TAMPA, Fla. ? The University of South Florida holds one of the best 7-on-7 tournaments in the nation every July called Sling 'n Shoot. This past weekend at USF, 64 teams from all over the Sunshine State took the fields. There were an estimated 1,500 prospects in attendance, making it the best Sling 'n Shoot to date.
Tampa Hillsborough beat Punta Gorda Charlotte in the Sunday night finale behind the big arm of rising senior quarterback Tarean Austin and junior receiver Charles Lovett. In the semifinals, Hillsborough beat rival Tampa Jefferson by one point. Jefferson was led by junior wide receiver Andre Davis, the (unofficial) tournament MVP who was unstoppable for two consecutive days.
As good as the group was from the '10 class, the 2011 group may have even been deeper. Tampa Plant linebacker James Wilder Jr. could be the state's top linebacker since Ernie Sims. Charlotte running back Mike Bellamy, Sebring wide receiver Devin Clark and Davis all made big names for themselves. A special mention needs to also go out to Matt Jones, a great-looking running back prospect from the Class of 2012 from Seffner Armwood.
6-0/183, Lakeland Kathleen Abrams is definitely a guy flying a little under the radar at the safety position. He roams center field with instincts of a good ball-hawking safety. Abrams breaks well and shows good ball skills and is tough in the air. He has a nice, lean frame and looks like he could certainly add some weight and muscle once he gets to Tallahassee.
6-2/205, Tampa Hillsborough
Austin continues to show why he's one of the better quarterback prospects from the state of Florida. He got better as the tournament progressed, and he really got hot on Sunday afternoon to help lead Hillsborough to the Sling 'n Shoot title. He has good size, a great body and is a superior athlete. Austin has a big-time arm and can throw all the passes in the playbook. His issue is consistency. On one play he'll dazzle you with a seam pass, where he puts the ball through a small window and right on target. On the next, Austin will miss an open receiver on a simple out route. Once he puts it together and throws the ball with accuracy and more consistency, the sky's the limit for Austin.
6-0/198, Tampa Alonso Bennett was money for two days at Sling 'n Shoot. The future Wyoming player looks like a great fit for the Cowboys' offense. He may lack ideal size, but he can really throw the football. Bennett lacks a great arm, but he has a good and very accurate arm with a quick release. Bennett will dissect a defense with timing routes and seam routes. He also shows great touch and has a knack for putting the ball through a tight window. Bennett will have a chance to put up monster numbers this season, especially throwing to wideout Justen Davis.
6-2/180, Tampa Alonso Davis had a terrific tournament, especially on Sunday. He has a great body, long arms and runs nice routes. His best attribute is his ability to make plays in the air. Davis has super body control and concentration, and he has a knack for making the tough grab in traffic. He lacks superior speed but runs well enough. Davis is a guy who will move the chains and be a red-zone threat.
6-3/220, Palm Beach Dwyer
Of all the talent on the field at USF's campus, Christian could be your safest pick as a sure-fire thing at the next level. First off, Christian has a great body and frame. He shows superior athleticism, and you know he will play much bigger in a few seasons. At tight end he makes plays in the passing game, showing good hands, the ability to make plays and move the chains. He's tough and physical. Christian is a two-way guy who has serious upside on either side of the ball at tight end or defensive end. He had some great one-on-one battles against Tampa Plant 2011 linebacker James Wilder, Jr. on Sunday.
6-0/166, Hollywood Hills
Grimes is your typical Sunshine State cornerback from south Florida. He exudes great confidence and backs it up with his stellar play. Grimes is a versatile corner who can play man on one series and drop into zone on the next. While he lacks a strong build, Grimes still shows he can play aggressively. Grimes backs down to nothing and gives a great punch in bump and run off the line. He's physical, backpedals with ease and runs well but not great. Overall, he looks very good at the cornerback position.
6-1/230, Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast
Once again, the nation's top linebacker prospect didn't disappoint. You would think he would show some crack in the armor in a 7-on-7 event because most middle linebackers struggle in coverage. But not Luc. Despite his "Tony Atlas" body, he defies the odds and shows surprisingly good coverage skills. He was playing press coverage at times and destroying anyone in front of him. Luc doesn't show "stiffness" for a well-built linebacker. He did, however, show some vulnerability in space against smaller, quicker backs.
5-8/165, Armwood Seffner This is the second time I have seen McQuay this spring/summer, and he has really turned in a stellar performance both times. He lacks great size, but McQuay more than makes up for it with his physical play. He has superior balls skills, runs well, can flip his hips and is very good in the air. Sometimes he gets too aggressive in coverage and can be beat. But that's the life of a corner in today's passing game. McQuay missed Sunday's action to attend a baseball combine.
5-9/165, Tampa Hillsborough Mitchell had a very big weekend and was stellar for Hillsborough until he suffered a sprained ankle Sunday afternoon. He has superior speed, quickness and some serious ball skills. Offensively, Mitchell is a big-play guy who shows great hands and the ability to get the ball in the air. He also is dangerous in space because of his quickness and vision. Defensively, he's a very good defensive back with excellent cover skills. He has great hips and plays with aggression. He may not be very big, but he plays big.
6-3/197, Port St. Lucie Treasure Coast
While watching Treasure Coast you tend to get caught up in watching linebacker Jeff Luc. This is a mistake because there's a ton of talent on this team like Rogers, who will play for Georgia in college. He plays next to Luc at linebacker. Rogers has very good athleticism, speed and quickness. He also closes to the ball quickly. Best of all he has a great frame and is well built. He looks like another "Thomas Davis" who can shine in that hybrid strong safety/linebacker mold.
6-0/160, Orlando Dr. Phillips Shaw was up and down on the first day but really came on late. At times he can be dominating and unstoppable from his wide receiver position. He lacks size and strength, but that will come with maturity. Shaw excels at running good routes, getting behind the defense and making big plays. He also can separate from defenders and is tough in the air. Once he gets bigger and stronger, Shaw could really develop into a great wide receiver.
5-10/175, Punta Gorda Charlotte
You could probably say that Bellamy was the fastest prospect in attendance at the Sling 'n Shoot. This running back prospect has unreal speed and very good quickness. He catches the ball well and is something to watch after the grab. Bellamy is a true home-run threat and will be one of the most sought-after running backs from Florida in the Class of 2011.
Clark was easily one of the top receivers at USF over the weekend. He runs well and is very smooth at this position. Clark can get behind a defense deep or make the tough grab over the middle or on the sideline, showing concentration and field awareness. Clark had a big game against Tony Grimes of Hollywood Hills, scoring twice. Last season Clark had 70 receptions for more than 1,100 yards and nine scores. He also returned three kicks for scores.
6-1/180, Tampa Jefferson
Hands down, Davis was the MVP of Sling 'n Shoot. He was simply unstoppable, especially on Sunday when it was crunch time. His coaches estimate he scored an amazing 30 touchdowns over the two days. Davis is remarkable in the air. He has a great vertical jump, long arms and catches everything with his hands and at the highest point. Davis has superior body control. Mind you he did this with defenders mugging him on virtually every play because nobody had an answer. He lacks great speed and isn't a "yacker." But this kid catches anything and everything. Davis made unbelievable play after unbelievable play. In all my years of covering high school football, it was one of the most dominating performances I have ever seen. He showed that right now he's one of the state's very best receivers.
6-0/170, Tampa Plant
After seeing Ely play a handful of times now, I can honestly say he has shown big improvement since last year. Ely's arm is stronger and he's showing more confidence in the pocket. He's still up and down and shows inconsistency, but there were times when he made some big-league throws over the weekend. While Ely can throw into trouble on one play, he can thread the needle on the next. If he continues on this track he will emerge as one of the top gunslingers from the Sunshine State next season and will make both Robert Marve and Aaron Murray proud while carrying the Plant quarterback torch.
5-8/183, Orlando Dr. Phillips This is a nice-looking running back prospect. Hart is just a big play waiting to happen. He catches well out of the backfield. Hart has outstanding speed and quickness, and he could just as well play in the slot. He has very good hands and concentration. Hart is also dangerous in space. His versatility should make him a wanted commodity next year.
6-3/195, Dade City Pasco
Ishmail is another underclassmen receiver who made a big name for himself over the weekend. Ishmail has very good size and can run. He can get behind the secondary and make plays in the air. Ishmail caught the ball with consistency. He needs to get used to playing against press coverage and be more aggressive at the line of scrimmage. This kid looked the part and has a good upside.
6-2/200, Seffner Armwood
How can this beast be only a rising sophomore? Jones has the body and looks of someone 10 years older. Jones is a member of the Class of 2012. He's a power back who excels between the tackles on the field. Jones has a great build, wide shoulders, a thick lower body and runs very well. When he's got a full head of steam, look out. In 7-on-7 at Sling 'n Shoot, he showed good athleticism in the passing game and a guy Armwood went to in the flat and over the middle. This kid has an incredible future, especially at a program like Armwood. Speaking of Armwood, its 2012 class looks stellar.
5-6/155, Tampa Hillsborough
Lovett is a player who Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia calls the top receiver in Tampa. The rising junior is fearless and is an incredible playmaker, both on the perimeter and in the slot. He can do it all ? take the short pass the distance and make defenders miss in the open field. Lovett can also get deep. He makes plays in the air and can leave his feet and make the acrobatic catch. Height is the issue here, but pound for pound this is one of the top junior receivers in the state.
6-1/200, Lakeland Kathleen
Mackeroy is a wide receiver prospect in the Class of 2011 who has the body of a running back. He's big, physical and can really run. Mackeroy has good hands and concentration and separates well from defenders. He's still young and needs time to develop his route-running skills. Mackeroy has a chance to develop into one of the better wide receiver prospects from the Sunshine State next season.
6-0/170, Hollywood McArthur
North is a combination defensive back who could play cornerback or free safety. At this event he played safety and showed very good cover skills and a knack for being around the ball. North reads the quarterback well and quickly, and he does a nice job of breaking on a throw. He has good range, utilizing his speed and instincts in the secondary.
6-2/223, Tampa Plant
All I can say is, "Wow, what a prospect." He will challenge quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the state's top prospect for the Class of 2011. Wilder is already well put together and has the body and frame to perhaps one day put his hand down. He has super speed and athleticism. Wilder had a few great battles against Dwyer tight end Gerald Christian. He covered Christian exceptionally well and showed he could turn and run with this 2010 Rivals100 prospect. Wilder could also emerge as a big-time power back who thrives between the tackles. But Wilder's highest upside is at outside 'backer, where he could very well be a 235-pound freak a year from now. Wilder could also be the state's top linebacker prospect since Ernie Sims.