The Central Florida area continues to produce elite playmakers, and there’s already another crop of top-notch skill position athletes deserving of national attention.
By Brian Smith @fbscout_florida
When discussing skill position talent, very few states can boast the way Florida does. There’s a good reason. Florida continually sends major college football elite cornerbacks, wide receivers, safeties, tight ends, and running backs each year. Within the classes of 2023, 2024, and even 2025, Central Florida is really loaded.
This is only a starter list, but it’s one to take note of moving forward. There are several other deserving players that could be on this list as well, but for now, here are four players to watch as their high school careers begin to take off.
No particular order for the following list.
Rod Gainey, RB/ATH, 5-10, 170, Tampa Bay (Tech) – 2024
After a freshman campaign that produced 109 carries, 836 rushing yards, and 10 rushing touchdowns, there’s no debating that Gainey can play. What’s scary is that Gainey is just now growing into his body, as well as learning the nuances of the running back position.
Down the line, Gainey could end up being a slot receiver, at least part time, in an effort to find ways to provide Gainey the football in space. He’s one of the most gifted athletes in the greater Tampa area, and that’s saying something considering the talent Tampa produces.
Now imagine Gainey at 190 pounds in a couple of years. He’s already juking guys and making them grasp air. If you want to watch fun highlights, go check out Gainey’s Hudl and YouTube film. It’s worth your time. Gainey has offers from Penn State and West Virginia.
Cedric Baxter, RB, 6-1, 215, Orlando (Edgewater) – 2023
Already college size, Baxter began to mature as a running back this past fall. There was a difference in his performance from the early portion of the regular season until the final game of the playoffs.
Baxter learned patience, timing to hit the hole, and when to use power or to throw a move at a defender. In short, Baxter is now a back capable of beating a defense with power, speed, quickness, and savvy. Considering this young man is no fun to bring down with his 215-pound frame to begin with, adding those extra intangibles just makes it that much harder to defend him. Baxter already pledged his commitment to Florida State University.
DJ Picket, CB, 6-2, 160, Tampa (Carrollwood Day School) – 2025
Playing for a 2A private school, Pickett actually started as an eighth grader for Carrollwood Day. Yes, he’s a legit 6-2. I’ve stood next to him. He’s a long and lean athlete that can flip his hips and run.
The only question with Pickett is which position will he play long term? Will he grow into a free safety or possibly move over to wide receiver? Regardless of his future position, do note that Pickett possesses the fluidity to play corner despite his height. He’s incredibly flexible and smooth in and out of his breaks.
Pickett already holds several scholarship offers, including Penn State, Florida, LSU and Miami among others.
Charles Lester, WR/DB, 6-2, 170, Sarasota (Riverview) – 2024
When one first watches Lester run and cut, it’s easy to assume he’s getting ready to enter college. Ironically, he is just beginning to finish up his freshman year of high school.
While he’s still lean and will add considerable weight between now and the time he graduates, Lester plays wide receiver with a physical nature that’s unusual for someone as quick and fast as him. He snatches the football away from the opposition; Lester is aggressive.
Look for Lester to play both ways this fall for Riverview. He’s too valuable to take off the field all that often. He’s a playmaker and needs to be on the gridiron as much as possible. Lester already received offers from Indiana and Michigan State.