The questions were frequent and consistent over the past few weeks, as more and more people started to take notice of a bunch of football players called Blue Darters in a town called Apopka.
As Apopka made its run toward the Florida Class 8A state championship, which culminated Saturday night in a 53-50 shootout for the ages against Weston Cypress Bay, those mired in anonymity for 12 games this season were suddenly beginning to take on identity, even if it wasn’t by name, at first.
On the sidelines people wondered: Who’s that No. 18? Why isn’t anyone recruiting him? Who’s recruiting No. 6? Does he have any offers yet? How about No. 66? Where’s he going? What about No. 10, is he getting recruited? How about No. 77?
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The answers were all the same: no, nobody, none and nowhere.
Apopka went 13-2 this season. There are some pretty good players on this squad.
Only one player on the 60-man state championship roster for the Apopka Blue Darters has a college football scholarship offer. That is No. 66, 6-foot-3, 288-pound senior center Dazzie Morris, whose lone offer is from Bethune-Cookman University.
Maybe they go unnoticed because they don't scream for attention.
These kids are humble. They play together, play for each other. They pray to God before, during and after football games. They have bible study, though it is not mandatory.
They have a coach who believes in them. Rick Darlington doesn’t care if you have offers. Heck, he’d probably prefer they didn’t, well, until after the season.
But now Darlington’s little secret is out of the bag, and for some players, we do mean little. Mighty mite, 5-foot-4, 143-pound Jevric Blocker has been one of the leading rushers in the Orlando area all season. The kid is amazing.
Blocker needs a ladder to see eye-to-eye with most of the players around whom he runs circles on the football field. They can’t catch him. It’s like watching a game of cat and mouse. Darligton calls him his “garden gnome.” Darlington also said Blocker does have an offer.
“We offered him a seat on the bus,” Coach D said last week on the coaches’ teleconference leading up to the title game. “We’re hoping he commits by Wednesday.”
But the Darters have burst onto the scene with a bunch of underclassmen who will be drawing plenty of attention in the near future. (By the way, a Darter is a bluish-gray colored North American hawk.) The best-kept secret in Orange County is no longer password-protected. Perhaps now recruiters will take notice.
“I sure hope so,” Darlington said Monday. “But you know, recruiting is such a combine and camp and recruiting-service-driven thing ... and high-school coaches hate that.
“Players are ranked amazingly high based on what guys are doing running around cones in shorts in April, rather than what they do on the football field during the season. We like players who lead teams to victories, not for how fast they can run around cones.”
It will have to happen fast for seniors Morris or pint-sized Blocker, TE Trey Hendrickson (he’s No. 18) or LB Garrett Spek and DE Deon Lowman. Twin OTs Kaleb and Kelby Bevelle could probably play somewhere, as well. Kicker/punter Brett Wilson isn’t bad either. He’s just 7-for-7 on field goals and 68-of-68 on extra points. No big deal.
The ones who have recruiting-types licking their chops, however, are the youngsters. Apopka starts seven sophomores, and seven juniors, sometimes more. All seven title-game TDs were scored by underclassmen, six of them by sophomores.
Leading Apopka's 2014 list will be Coach D’s son Zack Darlington, No. 6. He’s a 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback who made believers out of whoever watched as the Darters marched to the state crown. He has skills as both a runner and a passer, but what he has in sheer determination, toughness — he played the final four weeks with a fractured wrist on his throwing arm — and football sense is immeasurable. His ability to lead a team is as good as any you will find.
Next year’s crop also features Rakeem Smith, a quick, hard-hitting safety whose athletic ability makes up for his 5-foot-7, 168-pound frame. Offers will be tough due to his size, but he certainly makes up for it in everything he does.
"Right now I’m just happy about the team win," Smith said on Monday. "but in the future, I just hope that comes ... the recruiting."
Isaiah Buehler (6-3, 221) plays defensive tackle for the Darters, but he has a linebacker frame and is probably the most unheralded player — and quietest. Other junior starters are FS Robert Thomas (5-10, 168), OG Sam Janetzke (6-2, 265), NG Anthony Ellis (6-1, 238) and WR Jacob Wittrock (6-0, 188). Two others also see plenty of time in D-linemen Robert Greathouse (6-1, 209) and Eric Jackson (6-0, 196).
Then there are the Super Sophs. No. 10 is Chandler Cox, who is as tough as his QB counterpart Darlington. Cox, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound QB/FB, played the state title game with a broken rib. That didn’t stop him nor did the Cypress Bay defense. When Apopka needed tough yards, especially at the goal line, everyone at the Citrus Bowl knew Cox was getting the ball. Didn’t matter. They went to the Wildcat – or should we say WildCox. He scored three goal-line TDs.
The other stud sophomore is OG Martez Ivey, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound raw talent who will get better and better. But don’t forget Ray Ray Smith (5-11, 184), the speedy slot back who can do a number of things well, or Daquon Isom (5-9, 155), the heir apparent to Blocker’s tailback spot. Other 2015 starters are DE Johnny Robinson (5-11, 214), LB Billy Caughell (6-0, 184), CB J.J. Simmons (5-5, 149) and CB Ben Bascom (5-7, 150).
The bright lights of the big city have shined on these Apopka players. Anonymity is a thing of the past. Their cover is blown. Brace yourselves boys and get ready to be recruited. The future is bright. We hope.
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 now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.