BRADENTON -- The first time Brian Poole showed up for football practice at Southeast High as a freshman, it was evident he was going to be special.
"We had a lot of great players come through Southeast, but Brian was one of the few that I knew would start varsity as a freshman," said Paul Maechtle, who retired after the 2013 season, ending 33 years as the Seminoles head coach in a storied career.
Poole's natural ball skills and leaping and jumping abilities caught Maechtle's eye, and he was way ahead of what you would expect from a ninth-grader, the coach said.
Poole could've played any position, which he virtually did in seeing time at running back and receiver and throwing some passes.
But even then his dream was to play in the NFL, and Poole was aware of how Manatee County had become a spawning ground of NFL-bound defensive backs.
He watched Fabian Washington of Bayshore, Dominick Rodgers-Cromartie from Lakewood Ranch and Mike Jenkins and Jon Dowling from Southeast earn their way into the NFL as cornerbacks and wanted to follow the trails they blazed.
Rodgers-Cromartie played for the New York Giants this season, and Jenkins was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"I talk to Dominique and Mike all the time. They say work hard, and everything will pay off," Poole said. "I am hearing I could go in the third to fifth round, but you never really know. You just have to keep improving."
Poole started four years for Southeast and just finished his career at the University of Florida, where he
started parts of all four years. He was the seventh player from Southeast to play for the Gators.
Now, it's his time to make his dream come true. Poole has been invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg on Jan. 23, and he expects to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 23, The list of invitees will be announced during the first week of February.
His versatility is a big selling point. The 23-year-old can play safety, cornerback and nickel covering the slot.
"I have no preference. I like them all, and can play them all," Poole said.
At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds Poole has the speed and physicality to plug into any of those positions and play at a high level, which he did for a Florida team that surprised a lot of people in winning the SEC East Division last season.
The highly prestigious Walter Football.Com camp projects Poole as a third- to fifth-round pick in this year's NFL draft, describing him as a solid defender who has good coverage skills at safety.
Last season, Poole had 26 tackles and 10 pass breakups, many times covering the opponent's top receiver because teams didn't want to throw in the area of Vernon Hargreaves, who is projected to be among the first two defensive backs selected in the draft.
As a junior, Poole was known for making big-play interceptions, including picking off Florida State's Jameis Winston, now the Bucs' starting QB. As a sophomore, he had 45 tackles with 10 pass breakups and four interceptions.
One thing that makes Poole attractive to NFL teams is that he his thickly built but possesses quite a bit of athleticism and speed. It was the same thing Maechtle saw.
"It was evident early on that Brian had great ball-catching skills and could handle himself on the basketball court, which takes a lot of athleticism," Maechtle said.
Poole almost left UF after his junior year for the draft but changed his mind. He hasn't regretted staying or the decision to come to Florida in the first place.
"I stayed for my senior year to ball with my brothers," Poole said. "I am extremely happy with my decision to go to Florida. The experience was what I thought it would be plus some, I had a sensational time at UF, probably the best four years of my life."
It's all business now, but Poole has never lost his love the game. He will be training in Boca Raton at the Tony Villani XPE (Xtreme Performance Enhancement) Camp.
"They do a good job of getting people, especially defensive backs, ready for the combine and I will be there except for the time I spend at the Shrine game," Poole said,
Poole, Jenkins and Dowling were all highly talented though each possesses his own set of special skills, according to Maechtle.
"Mike was the fastest and had good coverage and make-up skills. Jon's sheer size and range was different. His balls skills caught everyone's attention and he also played basketball," Maechtle said. "Brian is more compact by a long shot and that's going to be his game. He's got to be a physical guy on receivers, getting his hands on them and re-routing them. He could fit in well covering the slot (receiver). But he can play them all. It depends where a team wants to use him."
Maechtle heard high praise about Poole from Florida's new coaching staff that came in last season under new coach Jim McElwain.
"They considered him a team leader and were impressed on how he and some of the other seniors bought into what the new staff was doing," Maechtle said.
Poole said he is about 20 hours short of obtaining his degree. He is not returning for the spring semester to concentrate on training for the NFL draft. "I plan to go back there next spring. Now I just want to train and get ready for the combine," Poole said.