IGNITE preliminary observations

If Sunday is an indicator of what is to come this fall and/or the next three seasons (in some cases), then the jobs of the media and evaluators just became significantly harder than imagined. Literally tons of talent witnessed on both sides of the trenches, in addition to the wide receivers and tight ends doing their usual thing as well. The crop of players that showed-up and showed-out yesterday have now laid-down the gauntlet. Although these are just preliminary observations (A bunch more coming) and nothing more than that, here are the elite “eight-teens” or 18 players that raised a few eyebrows and piqued interests.

Kee Whetzel, WR, Countryside (2016) – Measured at 6′-3.5″ 180-lbs. and gave us a good look of what a possession/stretch-the-field receiver hybrid should look like at this stage in their development. The rising-Senior isn’t just another camp body either, he destroyed the somewhat negative connotation that can accompany that. Another year left to work on his line of scrimmage explosion/footwork and to showcase his point-of-attack strength is just what the good DR. ordered for this Cougar. Colleges should, no actually they WILL love the size of the “dawg” in this young man as well. Other highlights from Whetzel’s day were his handwork at the line of scrimmage and little wasted motion in his first-steps off the LOS giving DB’s little time to realize they were already beaten before the ball left the QB’s hands.

Tate Whatley, Strawberry Crest
Tate Whatley, Strawberry Crest

Tate Whatley, QB, Strawberry Crest (2018) – Watching this young man spin it for the next three seasons (or whenever it is his time to take the reigns) will be downright fun. Already at 6-0/175lbs, that is a frame that can’t be taught and his release is already as quick as you’ll find in most seniors at this level. Perhaps the most impressive aspect was Whatley’s ability to come to balance with his feet and shoulders and square-up to make the throw when on the move. Pair that with good placement on slant-routes to his WR’s and that bodes well for coaches at the next level looking for someone to take controls of their up-tempo offense.

Tavares (TJ) Chase, WR, IMG Academy (2016) – Mentioned earlier about possession vs. stretch-the-field wide receivers; well the ex-Plant City product has gone from prospect-to-potential-phoneme mixing these two aspects together like an Iron Chef uses high-end ingredients. TJ’s shown he has “the dawg” in him, but he is making DB’s truly regret lining up against him nowadays at 6-2/170lbs, with strong hands and feet off the line of scrimmage and a relentless focus to snatch the ball at its highest point. Wherever he lands, Chase will give OC’s a reason to throw a celebratory steak on the grill post-NSD, and DB’s coaches and DC’s reason to hit Walgreens to re-up on that Prilosec.

JJ Lewis, WR, Mitchell (2016) – Identical size as Chase, he has the potential to be just as productive on the next level as TJ and should be a game-changer this fall for the Mustangs. Lewis’ ability to “get big” at the point of attack when fighting DB’s for the ball has grown immensely and approached “baller” status more than a few times with grabs in indies and one-on-one’s. With the level of competition starting to rise in southwest Pasco County, Lewis’ skills should have the Mustangs fans’ and college suitors seeing a skill-set that’s ready to now dominate Friday night’s and play right away on Saturday’s come the Fall of 2016.

Steven Witchoskey, TE, Durant (2017) – Standing nearly 6-foot, 3-inches, weighing 235-pounds with the ability to run block, pass block, and then have the ability to showcase slot-WR abilities when running routes and catching the football is not a bad at look AT ALL if you have just finished your sophomore season. Such was the case for Witchoskey who was responsible for some Moss-ing of some innocent linebackers during 1-on-1’s. His footwork and hands are going help make this prospect just as valued as a 1,600-yard rusher or a QB that’s responsible for 30TD’s a season. Stay tuned for what sure to be something special from this young man for the next two seasons.

Tyler Knight, TE, Calvary Christian (2017) – We know that they run the ball, and run the ball well over in Pinellas. They also do that well at a school named The First Academy in Orlando. What’s the connection? Same size as TFA’s Garrett Williams who is off to Clemson. Same premise and perspective, however. He was asked to perform virtually the same duties as Williams in that game and this season, and he did it well. Serious question after Sunday plus seeing him play versus that TFA squad this fall is; What’s stopping Knight (6-4/230) from becoming something VERY similar to Williams? Answer: nothing. Knight’s got all of the same tools in his craftsman work shed that some of the nationally-ranked prospects signing to D-1 schools this year possess.

Chase Lawson, TE, Strawberry Crest (2018) – Lawson’s got a very workable frame already at 6-1.5/155lbs and it is a safe assumption that frame is about to get exponentially bigger with the three years he has left on campus. Showed the same flashes and foundation that the previous prospects were lauded for. Lawson too, possesses the same WR instincts that will make him a true pain-in-the-you-know-what for DC’s that must account for him in the scheme. The future is insanely bright for him and the Chargers on the offensive side of the ball; not to mention his chemistry with Tate Whatley is already off-the-charts.

Daquon Green, WR, Tampa Bay Tech (2017) – Green showed himself to possibly be the next big playmaker from a school that we have come to expect playmakers to be produced. He’s got that prototypical size at 6’1″/185lbs. that you covet to compliment your big guys on the outside or to lineup in the slot and create mismatches versus the opposing defense. Some of the positive attributes that Green possesses are a vertical leap that extends his catch radius to that of a much bigger WR, in addition Green took very few wasted steps in his motion off the line of scrimmage versus DB’s getting himself up the field and into his route which inevitably benefits the entire offense. QB and OL’s don’t have to work so hard if a guy like Green is already in the position he needs to be to make a play. Just get the snap, find him, and fire the ball from the pocket.

Joseph Russum, OL, Sunlake (2016) – “Man, you’re a bully.” -anonymous OL prospect to Russum after he was done landing on some d-lineman like he was the son of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. Russum’s only mission was to make the ground feel his pain along with the poor soul underneath him during the 1-on-1’s. He wasn’t the only one out there hurting peoples’ feelings along with the turf at Larry Sanders park, but Russum showed he is basically a Grizzly Bear wearing a Sunlake Seahawks jersey. Standing at 5′-11″/276lbs, he isn’t going to look like a starting o-lineman from the SEC West by any means, but if he puts those “paws” he has for hands on you and gets leverage… Cancel plans for that evening with your girl and schedule a date with some Epsom Salts and a follow-up at the chiropractor because he showed yesterday he has got a mean streak (in the most positive of ways) that will cause you to think about what sort of business decisions you plan on making in the not-so-distant future.

Baveon Johnson, OL Lake Gibson (2016) – This is the second of three OL prospects that should form the foundation of ANY program looking to hurt people’s feeling with a power run game. At 6’3″/315lbs. it is kind of a no-brainer to come to this conclusion, right? Well, not everyone has a camp body to couple with the “will to” become an elite prospect at this position. So much of the OL play with the emergence of the Spread and its various concepts require a different type of guy than say, 10-15yrs ago; but nonetheless you can’t turn away with elite size and the ability to get their feet set to build a solid wall in the pocket for their QB to work from within. Johnson obviously has that and when it is all said and done this young man will be nationally-coveted prospect at the OG position along with the next young man on this list.

Felipe Fernandez, OL, Plant (2016) – Great size (6-4.5/305lbs) and pretty good feet and hands for this prospect for the Panthers. Fernandez acted like he was offended at the mere thought of stepping out of the circle during “King of the Ring” regardless of whether the DL coaches had determined he had beaten or when the same coaches were eating crow when he would pancake one of their own. That’s that “dawg” that keeps getting referenced. Shows great ability to take the step back, get set, establish his base, then usher any and all would-be-rushers out of the way of his QB. Still some room for technical growth obviously, but the intangibles are clearly present and that is half the battle.

Andre Washington Jr., DL, Steinbrenner (2016) – If you were there, you already know what the deal is; time to introduce you (if you haven’t already been formally introduced) to the official “dawg” of the combine. There wasn’t a single, solitary soul that could handle this man and it was nearly impossible to differentiate between him and the Juwan Ross from Father Lopez in terms of “see QB, destroy QB.” His center of gravity is nearly impossible to get leverage on because at 5-11/270lbs he may look kind of “light” compared to some of the big DT’s/DE’s nowadays, but his explosion off the ball and his hand strength means it’s a wrap for most OT’s and OG’s that have to deal with this dude come this fall and beyond. Will be one of the stars of this class when it is all said and done.

Christopher “CJ” Williams, DL, Father Lopez (2016) – Yep. You are reading this correctly. Not only did a DL from Lopez win the MVP, but they apparently have a pair of DT’s that are proving why it is no longer a joy to have them on your schedule if you are in Volusia County. CJ has an extremely stout frame at 6-3/225 and when he’s dialed-in looks nearly unstoppable. He is another example of don’t let your QB get them paws put on him because he’s going down at that spot. Williams and his teammate Juwan Ross are reasons why you sometimes have to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. Understands how to use his size that can bust gaps forcing all kinds of chaos in the backfield or can force a spill and put his teammates in position to make plays.

Keldric Preston, DL, Robinson (2016) – There is nothing stopping Preston from becoming one of the gems of the ’16 class once things slow-down and become second nature to this young man. He’s got size at 6-4/240 and truthfully doesn’t even know how to use it; yet. Although that sounds like a negative, it’s the farthest thing from it. Preston was like a sponge during indy and 1-on-1’s; it required only one suggestion and you saw the instant-improvement. Most college coaches dream over a prospect like this. Should be a blast watching this young man’s senior-season.

Sam Skinner, DL, Bloomingdale (2017) – The 6’3″/220-pounder looks like a linebacker until you realize he’s got all of the DL instincts you could want at this stage in his development. That ultimately makes him THAT much more valued when it comes to schematic diversity on the defensive side of the ball. Quick feet plus even quicker hands make this young man a genuine nuisance because he shows the ability to drop and provide coverage if asked.

Patrick Lukert, LB, Steinbrenner (2016) – Awesome size for this linebacker prospect; showed quick feet and great reactive athleticism when in coverage vs. TE’s. Lukert showed he’s got the upper-body strength at 6′-1″/210-lbs to stack and shed blockers and that he should be able to handle duties as an anchor for the Warriors Defense as they make the jump into 8A and into a district with Manatee. Lukert should also benefit from the Andre Washington Jr’s emergence, freeing him to create havoc in the second level.

Regan Upshaw, LB, Alonso (2016) – Looks like a prototypical LB at 5′-11″/220lbs, and showcased his body control and reactive athleticism and field awareness. Shows the ability to drop into pass coverage or stacked in the box he can come and lay the wood to opposing RB’s.

Trey Fullwood, WR/CB, Sickles (2016) – The WR’s that experienced issues catching balls yesterday can thank (or better yet BLAME) Fullwood for their ineffectiveness. Standing at 6′-1″/184lbs, he already has size that will give QB’s fits, plus he’s got a mindset that would make him coveted by DC’s looking for a CB that’s willing to hit vs. the run. Fullwood was also showcased his talents at WR. Caught some tough balls and showed flashes of playmaking ability.

– Doug Pugh