This column can be written every year. In fact it is, usually. Except last year. I couldn't muster the energy. It's too depressing to write about all these great high school football players who lack the size to be great college football prospects.
It's hard to get to know these guys and watch them build high school stardom while understanding all along that their career path will likely meet a dead end.
Every year, same heights, same weights, just different names.
College scouts go down the rosters and see 5-foot-6, scratch him off. Five-seven, ditto. 5-foot-5, forget about it. You even have to be outstanding to get any looks if you are 5-8 (See Dee Hart, 2011, U.S. Army high school football National Player of the Year. Hart wasn't even on the initial Rivals.com Top 100 list that spring. But 50 touchdowns in a season will get that scribble removed from atop your name.
Hart ended up at Alabama. How's that for moving up the ladder. He tore his ACL in a summer workout, however, and is rehabbing during what would have been his freshman season.
And this year, like Dee Hart last year, athletes are starting to force the hands of college recruiters. And who can blame them. Recruits are the livelihood of NCAA coaches and their job security. When a coach making a million dollars a season wants to make an investment in his career, he wants to take out the guesswork.
But the trends are changing, and these short guys are too talented to overlook. While some schools stand hard and fast by their recruiting rules, others are beginning to open up their recruiting philosophy.
So who are we talking about this season? There are tons, and one of the best is Gary Holmes at Loxahatchee Seminole Ridge. Holmes is listed at 5-foot-9, but he says he's 5-8, 175 pounds.
At least he's honest. So far he has Middle Tennessee State and Western Michigan offers. I asked one state D I-A head coach what he thought of Holmes and his answer was quick. "Too small. It's a shame, but he's just too small."
In his first two seasons, Holmes rushed for 2,188 yards and 24 touchdowns, against 6A competition. He also runs a 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds.
"Most schools are just concerned about my height," Holmes said in June while attending the UCF team camp. "It can be frustrating at times, but what can I do about it?"
So, like all the other smaller players, he plays football, and waits.
Some of the top short players in the state do have a few offers. Bruce Natson (5-8, 165) of Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson has even committed to Utah State already. Natson, a wide receiver, had only one other D I-A offer from Ohio, so snapping up the Utah State offer shows the urgency for these players who lack size.
D.J. Abnar (5-8, 170) of Tallahassee Lincoln has the most with offers from Illinois, Iowa State, Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss, but he's listed as an athlete and can play defensive back. There are also super talents like Jamie Gilmore (5-8, 165) of Citra North Marion and Dazmond Patterson (5-8, 165) of Plant City. Patterson, one of the most impressive short players in the state, has only an Ohio offer. Hakeem Lawrence (5-7, 160) of Hialeah Miami Lakes has Western Michigan.
Then there are tons of others with no official offers: Tyler Floyd (5-8, 160) of Orlando Bishop Moore; Nigel Barker (5-6, 160) of The Villages; Brett Biller (5-8, 160) of St. Cloud; Albert Settles (5-6, 155) of Orlando First Academy; Omari Albert (5-7, 192) of Apopka Wekiva; Woodly Oralus (5-8, 165) Ocala Forest, to name a few more.
"Couple schools Northwestern and Purdue and actually UCF, they like me as a player, but at the same time they wanted a bigger person, taller," Omari Albert said. "Most schools care more about the size than actual playing. It's going OK though. I'm just being patient. I've talked to Georgia Tech, Temple and also Washington State and Michigan State. They all want film after the first three games and so by October I should know where I stand in the whole recruiting process."
As for Floyd, who tore his ACL during spring ball last year and missed his junior season, the injury has set him back just a little. And, we do mean a little. He had 16 carries for 125 yards and three touchdowns in winning 34-10 over First Academy on Friday.
"I had schools like Georgia Tech, looking at me, and actually UCF before I got hurt, but once I got hurt, they all kind of backed off and wanted to see how things started off this season," Floyd said. "But since the season started I haven't talked to any coach, so far. I just have to try to play best I can and hopefully the coaches will come around."
"The knee feels pretty good … like back to normal. I think it feels stronger than the other knee, I feel confident in it."
And then last but certainly not least is a well known name in Tampa Carrollwood Day quarterback/linebacker Deuce Gruden ... that's right, son of former Tampa Bay Bucs' coach Jon Gruden. Deuce is 180 pounds of muscle packed into a 5-foot-6 frame.
He loves to hit people. I think he even likes to be hit. But he is small. He was listed at 5-6 when he was a rising sophomore. He's still 5-6 as a senior, and that may still even be generous.
But if anyone were going to overcome height issues, it would be Jon "Deuce" Gruden II.
He had short ... err ... quick work Friday night in the team's season-opener at Daytona Beach Father Lopez, routing the Green Wave 57-12. Gruden was 5-of-6 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns of 62 and 73 yards. By halftime it was 50-6 and Gruden was done.
"I like to run people over," Gruden recently told Eddie Daniels of the Tampa Tribune. "I got my bench (press) up to 350, so I'm not scared of anybody."
His coach certainly likes the young Gruden's mentality and toughness.
"Do you really want to play for a quarterback who won't tuck it up and go the last three yards for a touchdown?" Carrollwood Day coach Lane McLaughlin told the Tribune. "Deuce is going to run over somebody or he's going to take the hit."
Unfortunately for these guys, it's the hits off the field that are harder to take.
Chris Hays can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org..
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