Started from the bottom, now they’re here: remembering when

Former Alonso and Miami Hurricanes star, Anthony Chickilo
Former Alonso and Miami Hurricanes star, Anthony Chickillo

You’ve pretty much heard the hook to Drake’s song played anywhere and everywhere by now, but his album was meant to describe anyone and everyone that started with a dream, and made that dream a reality. The Tampa Bay area and its high school football tradition of sending products for the masses to consume on the collegiate and professional level is well documented and can boast that its contribution has been nothing short of impressive through the years. It is a tradition that has been around since before the conglomerate known today as the NFL even existed.

The high school prospects representing the area and on to college have been getting drafted in the highest rounds since 1955, starting with Jefferson RB Rick Caseras being taken as the 18th overall pick out of Florida. Caseras was known as one of the baddest Chicago Bears to ever play and that’s impressive in-and-of itself. If you’re doing the math, Caseras would have been a mid-1st rounder under the current system of 32 teams drafting some 60 years later, which would have made him the 23rd 1st-rd pick through the years from the area. However the record books “are what they are” and heading into Thursday’s 2015 draft in Chicago that number stands at 22, with the certainty of it becoming 23 once they call former Lakewood and UF stud Dante Fowler Jr’s name and a very good possibility that number is +2 if the Saints or Patriots take a former Berkeley Prep and USC star Nelson Agholor.

That’s a monumental contribution if you look at the area’s recent (since 2004) draft picks taking place at the top. The four counties of Polk, Pinellas, Polk and Hillsborough have managed to produce just eight guys in the first two rounds in that time. There has not been a 1st-round selection since 2011, which was Lakeland’s Mike Pouncey with the 15th pick. This is shaping up to be the area’s highest addition to the first two rounds since 2010, when Lakeland’s Maurkice Pouncey (18th-pick) and Largo’s Dexter McCluster (36th-pick) were chosen. That leaves former Chamberlain and FSU defensive lineman Broderick Bunkley who was the 14th-pick in ’06, Seminole’s D’Qwell Jackson the 34th-pick from Maryland in 2006, former Leto and Ohio State wide receiver Mike Jenkins at the 29th-pick in ’04 and former Robinson defensive back Javier Arenas taken at the 50th-pick out of Alabama in the 2010 Draft.

Former Jefferson and UGA standout LB, Ramik Wilson vs. St. Augustine in 2010
Former Jefferson and UGA standout LB, Ramik Wilson vs. St. Augustine in 2010

The area’s highest ever pick was eighth, courtesy of former Robinson and University of Florida running back Larry Smith taken by the Los Angeles Rams in 1969, followed by former Plant and USC wide receiver Mike Williams when Detroit took him with the 10th-pick in the 2005 Draft. Looking at literally a dozen individual mock drafts, (NFL, ESPN, et. al) you can come up with a consensus that Fowler Jr. will be the highest pick in the history of the area (all counties) and Agholor stands to firmly plant himself in the books as one of the highest taken in the area and the highest ever in Berkley Prep’s history.

It’s not just about the guys in the limelight however, there’s plenty of love to show when it comes to some other names that have gone from being casually observed at offseason camps and 7-on-7’s. There are some household names from the prep scene back in the day that are about to achieve their biggest moments of success in their crafts come this weekend. Guys that are consensus draft picks, just not in the marquee rounds that have turned into an entirely separate entity on their own. Guys that won state championships or changed the outcomes of games at their respective schools at the collegiate level. Guys that will make their respective rosters and hopefully continue to provide the moments we came to expect from them all the way back when. All the way back when they were simply more worried about passing English IV and the FCAT, let alone breaking-up passes or catching them for touchdowns.

Guys like Anthony Chickillo (Alonso/Miami), Ramik Wilson (Jefferson/UGA) and Chaz Green (Tampa Catholic/FSU) that are projected to go anywhere from the bottom of the third round to the top of the fourth round. Remember those guys? Chickillo went on to Miami and didn’t experience the kind of success on a team level that was anticipated, but still put up 170 tackles at UM, and with an unbelievable combine and pro day made himself some serious coin. Even the hometown Bucs have popped up in a few mocks with Chick’s name on them. Wilson went on from Jefferson where he helped his J-Boys go 15-0 and when a state championship his senior season, having posted 166 tackles his final two seasons on varsity and 25 sacks. Wilson led the SEC in ’13 with 133 tackles from the linebacker position which was also good for 10th nationally. Ramik finished his Dawgs’ career with 253 tackles and stands to be taken somewhere in the middle of the fourth round along with Chaz Green.

USF's Andre Davis before his 40-yd dash at Pro Day
USF’s Andre Davis before his 40-yd dash at Pro Day

Former Armwood and UF running back Matt Jones is shaping up to have a shot at making a roster, perhaps being taken in the sixth round, meanwhile Ridge Community and FSU running back Karlos Williams is in a similar spot along with former all-time Jefferson great Andre Davis from USF figuring to be in the mix on the final day or be at the top of someone’s undrafted free agents’ list. On Wednesday, we take a closer look at the two guys expected to be taken on the first night and their journeys. For now, we can’t wait to find out what the immediate future holds for ALL of these young men as they carry out their dreams.