National Signing Day | Big haul for Manatee: Seven Hurricanes sign football scholarships

Seven Hurricanes make college choices official

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 7, 2013 

BRADENTON -- The smallest thing can cause a football recruit to change allegiances and a coach to win over the hearts of his parents.

In part that explains how Manatee defensive tackle Derrick Calloway switched his commitment from Louisville to the University of South Florida shortly after Willie Taggart was hired as the Bulls head coach in December.

Taggart is a former Manatee High quarterback, but that is not the reason Calloway changed his mind, and not the reason his mother, Wendy, wanted him to go there.

Calloway was one of five Manatee High players who signed national letters of intent to play for a Football Subdivision School (formerly I-A) on Wednesday.

Calloway was recruited heavily by Taggart and USF assistant coach Ray Woodie, who played for Palmetto High and was head coach there.

"When we were at USF on an official visit my son had a cap on his head at the lunch table," Wendy Calloway said. "I saw coach Taggart walk over to him and very gently whisper in his ear. Derrick removed his cap, and I was impressed how coach Taggart did that without any fuss or anger. No one knew he did it. But for me that was a mom looking at her son. I felt he taught my son something that day about sitting at the table with a hat on his head."

The 6-foot-1, 310 pound Calloway had offers from nearly every top level program in the country, including Florida, Ohio State, Southern California, Texas A&M and West Virginia.

"I thought about USF and how close it is to home so my mom and family can come and see me play," Calloway said. "Coach Woodie and I built a good relationship. He has a good personality and keeps it real with you. He doesn't tell you just what you want to hear. Coach Taggart also tells you what it is. He is a fun guy. To me they are brothers from another mother."

Beside Calloway in the Manatee High auditorium, quarterback Cord Sandberg signed with Mississippi State, defensive lineman Blake Keller with UCF, defensive back Willie Smith with FIU and running back/receiver Anthony Lauro with Akron.

"It's baseball or football for Cord and if he goes football he has made a great choice," Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said. "They are a program on the rise and their coach (Don Mullen) has a great history with quarterbacks. Blake had a lot of ACC schools after him, but he wanted to stay close to home."

Marquis Dawsey, a defensive lineman and the Herald All-Area Player of the Year but considered short for a defensive end at 5-foot-11, signed with Division II Ferris State (Michigan), and offensive lineman Thor Miller inked an agreement to play for Football Championship Series McNeese State.

"Marquis is a steal for them (Ferris). The guy started 58 football games in four years and never missed a practice or a game," Kinnan said. "I kind of understand the thought process (of wanting taller guys for defensive end). You might have to bring in 5-11 guys to find the one that really can play so you don't bring in any."

Sandberg also is a prize recruit, but professional baseball teams covet his talents on the diamond and he may never play football.

"This is an awesome day for me. If college is the path that I decide to take, Mississippi State is where I want to be," Sandberg said. "I loved the atmosphere there. They are a program on the rise and it's SEC football. It's an exciting place. I do not have a preference for either sport. I have a passion for both. It pretty much could come down to what is offered. I've had 12 or 13 in home visits from different major league teams."

Keller and Calloway will become annual opponents with the Knights joining the Big East next year and resuming a heated rivalry that often got very nasty.

"This is what I dreamed of ever since I was a little kid. I have grown a very close relationship with the coaches there and I love Orlando," Keller said. "I committed to them last year. Other coaches were calling me and USF wanted me, but I wanted to go to UCF. We will play them and Calloway every year."

It was a special day for Smith and Lauro. Both are coming off knee surgeries that forced their seasons to end early.

"Akron stuck with me, and when I went up to visit I loved the coaches. I feel I have a chance to play for four years there at running back or slot receiver," Lauro said.

Smith echoed that thought.

"This day means a lot to me. It's time to seal the deal. It meant a lot that they stuck with me," Smith said.

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