Mike Blakely, sr., RB, Manatee
The scoop: Blakely had his big breakthrough last season, when he proved invaluable in Manatee’s run to a state championship game for the first time since 1993. He rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 touchdowns and added 35 catches en route to finishing with nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Blakely is ranked 116th in ESPNU’s list of the nation’s top 150 recruits and has offers from 37 Division I schools, thanks in part to his electrifying performance in the Class 5A state title game — 119 yards receiving, 69 yards rushing and one TD. Blakely is shifty and hard to chase down in the open field and grew up playing quarterback, which is why Manatee coach Joe Kinnan wants the ball in his hands as much as possible. Consequently, he may line up under center 15 times a game whenever Manatee runs the Wildcat.
Quenton Bundrage, sr., WR, Manatee
The scoop: After waiting his turn for two years behind guys such as Ace Sanders and Eric Williams, Bundrage proved to be worth the wait in 2009, catching 46 passes for 11 TDs and 800 yards. At 6-foot-2 and 173 pounds, Bundrage, a solid basketball player, can jump and is tough to cover, and his hands got better as last season progressed. Though he has just one full season on varsity, Bundrage has already garnered offers from schools such as Cincinnati and Louisville, and proved to have good synergy with new QB Cord Sandberg during the spring game. Another solid season by Bundrage will prevent teams from selling out and crowding the box to stop Blakely.
Desmond Blue, sr. LB, Southeast
The scoop: Blue showed his versatility last year when he switched from running back to linebacker and topped the Noles in nearly every defensive category. He was the primary reason Southeast led Manatee County public schools in total defense, allowing only 212 yards a game. The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder was the catalyst with a team-high 113 tackles while recording seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses. He caused havoc on defense, blocking two PATS and one field goal and also had an interception. As a junior, Blue ran for 251 yards on 60 carries (4.2 average) and two touchdowns. Maechtle also plans to give Blue some carries, but he feels the senior is too valuable to spend a lot of time lugging the ball. In moving to defense he is breaking a family trend — his older brother, Dwayne, was a successful running back at Bayshore and his uncle, Simon Williams, was a running back for Palmetto High in the 1980s.
Boe Brand, sr., WR, Southeast
The scoop: He is the area’s most highly touted receiver. ESPN.com gives him three stars, and with the exception of his slight frame (6-0, 155 pounds), he has all the attributes to play at college football’s highest level. He has an extremely soft set of hands. No one can remember the last time he dropped a ball in a game, and he has shown an incredible knack for stretching out his body and catching the ball with his fingertips. Brand has the speed to gain separation, and when he gets into the open field, he’s almost impossible to catch. He is not a physical type runner, but he’s shifty and elusive enough to avoid tacklers and turn short passes into big gains. Brand has received offers from BCS schools USF, Rutgers and Illinois, but he doesn’t have a favorite yet. A big-play receiver, Brand led Manatee County last year in yards per catch (18) among those with 30 or more receptions.
Josh Clark, sr., OL, Bradenton Christian
The scoop: It’s hard to believe the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Clark didn’t start playing football until BCS added the sport prior to the 2006 season. He earned good reviews at the Under Armour Combine at IMG Academies earlier this year, and Panthers coach Allan Gerber said college coaches have been impressed with Clark’s length and tenacity. Duke, UCLA, Tennessee and Texas Tech have already shown interest in Clark, who also sports a 3.7 grade-point average and, according to Gerber, is a dream to coach. With Clark manning one of the area’s biggest small-school lines, BCS will run the football more than it has in the past. That said, the one thing Clark, by his own admission, needs to get better at is mixing it up in the box with opposing linemen. If he can, Clark has a very good chance of being BCS’ first football player to earn a Division I scholarship.
Keith Grafton, sr., LB, Braden River
The scoop: The 5-11, 185-pounder is the leading returning tackler for the Pirates. He is expected to play weakside linebacker this season in the team’s new 4-3 defense. First-year coach Don Purvis put Grafton out there because of his brute strength and physical nature that allows him to be the best on the team at making open field tackles. He also has the speed to cover receivers if needed or can help the front four shut down the run. He is a hard-nosed, no-nonsense type who doesn’t like to lose and is a good leader. Purvis says he’s their smartest player on D, has a good grasp of the game and doesn’t allow distractions to get in his way.
Reggie Lindsey, sr., QB, Lakewod Ranch
The scoop: One of the few bright spots of the Mustangs’ one-win season in ’08 was the introduction of Lindsey, who performed well after becoming Lakewood Ranch’s QB midway through the season. He was the starter all of last year, throwing for 1,326 yards and 11 TDs and rushed for 396 yards and seven touchdowns in helping the Mustangs make the playoffs. And there is no doubting his toughness — Lindsey was hit in the face by a fastball this spring, requiring surgery, and returned to the baseball team less than two months later. The 6-foot-2 Lindsey has beefed up to 175 pounds, which shouldn’t hinder his quickness and ability to use his legs to make something out of nothing. Entering his second full season as a starter, this could be the year Lindsey blossoms.
Brian Poole, jr., DB, Southeast
The scoop: The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder is a rising national star in the Class of 2012. He put his name on the map at Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp when he was one of the biggest players to run a sub-4.3 40-yard dash. He’s a ball hawk who always seems to be around the action and has the speed to come up and cover the run or stick with a deep receiver. Expect Poole to be the area’s jack of all trades. He is an excellent cover guy who is also big and physical enough to play safety or linebacker. Southeast head coach Paul Maechtle plans to use him at running back “until he gets tired.” The reasoning behind the coach’s thinking is simple: When you have a guy as big as Poole running a 4.3, you have to give him the ball, the legendary coach says. Poole could be following in the footsteps of former Southeast DB Mike Jenkins, who also played running back his senior year and turned himself into an NFL first-round pick.
Quinton Pompey, sr., DL, Manatee
The scoop: He’s 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, but don’t let that fool you — Pompey has speed and agility for being a big guy, a by-product of spending last offseason working out with Manatee’s fleet-footed skill players. The Hurricanes’ defensive line got better as the year went on last year, and Pompey was a big reason, finishing with 100 tackles and a team-leading 12 sacks while blocking six passes and a field goal. Pompey transferred to Manatee from Palmetto prior to last season, and now that he is more familiar with Manatee line coach Steve Gulash, he could be even better this year. He has already gotten interest from schools such as USF and Michigan and is considered the heart of Manatee’s defense.
Dyron Speight, sr., QB, Southeast
The scoop: Speight had the highest quarterback rating in Manatee County last season (111.80) and proved to be extremely efficient, completing 126 of 220 passes for 2,007 yards and 20 touchdowns with only four interceptions. The six-foot, 180-pound Seminole showed a knack for being able to check off his primary receiver as he spread the ball around among a quartet of receivers. He likes to operate out of the shotgun, where he is able to avoid the rush, throw an accurate ball on the run and give his receivers adequate time to separate. He figures to be the perfect QB for a group of speedy, athletic receivers led by highly touted Boe Brand and Adrian Richard. If needed, he can run and use his sturdy frame as a weapon, but prefers to stay in pocket and let receivers get open. Considers himself a passer first, runner second. During his first two seasons, he has thrown for 3,313 yards and 30 TDs and has been offered by Western Kentucky and Kent State.
Drakkar Wilson, sr., DL, Manatee
The scoop: One of the key guys on Manatee’s defense, Wilson totaled 44 tackles and four sacks last season despite missing two games with a lingering ankle injury. He also recovered a fumble. Miami and Missouri have started paying attention to Wilson, who joined Manatee’s weightlifting team last spring and improved his diet in an attempt to slim down. It seems to have worked — Wilson weighed approximately 285 pounds in the spring and is now at 279 and appears to be at 100 percent health.