Kevin Sousa is starting to hear how great he is from every direction.
Most people in attendance at this past weekend's Under Armour Combine inJacksonville had pretty much the same reaction to Sousa's performance.
Among the raves:
"Sousa was a man among boys."
"Big Sousa looked like a stud out there."
"The Sousa kid was incredible ... really stood out. He's got a cannon
arm. That kid is big-time."
Just random comments from three different Orlando school representativeswho have no vested interest in how Sousa performed.
They just know they were amazed at what they saw.
But it's neither amazing nor surprising to Sousa and his personal coach,handler and guardian Anthony Paradiso, an assistant coach at Lake NonaHigh School.
"That's what Coach Paradiso said would happen if I listened to him anddid what he told me to do," said Sousa, pronounced SOSA. "I put in morework for Coach Paradiso than anyone and he's pushed me and motivated meto want to be more successful. I'm committed to what he tells me to do."
Sounds easy, huh? Well for Sousa, the No. 15-ranked player in the Sentinel's 2011 Central Florida Super60, apparently it has been. He's a rarebreed of athlete who just has that thing about him. All he really neededwas a little direction and his natural skills would take care of therest.
"He's an unbelievable, gifted talent and he just needed someone to pullit out of him. I tell everybody he's just getting his feet wet," saysParadiso. "I found him roaming the halls (at Cypress Creek) when I first met him and he wasjust a soccer player.
"He never played football. I got him to buy into something, buy into thefact that he could be great."
He certainly looked the part last year for first-year program Lake Nona.Sousa passed for 1,290 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for another859 yards and five scores in the first seven games, but injured his kneein the eighth game and was done for the season. Not too shabby for seven games.
He started to gain some attention. Was even invited to attend a Notre Dame game on an unofficial visit last year. Just a little taste of things to come for Sousa.
But how is it that a teenager can put so much trust into one man? Manyup-and-comers thumb their nose at adult advice, but Sousa was convinced.
"It was the way he approached me. He convinced me to do it. He motivatedme to do it," Sousa said. "It showed how much he cared about me and howmuch he wanted me to be successful."
Paradiso believed so much in the kid that he even offered to become hisofficial, temporary guardian when his parents were going to move back to theBoston area for a better financial situation, less than two years ago.
But there was this football thing Kevin had discovered. And Paradiso. Dad went off to Boston to work, mom remained in Orlando, and the couple is still together, whileParadiso acts as mentor.
"We knew nothing about this football. We wanted him to play basketballand soccer because that's what they teach him and I thought he neverliked the football," said Kevin's mother, Ana Sousa, whose nativelanguage is the Portuguese spoken in the Republic of Cape Verde, anisland country off the western coast of Africa.
"My main focus has always been academic. I want him to get good gradesso he can go on to university. But the football come and it's a blessing... God give him a gift. I still focus on the academic but this is hisown dream and I support his own dream."
Dad flies in when he can get away from his job as a manager at GarelickFarms, a dairy in Franklin, Mass.
"Both games he flew back for we won," Sousa said.
Ana Sousa gives her boy's relationship with Paradiso her blessing. Ithelps the younger Sousa deal with all of the football things and allowsher to just be mom.
"[Paradiso] is a good guy. He helped him a lot and I thank God for him,"said mom. "It was almost like God's assignment. We stayed over here tosee what was going to happen."
The answer remains to be seen.
"He's a good kid. He's special," Paradiso said. "Wherever he ends up,it's going to be exciting ... even beyond college. He's going to dospecial things."
His abilities extend far beyond his big arm. He makes things happen withhis legs, as well, and he's quite agile for a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder. Hiships change direction with ease. The moves are such that Shakira mighteven be jealous.
"The other teams, they come out there with one intention and that's tostop Kevin," Paradiso said. "That's what impresses me. Everyone knowshe's going to get the ball, but he's still able to make things happen.He's not your average 16-year-old."
That big arm, however, is what can get him in trouble right now. Hisbiggest knock is accuracy. But he says he's working on that.The other knock is his footwork and ability to drop back after takingsnaps from under center, as opposed to the shotgun, but Sousa said thatcriticism might be a bit misdirected.
"I think I'm a lot more accurate from under center," he said. "We usedto work on everything from under center first, and until we got itright, we wouldn't go to the shotgun."
Right now he's working on doing both and doing it with ease intransition.
"This is the best high school quarterback I have ever seen," Paradisosays, "and I've seen a bunch. I saw John Brantley (next year's UFstarter) when he was at Ocala Trinity and Kevin has a much stronger arm.Now John was a lot more accurate, but that'll come."
As will everything else. Even his mother's understanding of the game.
"I try to learn little bit when I see people talking on the TV to see ifI'm going to like it and my concern is I don't want him to get hurt,"Ana Sousa said.
And when he got hurt last year, there was a bit of concern.
"Oh, of course," Ana said. "But this is his dream and that decision isup to him."
He has a huge decision coming up: His choice of college.
Right now he's just getting warmed up in the recruiting process withoffers from Florida International and Florida Atlantic. He also hasverbal offers from Tulane and Miami.
Eventually he won't be able to remember them all. But he hasParadiso to help.
"I'll go wherever Coach Paradiso thinks is best for me," Sousa said."I've trusted in him from the beginning and I'm not going to stoptrusting him now."
Oh, and he has one other dream, which just thinking about ought to thrill Lake Nona head coach Anthony Hamre.
"We got everybody back. We didn't have any seniors last year," Sousa said of the 1-9 Lions. "I want to help lead this team all the way to qualify to be in the state playoffs this year ... working toward being able to compete against more teams."
Just icing on the cake for the young Lake Nona program.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun