Keeping up with the St. Thomas Aquinas football team can be difficult, but it has become the measuring stick for high school football programs in the state of Florida.
In the last 21 years, Aquinas had more NFL draft picks than any high school in the country (through 2014 draft). When last season began, it had 17 players on NFL teams, the most of any high school in the country.
Manatee County rates high on the Aquinas scale of greatness: It also can produce elite talent with just local athletes and a much smaller population base to draw from.
Really we are talking about Manatee and Southeast. The two schools can’t match Aquinas in overall numbers, but they have produced some very special football players and, in some ways, have surpassed the football factory in Fort Lauderdale.
Southeast has had seven players selected in the NFL draft and two were first-round picks: Peter Warrick (2000/Cincinnati) and Mike Jenkins (2008/Dallas).
If you count Henry Lawrence, a first-round pick in 1974, Manatee has seven draft picks, and he is the Hurricanes’ one first-rounder.
Lawrence played his first three years at Lincoln and his senior season at Manatee when the schools were integrated. He considers himself a Lincoln product, but Manatee can take credit though he was not treated fairly by the coaching staff at the time, which played him sparingly despite his talent, which he used to help win three Super Bowls.
Aquinas is an anomaly. Last February when Manatee County schools were celebrating national signing day, the Raiders had just finished bringing in a bunch of new highly touted national prospects.
Some of Aquinas biggest names include Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin, Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins and the late Brian Piccolo, whose life story was made into two TV movies.
But Manatee has its share of big names. The program has four Super Bowl winners, including Bill Anderson who won the first Super Bowl when he played with Green Bay. The others were Lawrence, Alvoid Mays and Tyrone Williams, the only NFL player to start on two collegiate national championship teams and a Super Bowl champion in three consecutive years (Nebraska, ’94 and ’95 and Green Bay ’96).
And we can’t forget quarterback Tommie Frazier, who led Nebraska to two national titles and would’ve been an NFL pick if not for a bout with blood clots.
Southeast draft picks are: Warrick, Jenkins, Reggie Green, Ahmad Miller, Todd Williams, Adrian McPherson and Jon Dowling.
Manatee’s draft picks are: Anderson, Lawrence, Ace Sanders, Richard Trapp, Tyrone Williams, Alvoid Mays and Ed Culpepper.
Archer’s quick fall
Just a few months ago Chris Archer was living the life of a celebrity. He was considered the ace of the Tampa Bay rotation and a strong candidate for the Cy Young award.
When the Rays went to Cuba it was as if he was the team’s ambassador, someone even President Barack Obama wanted to meet.
Now Archer is just another guy in the Rays starting rotation, carrying a 4.70 ERA with a 4-10 record.
No one seems to know the reason for his downfall though theories abound, including one that says he was never an elite pitcher, but someone who is capable of being very good at times.
On the other hand his 10.57 strikeouts per nine innings is among the best in the majors. A big culprit this year is his propensity to give up home runs. In 16 games, he has allowed 16 homers, which ties for seventh most in the majors heading into the weekend.