Alan Dell

Commentary: Football’s recruiting season heats up

The toughest part of the football year is about to begin.

The recruiting season swings into high gear with signing day less than two months away, and for many players, it means making the most difficult decision of their young lives.

Instead of reading defenses and offenses, they will have to distinguish between falsehoods and truths.

Phone calls, text messages and promises replace cleats, helmets and shoulders pads.

The playing field is not level. These are 17- and 18-year-old kids dealing with college football coaches, whose livelihood depends on how many quality athletes they get.

Not every high school senior and his parents can understand the intricacies of recruiting and what’s at stake like Cam and Cecil Newton (allegedly).

Manatee High’s Mike Blakely, Quenton Bundrage and Quinton Pompey along with Southeast receiver Boe Brand and linebacker Terran Williams are among the most sought after players in the area.

Blakely thought he was done with recruiting until Urban Meyer announced his resignation as Florida’s head coach. Now he has been inundated with calls and texts from coaches and media types.

Who knows what his reaction will be to the hiring of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to replace Meyer on Saturday night.

Brand and Bundrage, the county’s two top receivers, are just getting started.

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Brand has an official visit to Illinois on Friday and is in the process of setting one up with USF. He also has offers from Rutgers, Western Kentucky, Florida International, UCF and Bowling Green.

Brand’s desires are the same as most high school seniors. He wants to get on the field early and play for a program that can compete for a national title (meaning BCS conference school).

USF could be the winner for the 6-foot-1, 160-pound speedy wideout because the Bulls have a huge void in their receiving corps, and he would prefer to stay close to home. They have received only one commitment at receiver, from Punta Gorda Charlotte’s Alex Mut, who could wind up at safety in college.

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Bundrage has received offers from BCS conference schools Louisville, Cincinnati and Iowa State along with Marshall, Bowling Green and UCF.

He may get more attention after the way he performed against St. Thomas Aquinas in the 5A state semifinals. The only knock on Bundrage is he doesn’t have top-end speed, but there have been a lot of successful receivers in college and the NFL who have been guilty of that shortcoming.

It’s perplexing he has not received an offer from USF, which is short on quality receivers and can use a sure-handed pass catcher who knows how to create space for himself.

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Williams visited WKU earlier this season, has an official visit scheduled with Iowa State and wants to set one up for Bowling Green. He also has offers from USF, Kent State and FIU.

“My two favorites are Western Kentucky and Iowa State,” Williams said. “Iowa State was the first school to recruit me, and Western Kentucky was the first to make an offer. I want to go where I can play early, and I think I can do that at both schools.”

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Pompey has offers from Penn State and Michigan State contingent on fulfilling some academic requirements. The Spartans offered two weeks ago, and Joe Paterno threw his hat in the ring after Pompey’s Kickoff Classic game against Plant.

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Blakely told reporters after Manatee’s state semifinal game that there is nothing more valuable than his word, and he remains committed to Florida.

A noble gesture, though naive.

Meyer chose what he perceived to be right for himself and his family in resigning. Blakely should also put his best interests first. There is a reason nothing is legally binding until signing day, even with the quick hiring of Muschamp as Meyer’s replacement.

The Meyer resignation has a domino effect that is growing. Some of the top recruits in the country have either decommitted or are rethinking their commitment to Florida, Miami and Pittsburgh, which are all looking for new head coaches

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The rumor mill has former Southeast standout Jon Dowling headed to Louisville to play for Charlie Strong, the long-time assistant at Florida, which tossed Dowling off the team this year under orders from Meyer.

Strong was the Gators’ top recruiter when he was at Florida, knows Dowling from those days and might be the right coach for him. Those in the recruiting business say quite a few college scouts believe Dowling would be better suited to play receiver in college. He was signed by Florida to play defensive back.

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In talking about top recruiters, you can’t leave out Manatee County’s own Willie Taggart. Now the head coach at WKU, when he was at Stanford he recruited many of the players that have jettisoned that program to new heights.

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Wonder how the new Florida coach will take to Palmetto High grad Kedric Johnson, who was considered a questionable recruit by Meyer. Johnson also loses his defensive line coach Dan McCarney, who took the head job at North Texas. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Johnson needs to put on serious weight to play defensive end in the SEC. He was a special-teams contributor last season and could be pushed by incoming freshman Clay Burton from Venice.

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FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher chuckles when he talks about how Meyer’s resignation might hurt the Gators’ recruiting. They said the same thing about FSU last year when it was unclear whether Fisher would replace Bobby Bowden, and the Gators used the uncertainty to gain a recruiting advantage over the Seminoles.

Alan Dell, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2112.