Lake Nona QB Kevin Sousa just starting to scratch the surface of his potential

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 in Jacksonville 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 representatives who 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 Nona High School.

"That's what Coach Paradiso said would happen if I listened to him and did what he told me to do," said Sousa, pronounced SOSA. "I put in more work for Coach Paradiso than anyone and he's pushed me and motivated me to 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 rare breed of athlete who just has that thing about him. All he really needed was a little direction and his natural skills would take care of the rest.

"He's an unbelievable, gifted talent and he just needed someone to pull it out of him. I tell everybody he's just getting his feet wet," says Paradiso. "I found him roaming the halls (at Cypress Creek) when I first met him and he was just a soccer player.

"He never played football. I got him to buy into something, buy into the fact 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 another 859 yards and five scores in the first seven games, but injured his knee in 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? Many up-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 motivated me to do it," Sousa said. "It showed how much he cared about me and how much he wanted me to be successful."

Paradiso believed so much in the kid that he even offered to become his official, temporary guardian when his parents were going to move back to the Boston 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, while Paradiso acts as mentor.

"We knew nothing about this football. We wanted him to play basketball and soccer because that's what they teach him and I thought he never liked the football," said Kevin's mother, Ana Sousa, whose native language is the Portuguese spoken in the Republic of Cape Verde, an island country off the western coast of Africa.

"My main focus has always been academic. I want him to get good grades so 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 his own dream and I support his own dream."

Dad flies in when he can get away from his job as a manager at Garelick Farms, 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. It helps the younger Sousa deal with all of the football things and allows her 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 to see 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 do special things."

His abilities extend far beyond his big arm. He makes things happen with his legs, as well, and he's quite agile for a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder. His hips change direction with ease. The moves are such that Shakira might even be jealous.

"The other teams, they come out there with one intention and that's to stop Kevin," Paradiso said. "That's what impresses me. Everyone knows he'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. His biggest knock is accuracy. But he says he's working on that. The other knock is his footwork and ability to drop back after taking snaps from under center, as opposed to the shotgun, but Sousa said that criticism might be a bit misdirected.

"I think I'm a lot more accurate from under center," he said. "We used to work on everything from under center first, and until we got it right, we wouldn't go to the shotgun."

Right now he's working on doing both and doing it with ease in transition.

"This is the best high school quarterback I have ever seen," Paradiso says, "and I've seen a bunch. I saw John Brantley (next year's UF starter) 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 if I'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 is up 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 with offers from Florida International and Florida Atlantic. He also has verbal offers from Tulane and Miami.

Eventually he won't be able to remember them all. But he has Paradiso 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 stop trusting 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
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