5:17 AM EST, February 10, 2013
With the curtain falling on the 2013 college football recruiting season, it all starts over again as things gear up for the Class of 2014. With one signing class in the book, the University of Miami was already hosting a junior day on Saturday.
It’s a far different class than what this year’s seniors represented in Central Florida. This group has a lot of flash, a lot of speed and a lot of little guys who will make a big impact on college football in the future. But sifting through the candidates for the top player in the 2014 edition of the Sentinel’s Central Florida Super60, everything kept coming back to one player.
Several players could carry the torch as the No. 1-ranked player in our area. The one who stood out most in this next class of stars, however, brings far more to the table than pure athleticism, strength, speed or agility.
Zack Darlington has all of the aforementioned qualities, but what goes unmatched by most all of his other peers are the intangibles he brings to the playing field. Darlington has the tools coaches absolutely love.
His determination, will power, intelligence, fortitude and toughness are all things that can’t be coached. Living under the same roof as his coach, however, probably has a lot to do with why those intangibles are instilled in him so deeply.
“That kid will do anything for his teammates out there on that field and there is a lot to be said for that kind of unselfishness,” said one college coach about Darlington.
That’s a word that Darlington would certainly use to describe himself, although he might even consider calling himself unselfish as being too selfish. When he learns he’s been ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Central Florida, he’ll likely be embarrassed. He’d probably never consider himself deserving of placement on such a pedestal.
“I don’t even know if I could give myself a ranking. I don’t know what it would be,” Darlington said when discussing his place among his peers. He quickly diverted the conversation to other quarterbacks he has seen from the area. “I know the kid over at Olympia [Deondre Francois] is pretty good and he should have a good chance to be highly ranked in a few years. I think he’s just a sophomore.
“I also know the kid over at West Orange [fellow junior Hayden Griffitts], I’ve seen him, and he could be pretty good. The more years of experience you get, the better you’re going to be and he has a great chance to do something pretty good over there.”
College coaches who had yet to notice Darlington this past season were quickly drawn by the attention claimed from Apopka’s run to the Class 8A state title. He ended the season passing for 1,725 yards and 19 touchdowns for what was predominantly considered a run-first offense. He ran plenty on his own, gaining 708 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground.
So far he has three Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, NC State and Arizona. He received his first one on Christmas Day, but his dad said everytime he gets an offer it’s like Christmas to Zack.
“It’s kind of neat to watch him when a school offers him,” said his father and Apopka head coach Rick Darlington. “He gets all excited about the offer from every school. He wants to run out and buy socks or a shirt for that school because he thinks it’s so cool. Some big-time prospects, they might just shrug off the schools they don’t care about or whatever, but for Zack, he loves them all. He’s kind of like the anti-prospect.
“He’s very poised and not a cocky kid. He’s very humble, very grounded. He’s not really a Facebook- or Twitter-type of guy. He doesn’t let all that stuff really affect him. He just takes it all in stride.”
Darlington is ranked as the No. 22 pro-style quarterback in the country by 247sports.com, but he’s more of a dual-threat QB. Regardless of the style, however, Darlington was amazed to learn he was ranked on that kind of level.
“In the nation?” he asked in surprise. “That’s gotta be a typo. That’s really pretty cool. I actually never even thought about that. To be considered among the top people like that is really cool and I just feel honored to get talked about like that with the kids across the nation.”
He leads the way for a solid group of Central Florida rising senior quarterbacks with college aspirations: Griffitts at West Orange, Bryant Mosher of Mount Dora is coming off knee surgery and just getting going after rehab, and Jason Driskel of Hagerty, brother of the Florida starter Jeff Driskel, are in the top half of the latest Central Florida Super60, and there are a handful of others who could make some noise this season, as well.
A pair of dual threat speedsters in Jared Reimel of Lyman and Jerrell Antoine of Oak Ridge also make the list, as do tough little Jimmy Kealy at Orlando Freedom and multi-talented athletes like Groveland South Lake’s Buck Solomon, and top 10-ranked athlete Chris Davis, who guides Oviedo’s offense but is likely a college receiver. There are also a pair of hoop-star QBs in Stuckey Mosley at Orlando Timber Creek and Leesburg’s Jabari Dunham, who transferred from Eustis.
Other local QBs to watch this season in the Class of 2014 will be Lake Howell’s Garrett Kruczek, the son of former UCF coach and new Winter Park Trinity Prep head coach Mike Kruczek; Lake Highland Prep’s fourth-year starter Evan Jager; Stephen Ulmer at Orlando University led the Cougars to a district title in 2012; Winter Springs’ Anthony Siciliano, a combine-frequent thrower who finally has found a home after bouncing around a couple of seasons at three other schools; second-year starter Marcus Johnson at New Smyrna Beach; Foundation Academy’s Alec Thompson; Daytona Beach Seabreeze's Connor Blair, who is coming off a broken hand after missing his sophomore season with a knee injury; Alex Howell at Clermont East Ridge is coming off his first year as a starter; Joe Boden at Daytona Beach Father Lopez, though small, had a nice junior season; and lanky Jonathan "Beans" Lindstrom at Poinciana also returns.
Check out Tuesday’s version of The Prospector as we take a closer look at next season’s group of multi-position stars called athletes.
Chris Hays covers college football recruiting for the Sentinel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.
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