The Mustangs' roster features at least seven players with D-I potential, highlighted by one of the nation’s top defensive backs in Tony Carter.
A member of the Rivals100 Team and the No. 2 cornerback in the nation, Carter (5-10, 175, 4.35) has dozens of scholarship offers entering his senior season. Mandarin coach Richard Burnoski said his star player appears to have narrowed his list down to five schools.
“I think we’ve narrowed it down to the five that he’ll make official visits to this fall,” Burnoski said. “Florida State is the first. They’re probably in the lead right now. Notre Dame is second. Tennessee is third. Oregon is fourth, and Miami is fifth.”
One date is set thus far. Carter plans to visit Oregon on Dec. 5.
It’s been a banner offseason for Carter, who recently ran a 4.23 (hand-timed) forty at Mandarin’s combine day. He’s also bulked up a bit to 175 pounds and prepared himself to play both ways this season.
“We’re going to put him at wide receiver, too,” Burnoski said. “He could have played there last year, but we had two kids we were trying to get into college. He’s going to be tough to handle over there. He’s just a playmaker who’s always around the ball no matter where you put him.
As a junior, Carter recorded 43 solo tackles, nine interceptions, four interception returns for touchdowns, four blocked punts and three blocked kicks.
Another Mandarin standout who has drawn some early scholarship offers is safety C.J. Hirschman (6-0, 195, 4.5).
“C.J.’s got offers from Stanford, Michigan State, Syracuse, Duke, Louisville, Central Florida, South Florida, and it looks like Florida State is on the bubble,” Burnoski said. “They say they need two game films before they decide, but I feel real strongly that they’re going to offer. He’s going to have a big season.”
As a junior, Hirschman recorded 64 tackles and five interceptions. He's known as an enforcer in run support, and also has the speed and athleticism to cover top wideouts.
"He's a physical, aggressive kid," Burnoski said. "But he's also runs real well. He's a very athletic kid. Like Tony, he seems to always be around the ball."
His father, Chuck, played for Miami in the 70s. If an offer developed with the Hurricanes, Hirschman has made no secret he would likely jump on it.
The Mustangs also have a pair of sleepers to watch this season in all-purpose back Patrick Clark (5-10, 190, 4.4) and tailback Johnny Hunt (5-5, 165, 4.4).
“Pat was at University Christian last year and had all kinds of yards as a running back,” Burnoski said. “We’re going to use him in the slot mostly. He’ll get a few carries every now and then, but we think he’ll probably be a receiver at the next level, so we’re going to play him there.
"We went to the Bethune-Cookman 7-on-7 passing tournament, and he just super. Nobody could stop him. He wound up winning the MVP award. That kind of tells you something because Tony (Carter) was on the field, too.”
Clark has drawn early offers from Marshall, Bowling Green, South Florida, Middle Tennessee, Liberty and Bethune-Cookman. Burnoski thinks his stock could raise significantly with a big senior season.
Hunt, meanwhile, is an intriguing prospect due to his raw speed and elusiveness. Burnoski said he ran a 4.29 on grass this summer at the Nike camp.
“But he’s 5-5,” Burnoski said. “I know it’s going to be hard for a lot of people to get past that, but this kid can play. He’s not a small kid. He’s pretty stout at 165 pounds and very strong. Plus, he can just fly. That's the thing that just jumps out at you.
"We’ve had our last three running backs sign D-I scholarships, including Brian Dennison with N.C. State this past year, and Johnny could be good as any of them. If someone shows a little faith in him, I think they’re going to be rewarded.”
This will mark Hunt's first year with the Mustangs. He transferred from Saddlebrook, where he had more than 800 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns as a junior.
Kickers usually are at the low end of the totem pole when it comes to recruiting, but Mandarin has a very good one in Adam Ward. He merits watching as the season progresses. As a junior, he averaged 40.2 yards per punt and converted three of four field goal attempts, including a long of 51 yards.
Ward isn't your typical kicker, either. He's quite an athlete, having been clocked as fast as 4.4 in the 40. He bench presses more than 300 pounds and squats around 450.
Florida, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Louisville are the main schools showing interest in Ward.
Mandarin plays Neptune Beach Fletcher tonight in a preseason exhibition. The Mustangs open the season on Sept. 5 at crosstown rival Bartram Trail.