BRADENTON -- Manatee High showed why it was one of the top football programs in the country when seven of its players signed letters of intent this morning to play college football.
Led by four star recruit defensive lineman Derrick Calloway and quarterback Cord Sandberg, five Hurricanes signed to play at college football’s highest level.
Calloway signed with the University of South Florida and Sandberg signed with Mississippi State. Also signing with a Football Bowl Subdivision school (formerly I-A) were defensive lineman Blake Keller (Central Florida), defensive back Willie Smith (FIU) and Anthony Lauro (Akron).
Marquis Dawsey, the area’s consensus best defensive lineman, but considered short for a defensive end at 5-11, signed with Division II Ferris State and offensive lineman Thor Miller inked an agreement to play for I-AA McNeese State.
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Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan said more will be signing before the school year is over.
“Almost all of our seniors who started, if they want to play college football they will have the opportunity. We have another four or five who will eventually sign,” Kinnan said. “Marquis is a steal for them (Ferris). The guy started fifty-eight football games in four years and never missed a practice or a game. I kind 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.”
Calloway is a big catch for new USF head coach Willie Taggart, who quarterbacked one of Joe Kinnan’s state title teams at Manatee and earned All-American honors at Western Kentucky.
Calloway originally committed to Louisville, but after Taggart was hired to take over the USF program in early December he changed his mind.
“This is a big sign for coach Taggart. We are very happy for Willie,” Kinnan said. “Derrick is a marquee player. If he works hard this summer he can come in and contribute as a true freshman. Knowing Willie and what he is trying to do I think our kids now feel they might be headed in new direction.”
Sandberg is also 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 its 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.”
It was a special day for Smith and Lauro. Both are coming off knee surgeries that forced their season to end early.
“Akron stuck with me and when I went up to visit I loved the coaches and I feel I have a chance to play for four years there at running back or slot receiver,” Lauro said.
Smith echoed a similar thought in that he felt a sense of loyalty that FIU stuck with him through his injury and the hiring of a new coach.
“This day means a lot to me. It’s time to seal the deal. It meant a lot that they stuck with me through the injury and told me they still wanted me,” Smith said.