Posted by Bryan Fischer
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- The ink on the class of 2012 letters of commitment was barely dry before the next crop of top recruits took to the field at Saturday's South Florida Express tryout as the recruiting cycle begins anew. One of the most popular 7-on-7 travel teams, the tryout brought nearly 200 players from all over the Miami-area to see if they could make the cut, led by a familiar face.
"It was exciting, there was a lot of competition and a lot of stuff that I saw last year cover-wise," Miami (Fla.) quarterback Akeem Jones, a member of last year's squad, said. "It's the same plays and same scheme so I felt comfortable."
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound signal-caller was a backup last year as the team traveled across the south to 7-on-7 tournaments. This year however, his heart is set on taking over and leading the team - and himself - to new heights.
"E.J. (Hilliard) was who I studied last year," said Jones. "I watched him as a youngster and studied under him. Now I can take over and become the nation's best. I want to prove a lot and prove a lot of people wrong. Most of all I want to do it for myself.
"I'm putting the work in."
Jones has bulked up slightly during the football season and brought his trademark canon of an arm. He's already drawing noticeable interest from colleges with two verbal scholarship offers already on the table.
"Right now I have two offers, Rutgers and Middle Tennessee," Jones said. "Florida State is close, South Florida is close, (Miami) is close."
With a smile always on his face when not laser-focused between the lines, Jones wasn't as sharp throwing the ball on a cloudy South Florida Saturday but was still the most advanced quarterback of those that showed up for the tryout. Though his talent will earn him a college scholarship, his mental makeup are what will drive him to making the best decision among what likely will be a double-digit offer list and Jones is already considering a few factors that he is looking for.
"Education and character," he said. "I want to surround myself with great coaches and get a good education. I also want to feel comfortable. Character is the biggest part, that will take you a long ways."
Though he projects at several different positions, the athletic Jones is looking to play the only one he's known the past few years: quarterback.
"That's what I want to play," he said. "I'm like (West Virginia quarterback) Geno (Smith)."
The comparison to Smith, who hails from nearby Miramar (Fla.) and is of similar build, is one reason why Jones has West Virginia at the top of his list.
"If they offer, I'm coming," he said. "I've already visited, it was very nice. If they offered, I'm signing.
"I think I can bring more excitement (to the offense) and ability with my legs. I would just carry on what Geno's doing basically and bring the program up. There's still a lot I can learn but it's a good fit."
Grace ready for what's next
One of the most impressive defenders at the event was Miramar (Fla.) linebacker Jermaine Grace. A fluid athlete with a great build, he was all over the field on Saturday and went out of his way to show coaches that was good enough to be an integral part of the team this year.
"I was out here last year but they told me I was too young to play so I came back this year and said I'm going to make it this time. The coaches basically told me I'm already on the team but I still have to go tryout," Grace said. "My coach had me playing different positions, like DB and receiver, just positions I don't normally play. I was able to experience new things and was able to do just as well."
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder has a good frame to add weight and the athleticism of a safety. Grace is already one of the most highly recruited athletes in South Florida and is a top 2013 prospect to watch.
"I've got (offers from) Florida, Florida State, Miami, South Florida, North Carolina, West Virginia," he said. "I think Alabama is close. I've talked to the coaches a lot so that's a school I've talked with that hasn't offered."
Grace has been part of a successful Miramar High program so he knows a lot of the ins and outs of the recruiting process and as such, is already beginning to figure out what he's looking for in a college football program and university.
"I want a good business program, good coaching staff, good teammates," he said. "I want to be able to learn and make it to the next level. I don't really mind (leaving home) but I don't want to get too far away from my family. If I have to I'll do it if it's best for me. But for right now, I'm not looking to go too far."
It's that time of year where Junior Days are quickly popping up on the calendar and Grace is receiving invites from several schools across the South. He won't venture outside of the state for one but did recently check out Miami's and enjoyed his time there.
"Yeah I went and it was a new experience for me," he said. "I talked with Al Golden one-on-one and with my family. It was cool. I was able to talk to players and different coaches. It was very exciting."
Grace could play at a variety of positions but appears set at playing linebacker for the South Florida Express and in college.
Shelton's experience shines
There are not too many players committed in the class of 2013 but Plantation (Fla.) cornerback Sojourn Shelton is certainly one of them and he is already building bonds with several of his classmates to make sure they know all the virtues of Florida State.
"There's so many kids, every time I get around a good one I ask if Florida State is recruiting them and tell them to let me know," Shelton said. "It's good to build bonds with player, there are a lot of players that have a chance."
One of the top corners at the event on Saturday, Shelton was a marked man as others were looking to prove something against the big time commit. Though he is "solid" to the Seminoles, he's still keeping his options open with over a year before actually signing.
"I'm definitely going to take an official to LSU," he said. "I know that's a place I want to go to because they are producing DB's. Down the road I'll have my five (official visits) listed out.
"I just want to make sure it's the best fit for me. You only get one shot."
Shelton recently picked up an offer from Wisconsin and should have plenty more despite his verbal to Florida State. With Signing Day earlier in the week, having a chance to see what kind of talent Jimbo Fisher and staff were able to bring in made the 5-foot-9, 160-pound corner quite excited for the future of the program.
"With Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr., they picked up a great defensive line class," he said. "I think that gives the corners a lot more comfort because it starts with the pressure from those guys. As far as bringing in (Ronald) Darby, P.J. Williams and (Collin Blake), we did a great job as far as recruiting. I think all Noles fans should be pretty excited about the year coming up."
Michel rehab going well
The best player on the field at the tryout didn't even participate. That's because Plantation (Fla.) running back Sony Michel, one of the top 2014 prospects in the country, was still recovering from an ACL tear suffered early in the season last year. Though he wasn't able to be a part of the activities, he came to support several of his teammates at the event as he took a break from rehab.
"It's going good for me right now," Michel said. "I'm probably about 80%. I know I'll be 100% by the season, probably before it. I'm just getting prepared until then."
Michel expects to be released in March but will not take part in Plantation's spring practice. Although doctors have given him a solid timetable, the state's top running back appears well ahead of schedule.
"I'm doing some running right now," he said. "I've been lifting weights since day one. I didn't get out of the weight room even when I was hurt. I'm always lifting."
Because he still has two years before he ultimately has to decide where to go to school, Michel is taking the recruiting process slow while still doing his homework.
"I get a lot of interest from the Florida schools," he said. "I'm looking for a great program. I want a good head coach and coaching staff, especially the running backs coach since I'm going to spend a lot of time with him. Also the atmosphere."
With a bit of free time during the summer, Michel might take a few unofficial visits but is undecided as to where. He's leaning on a few of the upperclassmen who have committed to major programs to help guide him over the next few years.
"I ask for some people's opinions," he said. "I also ask for people that go to school there what their opinion is. I ask how they like it and stuff like that."
Michel mentioned that he grew up a Miami fan and has already visited the hometown program a few times and seen several games.
A few other standouts
Miami (Fla.) linebacker Wendell Dunn, Pompano Beach (Fla.) wide receiver Devante Peete, Winter Garden (Fla.) defensive back Roman Tatum, Opa Locka (Fla.) defensive back Anthony Walker Jr.