I wondered how this was going to play out. The biggest quarterback battle of the early offseason was taking place at Austin Tindall Park in Kissimmee on Sunday, and I wondered if De’Andre Johnson, Deondre Francois or Tucker Israel could actually rise up.
It was going to be difficult for any of the quarterbacks to actually be impressive enough to separate himself from this group. I’ve seen them all throw numerous times. When they are just throwing the football, there are few better in their class.
The results of Sunday’s National Underclassman Five-Star Challenge in Kissimmee was basically a three-way tie. De’Andre and Deondre — Double Dre, as I like to call them — were co-MVPs for the quarterback position and Israel was the winner of the leadership award. All three walked away with hardware. That’s how it should have been.
“It doesn’t matter to me. I’m just out here to compete,” Israel said.
They’ve become friends, too. They enjoy the competition and camaraderie.
And they will continue to compete. The trio, the top quarterbacks in the state for 2015, will see each other again, at camps like Nike’s Football Training Camp right back at Tindall Park and the Rivals 100 Series in Oviedo later this month.
The big one is in two weeks, also at Tindall Park, at the Elite 11 regional competition.
Following eight Elite 11 regional competitions, former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer and his staff will pick the finalists who will compete at Nike’s “The Opening” this summer in Beaverton, Ore. Florida has had the past two winners in Winter Park’s Asianti Woulard, now at UCLA, and Fort Lauderdale University School’s Sean White, who signed with Auburn. Florida State’s Jameis Winston won the event in 2011.
Johnson, whose 34-4 record at Jacksonville First Coast speaks for itself, is committed to Florida State and has been pledged to the Seminoles since 2012. He’s accurate throwing the ball and a proven leader, taking the Bucs to the state title game in 2011 as a freshman with a 14-0 mark before losing to Manatee in the final. His almost 4-to-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is ridiculous, and he’s completed 63 percent of his 777 passes for 8,002 yards and 75 touchdowns. He can run, too.
Israel is part of coach Anthony Paradiso’s pass-happy spread offense, which I call "Air Diso" at Orlando Lake Nona. The Lions let it fly and Israel has been winging it pretty impressively since he, too, became a starter as a freshman. Israel, who recently committed to Clemson, has completed 66 percent of his passes, an incredible number, especially considering he has attempted 1,052 passes during the past three seasons. He has 10,593 yards and 106 touchdowns to just 32 picks (a ratio of 3-to-1). Lake Nona also made the playoffs for the first time ever this past season. Along with the yards he'll pile up as a senior, Israel would also like to elcipse 1,000 yards on the ground.
Francois, the lone un-committed player of the trio, went through a coaching staff transition at Orlando Olympia this past season and his numbers showed, but the player I call “The Natural” will surely bounce back from a bumpy junior season. He has 16 offers, including the state's big three, as well as the likes of Auburn — which he received Monday — Ohio State and Nebraska.
During his two-year career, he has thrown for 3,162 yards and 28 touchdowns and completed 54 percent of his passes, a number that was pulled way down by his junior percentage of 48. He also struggled to see eye-to-eye with new coach Tom Paolucci and missed one game. He has numerous big-time offers, including Florida, Florida State and Miami. What stands out is the ease with which he can hurl a football 60 yards downfield. It’s effortless, natural.
Francois and Israel are ranked Nos. 7 and 8, respectively, in the Sentinel's 2015 Central Florida Super60. Johnson has a leg up in the state rankings, coming in at No. 36 in the Sentinel's 2015 Florida Top 100, while Francois is No. 57 and Israel is No. 60. Sentinel rankings will be updated March 16.
Sure, there are other strong quarterbacks in the state, including Torrance Gibson of Plantation American Heritage (a player I think is the No. 2 receiver in Florida, but he said he will play QB in college), Brad Mayes of Tampa Berkeley, Dwayne Lawson of Tampa Hillsborough, Brandon Ziarno of Melbourne Central Catholic, Christian Alexander of Lakeland Christian, Daniel Parr of Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, Sage Atwood of Cape Coral Ida Baker or even big thrower Cody Long of Estero.
However, with apologies to Gibson, Johnson, Francois and Israel are really the cream of the crop.
Who will rise to the top? Ha. I’m not dumb enough to pick that.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, and on Instagram at os_recruiting.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun