The state of Florida is always teeming with elite college talent but the class of 2011 is special even for Sunshine State standards.
The preseason Florida Top 100 features no less than 49 four-star prospects, 40 of which are featured in the initial release of the Rivals250. It features two five-star prospects in James Wilder Jr. and Tony Steward and it features another nine or so prospects that are already within striking distance of five stars.
The strength of the 2011 class can really be best embodied by those two five-stars though. Not only are Steward and Wilder two of only 11 five-star prospects nationally, but they sit at No. 2 and 3 respectively.
Anyone that saw Wilder's play on offense and defense on his way to leading his high school to a 2009 state championship needs no explanation for his lofty ranking. Dominating play on both sides of the ball and a freakish physique could understandably make a No. 3 ranking even seem low. But the state's No. 1 player may just be that good.
"To see Wilder sitting as the number two player in any state is a little bit of a strange sight because he's such a freaky guy athletically but that just shows how much we love Steward," said Southeast Recruiting Analyst Barton Simmons. "Steward is a high-character kid with a great motor, great hips and remarkable instincts. From the standpoint of knowing his position, having the mental makeup and the physical tools, he's probably the biggest sure thing in this whole class nationally."
What's even more impressive is that despite the rankings and hype that has bestowed on both Steward and Wilder, the two both attend camps and combines as if they were scraping for offers and looking to be discovered. That fearless attitude and competitive nature is rampant in the state.
"It's refreshing to see a guy with nothing to prove go out and just compete," Simmons said. "That's something unique to Florida. It doesn't matter how many offers these guys have. They want to go out and prove that they're better than the next guy, whether that kid lives two blocks away or on the other side of the country."
Beyond its two five-stars, there are a number of other elite national players, led by a phenomenal running back crop. Clemson has already cashed in on two of the best the state has to offer by landing the state's No. 3 prospect in Mike Bellamy and its No. 11 prospect in Marlin Lane. Both running backs were drawn to Clemson by the allure of following in another Floridians footsteps in current Buffalo Bill, C.J. Spiller.
Mike Blakely of Manatee, Demetrius Hart of Dr. Phillips, Andrew Buie out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian are all fellow Rivals100 running backs out of the state that add to the stable of breakaway backs.
Despite the two Clemson running back commits, the state is indecisive as a whole. Within the top 100, only 32 prospects have verbally committed to college programs.
Florida State has hit the recruiting trail the earliest with nine commitments in the Top 100. Florida is close behind with six Top 100 commits, four of whom are represented in the top 30. Miami rounds out the state's big three programs with four commitments, two of which are from a familiar program in Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers out of Miami Northwestern.
From outside the state, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Alabama join Clemson with two commitments each from within the top 100.
From a reputation standpoint, Florida is fittingly known for producing skill players and particularly receivers and defensive backs in bunches. However, the state is always knocked for its inability to produce quality quarterbacks. It looks like that trend is beginning to change.
In the 2011 class, Jeff Driskel is teetering on the edge of five-star status but he's not alone. Bridgewater has become one of the state's most high-profile players with his ability to make plays on Friday nights with his arm or his legs. Phillip Ely is emerging as the next in line at a veritable football factory at Tampa Plant. Jerrard Randall heads to Oregon as a perfect fit for that Duck offense. Meanwhile Jacoby Brissett may have as much upside as any of them due to his size and arm.
"I really like the group of quarterbacks that the state of Florida has got coming out this year," said Simmons. "What's great is that it's a diverse group. There's some really polished guys like Ely and Driskel but then you've got guys like Bridgewater and Randall that are just starting to figure out the things they're capable of and putting all their tools together."