College Recruiters Getting a Head Start on Polk Prospects With Verbal Commitments
Mon. August 13, 2012 at 11:23 p.m. | By Polk Preps Staff
AUBURNDALE'S DERWIN JAMES, RIGHT, attempts to bring down Lake Gibson's Sammie Carter during a game last season. (Photo by ERNST PETERS | THE LEDGER )
By JUSTIN KLINE
Derwin James is about to be a sophomore at Auburndale, and he's already given a verbal commitment to Florida State.
"I was all about Florida State from the start," James said.
He made his decision in February, with support from his family and coaches.
"There are a lot of other kids who, if this happened to them, I would have dreaded it," said Kenneth Grantham, the Bloodhounds' head coach. "But Derwin's a great kid, he's very humble."
Scouting younger athletes seems to be the big trend for college coaches, and it's reasonable to think that there will one day be many more Polk athletes who will have scholarship offers before they have driver's licenses.
David Sills made national headlines when he gave a verbal commitment to Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin at age 13. LSU offered a scholarship to an eighth-grader named Dylan Moses a few weeks ago, and 14-year-old Tate Martell accepted his offer from Washington not long afterward. Advances in technology have made it much easier for coaches to find a player in any corner of the country, and they're now fawning over more young guns than ever before.
James is a cousin of former Ridge Community standout and current Miami Hurricanes running back Mike James, but he doesn't want to play for the 'Canes. In fact, he never wanted to play for anyone but the Seminoles. He'll follow in the footsteps of his other cousins, Karlos and Vince Williams, who both came from Ridge and now play defense for the Seminoles.
It was also those two who helped James get noticed by the coaching staff.
"I went up there to visit, and they showed me everything," James said.
His father, Blue, was also heavily recruited by FSU while he was a student at Haines City. Florida State Defensive line coach Odell Haggins, who is from Bartow, has been known to do a lot of recruiting in Polk, and he had heard good things about Derwin James.
All of those connections got head coach Jimbo Fisher's attention, and Fisher immediately liked what he saw.
"He thought Derwin was a junior," Grantham said.
A short time later, James became the first freshman to get an offer from Fisher, and the first freshman commit that Grantham has ever coached.
"He's going to be a heck of a football player," Grantham said. "When you see him on film, you can tell there's a difference between him and everyone else on the field."
James knows that the spotlight will be on him and his every move for the next three years, but he's prepared to deal with it.
"Coach Grantham told me not to let it get to my head," James said. "He said I still have to play and work hard, and I'm going to work hard."
On the other hand, there's Luke Hiers of Lake Wales. Hiers, who will also be a sophomore this year, became the first freshman to start right away as a lineman for coach Rod Shafer's Highlanders. Shafer also said that there have only been four freshmen during his 37-year tenure to ever start all year in any position, and Haiers was one of them.
"Luke is a tremendous athlete, and he has a 3.9 GPA," Shafer said. "He can go to school pretty much wherever he wants."
And, boy, do schools ever want him.
Hiers is 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds. He's primarily a center, but can also play defensive tackle if needed. Shafer said he's got a very high football IQ and can make all the calls that set great centers apart from the rest of the pack.
He's been recruited by coaches all over the country, even drawing interest from perennial Southeastern Conference powerhouses Florida, LSU and Alabama. But Haiers, unlike James, is going to wait to make his final decision.
"I told him the same thing I always tell kids," Shafer said. "I told him not to blow anybody off, but also keep his options open. End of junior year, beginning of senior year is when kids should start to seriously consider where they're going to go."
Shafer said Hiers first got noticed at a football combine in St. Petersburg when he was tasked to compete in board drills against a junior who had committed to Florida, and beat him twice.
"The coach went up to Luke and asked him where he was going to go to college," Shafer said, "and Luke just goes, ‘I'm only 14!' The guy couldn't believe it."