Coached by former NFL players Gerard Ross and Guss Scott, Pro Impact 1 took home the title on Sunday afternoon at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
"We feel like the kids up here are underrated," Ross said. "We wanted to go down there and make a statement against some of the best players in the state of Florida. We played with just 13 kids and they never stopped working and competiting. They did what they had to do and we're real happy for what they were able to accomplish. Beating Miami in the championship game wasn't easy but we knew going in that we'd match up well against anyone. We have a lot of talented kids who are willing to work and compete and they all showed up this weekend ready to go."
13 players, coming from 10 different high schools in the greater Jacksonville area, put on a show all day Sunday when the playoffs started. They quickly took care of Team Hard Knocks, consisting of the top players from south Florida, before running off three big wins against Team Tampa, Team Orlando, and the South Florida Express.
Pro Impact 1 used a two-quarterback system the entire weekend and it worked out really well. Fletcher's Kade Bell (6-1/170) and Bartram Trail rising junior Nathan Peterman (6-2/205) were both excellent all weekend. Bell, whose father is Kerin (JU head coach), understands the game extremely well and spreads the ball around really well. He was extremely accurate all weekend. Peterman, who will be one of the state's top QB prospects for the Class of 2012, brought something a little different. He has a big time arm and can make every throw on the field. They're two different types of quarterbacks and the two combined to throw just three interceptions in eight games.
"They're two of the best around," Ross said. "They go out, they complete passes, and they get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. We thought both of them could have led us to a title so we kept them both and just kept rotating them."
A rotation continued at running back. Ribault's William Union was a 1,000 yard runner last season but is even more impressive catching the ball out of the backfield. He made big plays all weekend. Orange Park's Karl Barr had close to 1,000 yards last season and is also a top notch pass-catcher and made some big plays on Sunday. Rashad Byers was one of the top playmakers in the Jacksonville area last season and he made a lot of big plays both from the running back and slot positions all weekend.
"We thought a few of these guys created mismatches for us and that's why we used a couple of them," Ross said. "The running backs played a key role for us this weekend."
At wide receiver, Interlachen High's A.C. Leonard stole the show. The MVP of the entire tournament, Leonard was Pro Impact's biggest threat all weekend. At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Leonard was arguably the best overall prospect at the entire event and showed why he is considered a top 10 player in the state. Also an excellent defender, Leonard is a strong candidate to become a five-star player on Scout when the pre-season rankings are finalized this summer. Leonard caught touchdowns in every game, including five in the final two.
"Everyone around here knows how good A.C. is and now everyone in the state should know," Ross said. "He's legit and he created mismatch problems for people all weekend."
Leonard teamed with the three running backs mentioned above along with Raines standout Freeman Dozier and Middleburg's Austin Sweatt to come up with big plays on offense. Dozier's a 6-2 target with good hands and wheels and looks like a major college prospect. Sweatt emerged as one of the best players in Clay County last season and proved why he's a Div 1 prospect at receiver this past weekend.
The Pro Impact defense was excellent all weekend as well. They made key stops, picked off a lot of passes, and did a great job of preventing the big play all weekend. They went msn up all of Sunday and the players made it work.
Linebacker Keitrell Taylor is 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds of muscle. He's a big time hitter on the field at Fletcher but showed off tremendous athleticism and ability to cover in space all weekend. He's definitely a name to keep an eye on from the LB position.
The two outside corner spots were locked down by Trinity's Ahmad Christian and Robert E. Lee's Devon Howard all weekend. Christian, 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, has all the tools to develop into one of the state's best and he sure looked like it out there this weekend. Howard is a little smaller but is also an outstanding cover guy who made the most of his opportunity this weekend.
"We felt pretty confident going in with those two guys on the corners," Ross said. "We believe Ahmad's as good as there is in the whole state. And Devon put his name on the map with what he did out there."
Union played the nickle spot all weekend and was the defense's biggest playmaker. At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, he looked like a player who will likely emerge as a BCS-caliber prospect this year. The interception, one of several on the weekend, he made to seal the championship game was a thing of beauty that only a few kids could've made.
"Union was our best two-way guy," Ross said. "He's explosive on both sides of the ball and showed everyone what he could do. The bigger the stage, the better he gets."
The two safety spots were locked down by Fletcher's Detavious Woods and Trinity's Nick Washington. Woods is long and very athletic and covers a lot of ground. He understands the game real well, makes great breaks on the ball, and plays with terrific instincts. He looks to be one of the top free safety prospects in all of Florida. Washington, a rising sophomore, is still young but showed why he'll be one of the best around for the next couple years in Jacksonville.
"Nick had a big opportunity and he delivered for us," Ross said. "Detavious covers so much ground, he's got those long arms, and has a nose for the ball."
In a tournament that featured nearly 250 of the best skilled position players in all of Florida, it was a group of 13 players from the greater Jacksonville area that rose above the rest of the competition this past weekend.
The fact that just one of the 13 players (Leonard) entered the event with a Division 1 offer didn't seem to matter. It didn't seem to matter when they defeated a loaded South Florida Express team twice, a SFE team with over a dozen players with Div 1 offers already. It didn't seem to matter when they knocked off a loaded Tampa team that featured several players with BCS offers already. It didn't seem to matter when they knocked off a loaded Orlando team that has three kids with offers from the defending national champs.
It was a group of 13 players who wanted to show why they were the among the best in the state and they certainly did that. All 13 of these kids can play with the best of them, can play Division 1 football.
Now hopefully we'll watch the offers arrive for these kids, and deservedly so.