watch and fans should go out and watch these young men perform.

By Brian Smith @fbscout_florida

One of my personal favorite positions to watch is defensive end. I discuss it often and will continue to do so because it’s a vital position and the area we live in is loaded with talent. Further, it’s fun for a football fan to watch.

Whether it’s a traditional 4-3 speed rusher or a combination 3-4 outside linebacker coming off the edge like former New York Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor used to do, it’s awesome to witness these athletes use all their tools to find a way to the quarterback. That’s why it’s great to live here in Central Florida and watch the great high school football edge rushers.

The state of Florida is known for producing top-notch defensive players. That’s not going to change with this upcoming season’s senior edge rushers, in particular. The 2022 list is deep and one article simply cannot cover them all, but that’s just further proof of the depth here in Central Florida. Here’s a look at three of the best from the greater Tampa to Orlando area.

No particular order.

Zane Durant, OLB/DE, 6-1, 240, Orlando (Lake Nona)

Perhaps no player on this list deserves an uptick in his national acclaim more than Durant. Built like a bull with strong upper legs and hips, this human bowling ball possesses unique skills for rushing the passer or chasing down a running back.

First, despite Durant’s powerful build, he’s flexible. He can bend. This allows Durant to gain leverage against taller offensive tackles. Watching him maneuver right before making contact with an offensive tackle provides a better understanding of why coaches continuously harp on their players to play with leverage. Durant does it over and over.

Second, speed. Just flat out gets off the snap of the football and hits the go button. Durant can blow by an offensive tackle with a quick dip of his shoulder or hand swipe and it’s all over for the quarterback.

Finally, Durant’s tenacity. He competes. Sounds simple does it not? Play after play, Durant goes hard. That matters. Football is a gain of physical attrition, yes, but it’s also a game of mental fatigue. He wears out opponents mentally through his consistent harassment off the edge. Durant is an old school football player that anyone can enjoy watching play. 

I know I will be going to a Lake Nona game this year to watch him live. I encourage Central Florida high school football fans to do the same. He’s a game changer and a player that deserves his due credit for playing the game the right way.

Keahnist Thompson, DE, 6-4, 230, Lakeland High School

If you love versatility, Thompson checks the boxes. He’s a big-time tight end; Thompson also lines up wide like a wide receiver and runs routes against cornerbacks. He blocks in space and blocks as an in-line tight end. Today is not about Thompson’s tight end abilities, however, as he’s also a unique defensive end with a vast array of skills.

It’s hard to find pass rushers that also play hard once the football is beyond the line of scrimmage, as well as play their run keys instead of just going for sacks. Thompson excels in both areas. He’s electric off the edge, yes, and he’s also capable of smashing an opponent’s rushing attack.

Thompson could play either defensive end position. What does that mean? He’s strong enough to play the ‘Buck’ defensive end or strong side defensive end, and take on double teams and hold the point of attack against a power rushing attack. Additionally, Thompson already proved he can time the snap and shoot off the line of scrimmage to gain an advantage against the offensive tackle and blow by him with a double hand swipe en route to the signal-caller. It’s rare to see a player with both capabilities.

Out of all the defensive ends in Central Florida, Thompson is the most unique and versatile that I have seen on film. Really look forward to watching him play live this fall. Thompson is a true talent.

Mario Eugenio, DE, 6-3, 235, Tampa (Gaither)

Eugenio is the most advanced pass rusher I’ve seen in the class of 2022. Not in Central Florida mind you, but the country. While it’s to rank just raw pass rushing skills, Eugenio is certainly in the conversation. He’s been honing his pass rushing skills for quite some time, and he’s reached a level where he sets up offensive tackles from play to play. It’s a big reason why Eugenio registered 13 sacks in 2019 and 17 sacks in 2020. 

From play to play, an offensive tackle does not know what Eugenio will do. Amongst his possible moves, Eugenio will utilize a dip and rip, double hand swipe, spin move, and a speed rush just to name a few moves. Most importantly, he actually executes those moves by complementing the hand technique with great feet. 

Mario Eugenio, Gaither

Eugenio takes meaningful steps towards the offensive tackle and dictates the pace of the pass rush. From there, he’s growing into a technician that keeps offensive tackles guessing. Despite Eugenio’s exploits to date, he’s still learning.

There’s still another level Eugenio can reach this season and beyond. It’s up to him. Keep honing his skills and keep putting in the work. That’s how good things happen. Could Eugenio reach 20 sacks this fall? Certainly. More importantly, can he change the flow of a game by consistently dominating against the run and pass? That’s really hard to do and very few high school players reach that level. Eugenio possesses that ability.

While the above three pass rushers are the ones discussed today, it’s just the tip of the iceberg for Central Florida. There are worthy names across the region. Whether it’s Nick Campbell, DE, 6-4, 235, Lake Minneola or it’s Melvin Jordan, OLB, 6-0, 205, Clearwater (Calvary Christian) or it’s Venson Sneed, DE, 6-5, 260, Winter Park, Central Florida is loaded with different types of “edge rushers” that can change a game.

Make sure you check out some of these young men this spring and fall. It’s incredible the wealth of edge talent that’s bestowed upon Central Florida. Go out and watch these guys come off the edge.