Polk's Top Athletes Put Their College Commitments Down in Writing
Thu. February 02, 2012 at 4:16 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
RICQUAN SOUTHWARD, a wide receiver for Lakeland, was this year's most-prized recruit out of Polk County. He signed with former Gators coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State. (Photo by MICHAEL WILSON | THE LEDGER )
By SOLANGE REYNER
LAKELAND | As soon as Santa Fe football star BJ Knauf decided on Purdue as his landing spot for the next four years, his aunt, a Purdue alum, made sure that her nephew was fully stocked with Boilermaker gear.
She sent some typical items, including T-shirts and hats, and some particulars: Purdue mints, a Boilermaker alarm clock, Purdue stickers, a Purdue Christmas tree ornament and some cool socks with the Purdue logo etched on.
"She was pretty excited when I made my choice," said Knauf, who turned heads during the summer with a 4.25 in the 40-yard dash at a camp in Western Kentucky.
On Wednesday morning, National Signing Day, Knauf put the basic gear to use. He sported a black polo, a black hat and a wide smile to match while signing his letter of intent. His signing was one of the splashiest in Polk County.
At Victory Christian, Demeitre Brim, another small-school player who was highly recruited throughout the summer and fall, became the first football player since the school changed its name from Evangel Christian in 2007 to sign with a Division I program. Brim, along with teammate Deonte Dempsey, who is headed to Georgia Southern, signed their letters of intent in front of the entire school at a ceremony in the chapel.
Brim, who had late interest from Wisconsin but didn't budge on his choice, is headed to Virginia to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
At Lakeland High School, Polk County's biggest recruit signed with a coach familiar to the Dreadnaughts' program: Urban Meyer, who recruited several players from Lakeland in 2006 to play at Florida, including Maurkice and Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey and Ahmad Black.
Ricquan Southward, a wide receiver, became one of Meyer's first recruits with Ohio State. Meyer took the job late last year.
Playing behind first-team All-County receiver Javares McRoy and second-team All-County Theodore Wright his junior year, Southward had to wait his turn. When it came, he led the county in receptions (54) and receiving yards (994), while finishing third in receiving touchdowns (9).
"I came into this year and I said, ‘I know I can do it,'" Southward said. "?‘Now it's time to show everyone else what I can do.'?"
He translated that season into a special one for him on the recruiting trail. Southward also had an offer from Miami.
"He had an unbelievable year this year and got noticed. He stayed, worked hard and made himself a player that got recognized by a lot of colleges," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said.
Southward's high school teammate, Evan Goodman, got looks early. He stuck with his first pick, Arizona State. He won't be alone in the desert. His brother and former Dreadaught Devin Goodman is already attending ASU.
"To go up there and play four years with my brother, not too many people can say they played high school and college football with their brother," Goodman said. "It's real exciting."
Kathleen's Kerwin Harrison is another local player leaving the state to play for a Division I program, a thought that never crossed his mind two years ago.
That's because Harrison didn't play the sport until his junior season. Instead, he wanted to be a rapper.
"He wasn't a bad kid," said Kathleen coach Irving Strickland. "He didn't get in trouble. He just didn't want to play football. And after his freshman year, he came out but he only stayed a week."
Grades stopped him from playing his sophomore year. But by then, the thought of playing high school football had seeped into his mind and that was enough to push him.
Now, Harrison is headed to Memphis.
"This is the best day of my life right now," Harrison beamed. "I'm just happy. Everything I've worked for is finally coming true."
Fort Meade linebacker-lineman Jamie Willis is heading to Florida International with the same mentality.
"I'm just going to keep doing my usual thing," said Willis at a signing ceremony where he was surrounded by friends and family, including his mother who had no idea that he had committed to FIU until the head coach there, Mario Cristobal, greeted her son on their official visit with "I'm glad to have you as a Panther."
"I kept it a secret," Willis said.
His soon-to-be teammate at FIU, Josh Glanton of Haines City, didn't.
Glanton, a linebacker, committed in mid-January, picking Syracuse over the Golden Panthers. Now the two will room together, both with hopes of starting next season.
A local athlete they could face in the Sun Belt Conference is Lake Gibson's Devante Terrell, who signed with Western Kentucky.
Terrell, a three-star recruit who also had success in wrestling and track and field, will join a multitude of Florida athletes at WKU. "I really felt that bond when I was visiting. I grew up with some of them, and that really helped me feel a lot more comfortable," Terrell said.
Comfort also was key for Lakeland Christian receiver Michael Wheary, who signed with Youngstown State.
Wheary, a second-team All-County selection, led the county in touchdown receptions (15), was second in receiving yards (970) and broke a school record with 12 catches for 190 yards in a district game. He said the biggest thing that stood out during his trip was the team unity and how the coaching staff reminded him of the one at Lakeland Christian.
[ Ledger staff writer Rick Brown and correspondent Blake Hasenzahl contributed to this report. ]