Alan Dell

Commentary: No draft picks in 2010, but Manatee County’s future is bright

By the time Mr. Irrelevant is called in this year’s NFL draft, Manatee County will have been shut out. And when the ink is dry on all the free-agent signings, the cupboard could still be empty.

But there is no reason to panic. The county had a bonanza in 2008 when Mike Jenkins of Southeast and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Lakewood Ranch were first-round draft picks.

Those Christmas-like moments come every so often, and that kind of success can’t be expected every year.

Then there are the Rod Harpers and Rocky Schwartzs of the world — guys who refuse to believe they are not NFL worthy unless they can barely walk.

There is still an abundance of talent around these parts. It just happens to be young, and the few who might have been on the NFL radar screen this season took the wrong path.

There are also a number of those hard-nosed kids who haunt NFL general managers brazen enough to cut them, fearing these guys will come back and embarrass them.

This year’s best bet to land a free-agent spot in the NFL is defensive back Aaron Higdon from Southeast, who played for Division II Charleston (W.Va.) and recently worked out for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Joe Hills (Palmetto) and Terron Sanders (Southeast) appear to have a strong chance to secure an NFL contract in 2011.

The 6-foot-4 Hills originally went to South Carolina and is now at Tennessee State, the I-AA school that Rodgers-Cromartie used as his springboard to the NFL.

Steve Spurrier wanted Hills to switch to defense, but he showed his moxie, told the old ball coach no and left. Sanders, an offensive lineman, will be entering his third year as a starter at Florida.

Put weceiver A.J. Love from Southeast and defensive back Mistral Raymond (Palmetto) among those who won’t take no for an answer. They have defied long odds to earn a spot at USF.

Love tore his second ACL last week and hopes to be playing by November. Raymond has overcome a myriad of issues to break into the starting lineup. He is still playing without a scholarship despite his reputation as the hardest hitter in USF’s secondary.

It will be hard to keep those two probable free agents out of NFL camps like it was for Southeast’s Harper, now with the New Orleans Saints, and Lakewood Ranch product Schwartz, who had to hang up his cleats after too many injuries, but was oh so close.

Some familiar names are cropping up on the NFL horizon.

Adrian McPherson reportedly had a workout with the Cleveland Browns. The past two years he has been the backup QB to Anthony Calvillo for the CFL champion Montreal Alouettes, which is like sitting behind Dan Marino, Brett Favre and Johnny Unitas rolled into one.

McPherson is under contract, but the Southeast product wants out so he can start, and there are many interested, including CFL rival Toronto.

The Alouettes said they don’t want to release him but recently signed CFL veteran QB Cody Pickett, so he could gain his freedom.

Southeast grad Julius Wilson (UAB) played in the United Football League last year and is hoping to get back into the NFL. He was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad in 2008, and the Miami Dolphins activated him for three games in 2007.

There are some other guys to watch, including former Southeast standouts Hudson Presume (DB at Georgia Southern), Todd Speight (Western Illinois), a first team All-Conference return specialist, and Henry Sailes, the top return man at Tennessee Tech.