Despite not claiming a sixth Super Bowl ring, the growing consensus among fans and football experts is Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T., or the greatest of all time for non-acronym aficionados.
On the heels of the Super Bowl and with National Signing Day coming Wednesday, we here at the Bradenton Herald got to thinking: who are the best football players that Manatee County public school programs have produced?
There are countless players to comb through, mainly because high school football in Bradenton has existed since Julian C. Howard brought the sport to Manatee High in 1914.
Palmetto High and Southeast High followed with teams, before Bayshore High got going in the 1970s and eastward expansion brought Lakewood Ranch High (late 1990s) and Braden River High (mid-2000s).
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So narrowing it down to the best player or players from each program is a daunting task.
However, that’s precisely what’s attempted here. If you agree or disagree with the list below, let us know.
Before we reveal our choices, and in the interest of transparency, here’s our criteria: the players selected were evaluated for more than just their high school careers, though what happened in high school carries weight; were they a top college recruit, did they excel in college and/or reach the NFL; did they have a significant impact at the high school, college or pro level; when thinking about a particular high school locally, are they on a short list of names associated with that program; what kind of honors did they get or did they engineer memorable moments to include a state high school title, national championship in college or Super Bowl win?
So with that, here’s our list with schools in alphabetically order:
There isn’t a ton of team success and tradition with the Bruins, but the school does have two former players that made it to the NFL. Fabian Washington and Robert “Pig” Goff both made it to the pros.
Washington played collegiately at Nebraska, while Goff played at Auburn. Washington, a defensive back, came out of the NFL Combine with one of the fastest 40-yard dash times and had a six-year NFL career with the Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens. Goff, a defensive lineman, had a nine-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings.
The newest public high school in the county has a few players that have excelled.
There’s no denying Willie McNeal, who was the first Pirate to sign a Division I football scholarship. He became a big contributor on special teams for Willie Taggart during his tenure at Western Kentucky. Sharrod Neasman wasn’t a high school superstar, but he is currently playing for the Atlanta Falcons. Add in recent running back Deshaun Fenwick (South Carolina) and defensive back Tyrone Collins (Missouri) that early enrolled, and Braden River has its own share of future stars.
The Mustangs were the first East Manatee County school to siphon talent away from Southeast High, and they possessed an all-around talent in Rocky Schwartz. He first gained prominence on the East Manatee Little League team that finished as the United States runner-up with a trip to the World Series in Williamsport, Pa., in 1997.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wasn’t the standout in high school that he later became with an ongoing NFL career that’s spanned 10 seasons. Center Austin Reiter is also a current NFL player.
While Lincoln High is not listed as an active public school, the contributions from past Trojan greats can’t be ignored. Two players, in particular, spring to mind for what they did.
Henry Lawrence won three Super Bowls with the Raiders and played at Florida A&M despite getting benched during his senior season at Manatee High after moving there due to integration.
And there’s Ray Bellamy, who broke the color barrier when he played at the University of Miami.
With all its success, it’s tough to narrow down the Hurricanes’ standout athletes to a short list, but here goes.
Tommie Frazier is the first player that springs to mind when thinking of the Hurricanes. If not for blood clots, Touchdown Tommie surely would have played in the NFL following his amazing college career at Nebraska. It’s still a shame he didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, an award that Southeast’s Peter Warrick should have won a few years later.
Alongside Frazier, you have defensive backs Alvoid Mays and Tyrone Williams, who won Super Bowls, and running back Shevin Wiggins, who was a Florida Mr. Football and played at Nebraska. Cord Sandberg opted for pro baseball instead of playing at Mississippi State following a Manatee High career that netted a state title in 2011. Hard to forget Richard Trapp, too, who went to Florida and played in the NFL.
The line about Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter that “all he does is catch touchdowns,” could easily be attached to Palmetto High’s Joe Hills. He’s still catching touchdowns after setting the Arena Football League record last year, and he was highly coveted coming out of high school.
Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and Les Miles were some of the coaches after Hills, who settled on South Carolina and ended up finishing at Tennessee State. Of course, there’s also Mistral Raymond, who flew under the radar coming out of high school to become an NFL player with the Minnesota Vikings in their secondary.
Like the Hurricanes, there are so many talented players to suit up for the Seminoles. Two names immediately jump out, though — Peter Warrick and Adrian McPherson.
Both went to Florida State and the NFL after starring at Southeast High. Warrick was a driving force behind Southeast’s lone state titles and FSU’s national title win over Virginia Tech and Michael Vick. McPherson led the Seminoles to a surprising playoff run in the late 1990s and became the only player to win Florida’s Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball.
There’s also Brian Poole (Florida and currently with Atlanta Falcons) and John Reeves (Purdue and San Diego Chargers for two seasons) to consider.