Rivals Camp Series: Stars shine in Sunshine State

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The state of Florida always has more than its fair share of explosive skill players and college-ready prospects. This past weekend -- at two Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour events -- several future-Saturday stars shined in Orlando and Miami.
Those who were the best of the brightest of the 450 participants were surprisingly not the 25-plus representatives inside the Rivals250 for the Class of 2014, but rather players who will have to wait another year to gain a single star ranking.
According to Rivals.com Southeast regional analyst Kynon Codrington, the opportunity to stand out was captured by members of the Class of 2015.
"It was really surprising to me when I started to realize that every time I was seeing someone make a big play it was an underclassman," Codrington said. "There were a couple of kids that really impressed me and even though (Rivals.com Southeast regional analyst) Woody Wommack was responsible for the underclassmen reports from the weekend, my notes were full of younger guys."
The Class of 2015 was especially prominent in Orlando, where defensive lineman Byron Cowart of Seffner (Fla.) Armwood took home the defensive lineman MVP, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian defensive back and early LSU pledge Kevin Toliver II claimed the defensive skill position MVP, and Tampa (Fla.) Sickles running back RayRay McCloud was named the MVP of the offensive skill players.
Codrington said that the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Cowart stood out from registration to reception.
"He walked into the event and everyone took notice," Codrington said. "He capitalized on his chance to get noticed, for sure. He won his reps and he was a major player."
Armwood has a rich tradition of defensive linemen as the school has had five defensive tackles and six defensive ends sign with FBS programs since Rivals.com began tracking recruiting classes in 2002.
Cowart entered the camp without a single offer, a fact that surprised Codrington. His play impressed the competition.
"I had an offensive lineman from [Tampa (Fla.)] Plant email me after the event just shocked with Cowart," Codrington said. "He said that when the two teams played last year that Cowart was invisible but was very impressed with him at the camp."
The opportunity to build a reputation to match his resume was the goal for McCloud.
After rushing for nearly 1,400 yards as a sophomore, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound back was hoping his performance --- and the attention that comes with it -- will translate to college offers.
"It would be great," McCloud said. "I want to keep getting bigger and stronger. I think that will help."
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McCloud also participated in the Rivals.com Underclassman Challenge at DeSoto (Texas) High last summer, saying that the experiences have made him better.
"I think both camps gave me a chance to improve," McCloud said. "Hopefully, I can keep improving and have schools take notice."
Codrington added that other young participants were very worthy of notoriety as well.
Among those that he highlighted were a pair of receivers -- Jonathan Thomas of Brooksville (Fla.) Nature Coast and Sam Bruce of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) University School, as well as Martez Ivey, a young offensive lineman from Apopka (Fla.) High.
Thomas and Bruce were as dynamic as they were opposites.
"Jonathan came in at 6-foot-3, nearly 6-foot-4, and was able to get open and ran good routes," Codrington said. "Bruce is a 2016 kid who looks like he is going to be the next standout slot receiver in South Florida. He was right around 5-foot-9 and was really quick."
Thomas has offers from Massachusetts and Toledo, while Bruce already has been verbally offered by UCF and Eastern Michigan.
Ivey was a more known commodity as he has been offered by Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Traditionally, the state of Florida ends the recruiting cycle signing the second-most players to FBS-level programs -- behind only Texas -- and there were plenty of rising seniors who had solid performances as well.
Ponte Vedra (Fla.) High linebacker Dillon Bates, Jacksonville (Fla.) Sandalwood linebacker Kain Daub and Wellington (Fla.) Palm Beach Central offensive tackle K.C. McDermott each earned an invitation to the Rivals Five-Star Challenge based on their performances, but only McDermott took home a position MVP in the two events.
Those three were not the only among the ranked players to showcase their talents.
Miami (Fla.) Central running back Joseph Yearby, Cross City (Fla.) Dixie County defensive back Duke Dawson, Winter Park (Fla.) High defensive end Trent Harris, Immokalee (Fla.) High running back D'Ernest Johnson, Miami (Fla.) Northwestern receiver JoJo Robinson, Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington defensive end Chad Thomas, Jensen Beach (Fla.) High quarterback Alex Ogle and University School defensive back Quincy Wilson were among the upperclassmen that caught the eye of analysts.
Codrington said that having many players of a high caliber at the event was impressive.
"It was really good to see that there were a lot of highly ranked guys who wanted to come out and compete," Codrington said.
"I take a page from Tony Dungy when talking about these optional events. It doesn't count against players who don't come out but it does stick with you; it speaks to your willingness to compete. All the kids who took the time out of their weekend to come and test themselves are the real competitors."
Codrington added that he hopes the young players who gained notoriety this summer keep their competitive streak when the summer circuit starts up entering their senior season.
"You take note of the guys who stay hungry," he said. "Everyone is always impressed with the talent in South Florida but there is another level of player that wants to work to get better and is willing to challenge themselves to get better.
"Hopefully the guys that were the story this weekend will be fighting to keep those headlines next year when we come back here."
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