NCF On The Trail: Gerald Willis III

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

January, 6, 2014
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College football recruiting is currently in a dead period, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a ton of recruiting news around the SEC. There were several commitments during the Under Armour and U.S. Army Bowl All-America games, including the top player in the country, Leonard Fournette, announcing his decision. There were also some decommitments and new, important offers were handed out. Here’s the latest news around the SEC.

SEC schools land big commitments: There was a flurry of commitments during and after the All-American games this weekend. SEC schools landed commitments from eight different players during the Under Armour All-America game and the U.S. Army Bowl. Here’s a closer look at who committed where. All eight players were ranked in the top 150 players of the ESPN 300.

RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) -- Committed to LSU over Alabama and Texas.
DT Gerald WIllis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Florida over LSU and Alabama.
S Laurence “Hootie” Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU and Ole Miss.
ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) -- Committed to Texas A&M over LSU.
WR Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westside) -- Committed to Texas A&M over Missouri, LSU, Oregon and Arkansas.
OL Brian Wallace (Saint Louis/Christian Brothers College HS) -- Committed to Arkansas over Alabama and Missouri.
S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) -- Committed to LSU over Florida.
DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas) -- Committed to Alabama over LSU.


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- LSU's drive for five commitments at the Under Armour All-America Game ended shortly after it kicked off. Tigers fans vented their frustrations when receiver Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr) committed to Texas A&M and his high school teammate, defensive tackle Gerald Willis III, picked Florida. It mushroomed when Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) committed to SEC West rival Alabama later in the game.

But LSU still managed to walk away with the biggest prize of the 2014 recruiting calendar when No.1-ranked Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) committed to the Tigers. In the end, Fournette wasn't some consolation prize. His decision will mean more to LSU fans than any of the other players who got away. Fournette -- who had 44 yards rushing and 46 yards receiving in the game -- is the best running back to come out of the high school ranks since Adrian Peterson was tearing through defenses as a Texas high school legend. Just like Peterson, Fournette has lofty expectations for himself when he arrives in Baton Rouge, La.

"I plan on winning a Heisman and a national championship with my fellow teammates," Fournette said while surrounded by a throng of microphones and television cameras. "I can handle the pressure. I can handle it."

Before you complain about Fournette saying that, don't forget that Peterson stormed into Norman, Okla., as a true freshman and was a Heisman finalist and led Oklahoma to the 2005 BCS National Championship Game. He said similar things when he was coming out of high school and was able to handle the pressure of those expectations.

Fournette could do the same.

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Five Stars gallery


Gerald Willis III surprised many when he chose Florida over LSU. It’s a huge get for the Gators after losing some momentum following a tough 2013 season.

How will he fit with the Gators? Let’s break it down:


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago in the Under Armour All-America Game, Florida fans were treated to a satisfying showcase of their top two recruits -- cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and running back Kelvin Taylor.

Neither disappointed as a freshman this past fall. Hargreaves was named first-team All-SEC and Taylor showed promise after taking over as Florida's primary ball-carrier just before midseason.

After going 4-8 in 2013, Florida needs impact freshmen more than ever. Here's a look at what to watch for in Thursday's UA Game (4 p.m., ESPN, complete roster).


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The practices are in the books and now is the time for the nation’s top prospects to showcase their skills under the bright lights of the Under Armour All-America game (4 p.m. Thursday, ESPN). With an outstanding collection of talent taking the field, it can be easy to feel a football sensory overload. No matter where you look, you will see a promising prospect in action, but to help guide your focus, we put together a few viewing tips. You can’t go wrong wherever your eyes take you on the field, but the following could be a good place to start.

If you want to know where next year's top college freshmen will play …


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UA Game notebook: Talking a good game

December, 31, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The third day of practices for the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game, which will air live Thursday at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN, was full of entertainment. Players engaged in some back-and-forth trash talk, coach Deion Sanders gave some dance lessons, there was a special guest in attendance and a linebacker hit Racean "Roc" Thomas so hard he nearly broke his face mask. Here’s a closer look at the latest news and notes from the third day of practice.

Talking the talk

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Miller Safrit/ESPNJamal Adams has drawn attention for his stellar play and unmatched trash-talking ability.
The top prospects in the country aren’t just skilled on the field but also in the art of trash-talking. Many of the players took part in verbal intimidation during practice, but there were a few who seemed to excel at it.

Defensive back Jamal Adams' (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) name has been brought up the most as one of the best trash-talkers so far. His persistence is what most, including receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), have noticed.

“Jamal is the best at it,” Dupre said. “It doesn’t get in my head anymore because I know him really well. He knows I got him a lot earlier. He’s a good friend of mine and I know he’s probably the best at it because he’s nonstop. The more you do it, the more you get under people’s skin.”

Receiver Braxton Berrios (Raleigh, N.C./Leesville Road) agreed and added that he can’t help but laugh when Adams starts talking.

Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) was often opposite Adams on the field and was brought up as another excellent trash-talker. He isn’t as constant as Adams, but he let receivers know when they made a mistake.

“One particularly play, [Peppers] batted down a pass on Ermon Lane, and Jabrill and I were ready to get at it,” Dupre said. “I never went up against him, though. Jabrill was just screaming, 'It’s not going to happen' and 'Shutdown.'”

So you think you can dance?


Former NFL great Deion Sanders was known for his celebration dances, and on Tuesday, his team got a firsthand look at how to execute the patented high step and touchdown dance from Sanders’ playing days.
Sanders showed the players how to do both dances, then let them take a test run in case they score a touchdown in Thursday's game.

 

Decisions ahead


Seven of the nation's top prospects, including three five-star players, are set to make their decisions during the game. Here’s a look at who will be making their decisions:

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNJalen Tabor is one of seven top prospects who will announce his college decision during the Under Armour All-America Game.
RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine): The nation's No. 1-ranked player will decide among LSU, Alabama and Texas.

WR Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman): A standout during practices this week, Rudolph will be choosing among Alabama, Florida, Miami, Tennessee, Auburn and Ohio State.

DT Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Ranked the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country, he will likely choose between LSU and Florida.

DB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): The five-star defensive back will choose between Alabama and LSU despite a shoulder injury that will could keep him out of the game.

DB Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship): The nation's No. 15 recruit Will choose between Arizona and Alabama.

S Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron): The No. 23 player in the country will choose among Florida, LSU and Ole Miss.

ATH Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Noil, the No. 8 player in the country, will choose between LSU and Texas A&M.

Top players


It’s one thing for scouts and evaluators to give their opinions on the top performers, but it’s always interesting to hear who the players themselves think are excelling on the field.

Here are a few of the Under Armour All-Americans talking about the best prospects they faced throughout the week:

RB Bo Scarbrough (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy): “Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover), I just think that he has great defense and you have to be really physical when you going against Marlon Humphrey. JuJu Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly), you really have to come with it with JuJu because if you don’t come with it, he’s going to come with it.”

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Miller Safrit/ESPNMarlon Humphrey has impressed his fellow All-Americans with his performance this week.
DB Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): “My best matchup, well all those guys are high caliber. From Speedy Noil to [Chris] Godwin, [Cameron] Sims, Travis Rudolph, everyone was good. I just like competition, and they’re going to bring the best out of me and I’m going to bring the best out of them.”

WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): “My whole defensive back corps was good. Jamal Adams, Tony Brown and Jabrill Peppers. All those guys were really good.”

OL Sam Mustipher (Olney, Md./Our Lady of Good Counsel): “I went up against a lot of good guys. All those defensive linemen are good, but Da’Shawn Hand was one that stood out. He is quick off the ball and you can’t fall for his hand fakes, the way he uses his hands.”

RB Dalvin Cook (Miami/Miami Central): “Linebacker Ronnie Clark.”

QB Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova South): “Oh man, I’d say Adoree' Jackson was probably the best. Him and Tre' Williams.”

Smashmouth football


Lavar Arrington did everything he could to pump up his linebackers during Tuesday’s practices with some not-so-gentle persuasion.

During inside run drills, Auburn linebacker commit Tre' Williams (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal School) flung his entire body at running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) in a tackle attempt that drew a round of hoots and hollers from Arrington.

A few plays later, Florida State linebacker commit Kain Daub (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) got Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Ala./Oxford) with a clean hit so hard he broke one of several clips on Thomas’ face mask, causing it to hang from the helmet.

“That’s the way to hit, Kain,” Arrington said. “You broke his freaking face mask. Oh wow.”

Special guest


There has been a special guest in attendance during the Under Armor All-America week of practices. John Shulby, a friend of 2012 Under Armour All-America tight end Colin Thompson, has Down syndrome and has been invited back as a special guest every year since Thompson participated in the game.

Shulby has been welcomed by the coaches, players and everyone else involved in the game. In fact, Shulby was asked by linebackers coach LaVar Arrington to assist in some individual drills.

 

Bill Shulby, John's father, said he and his son never expected to receive this much attention.

“From our perspective, we’ve never imagined John having this type of experience,” Shulby said. “It’s been wonderful and unbelievable. The players and coaches have included him in every day. The way LaVar Arrington included him this morning -- you could just see the joy in his face.”

Jeremy Crabtree and Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- When more than 90 of the top football prospects gather in the same place, like they have for the Under Armour All-America Game, the water cooler conversations can be quite entertaining.

One of Sunday’s hot topics was whether a defensive player could win the Heisman Trophy again in the near future. We asked some of the Under Armour Game participants for their opinions:

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Tony Brown thinks a defensive player, maybe even him, will win the Heisman Trophy in the near future.
Five-star cornerback and No. 11 overall prospect Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen): Oh, 100 percent I do. It will be either my sophomore year or junior year when a defensive player wins it. You got to be a game-changer. The Heisman is about being a game changer the second you step on the field, so I have to be a game changer. Tyrann Mathieu was very close to winning it, but he missed games. You just have to catch picks, make plays in the return game and make big plays that change the outcome of games.

No. 1 overall prospect Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine): That’s kind of a hard question -- maybe in the next couple of years. Maybe one of the guys from our incoming class like Adoree’ [Jackson] or Jabrill Peppers. It’s a lot of dedication. There are a lot of offensive players that are outstanding now. They have a lot of outstanding defensive players too, but the offenses are bringing out more talent than the defense nowadays.

Michigan commit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus N.J./Paramus Catholic), the No. 1 CB and No. 2 overall prospect: Absolutely. He’s going to have to have some punts and kickoff returns for TDs, six or seven picks and have more than 45 tackles. I have seen a lot of great defensive backs, but I didn’t see anybody put it all together yet. Basically all the things I just said I have to do, and I want to make it a little easier on myself if I get to play a little offense too.

Georgia tight end commit Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Christian): No, just because everyone is so focused on the stats, who is most productive and some people don’t know football. Defensive players sort of grind it out; they are good football players but are the unsung heroes. All people see is the stats, people follow the hype … same thing with the Heisman. It will take a lot of stats and flashy stuff -- probably a defensive back with a lot of returns for touchdowns, like a Tyrann Mathieu.

Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson {Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra): Of course. They have to do special teams. You have to do something to get the crown oohing and ahhing. You can do a lot of things on defense, but when you do special teams and show how versatile you are ... that is when a defensive player will win the Heisman again.

No. 28 overall prospect Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis): "Man, that will be difficult in this day and age. I think offensive players are becoming more explosive and are used in better ways with the spread than in the past, when a defensive player could have won it. Like last year, [Johnny] Manziel won it over [Manti] Te’o. He should have, and it wasn’t close."

Alabama commit Cameron Robinson (Monroe, La./West Monroe), a five-star offensive tackle and No. 3 overall prospect: I mean maybe so, but the player will have to do more than just play defense … maybe return kicks and play some Wildcat quarterback. Probably a corner or a safety is the best bet. The kick return game will be huge because you get to display a lot of athleticism and pure instinct. Last year, Johnny Manziel won it over a defensive player, and it wasn’t close. Actually, my guy Manziel should have won it again this year.

No. 29 prospect Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr): Yeah, me. The goal is to get three or four sacks a game and just ball out on the field the whole season. Yep, I think Landon [Collins] can win it. It's picks, taking them to the house, make a lot of tackles and having outstanding stats.

No. 106 prospect Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/James Bowie): It’s possible. You got to play both sides of the ball and have punt and kick return ability. I would say a corner has the best chance. They are fast, catch picks and have the ability make a big impact in the return game.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPNDefensive linemen such as Texas commit Derick Roberson wish their position group got more respect from Heisman voters.
Auburn cornerback commit Steven Roberts (Opelika, Ala./Opelika): That’s a tough question, man. I say yes, though. Defensive backs go through a lot. They are sticking good receivers every play and have the chances to make big plays. It will take a lot of interceptions and being an all-around playmaker.

No. 22 prospect Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville), a safety: I don’t know if it will ever happen again. I’m going to try and go win one, but they [media] show a lot of favoritism to offensive players. You can’t just play defense. You have to play special teams. It will be a defensive back that wins it if it happens. It won’t be a defensive end or linebacker.

Texas defensive end commit Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Brennan), the No. 78 prospect: You would have to average three or four sacks per game at my position [defensive end], probably. Usually it would be a defensive back or linebacker with the best shot, but I think a D-end can win it.

No. 23 overall prospect Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron), the No. 3 safety: I sure hope so. I hope I can say I did one day. I mean, it’s a tough thing to do as an individual goal. You have to be a straight dog on the field, making a lot of plays. Defensive backs play special teams, and if that’s one of your roles ... then you have the ability to show out. Defensive backs have the best chance because we are more versatile.

Alabama five-star DE commit Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge): It should be the best overall player that wins the Heisman, not just the best offensive player. I can see a defensive player winning it again. I think a defensive end can win it because we are the best position on the field. A lot of people don’t see what a defensive end has to go through. A quarterback, everybody sees that, but what about the end that takes on a double team that helps cause everyone else to make plays, and helps make everyone else better?

Auburn quarterback commitment Sean White (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University): Yeah, sure, if a defensive player makes a lot of plays and cause turnovers; probably like a corner or defensive back that makes a lot of big interceptions. It’s happened before, so I do think it can happen.

Wide receiver Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman), the No. 61 prospect: No. Because I feel like a defensive back is so good that teams won’t throw his way and he won’t get the chances to put up stats. It can be tough to get the chance to make enough plays to win the Heisman.

Ohio State five-star LB commit Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County): Yes, because a defensive player has the ability to make big plays just like an offensive player. It will probably be a defensive back that makes a lot of interceptions though -- a guy that also returns kicks and punts.

Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross): Yeah, a defensive player should win the Heisman. Defensive players have more impact on the game than people recognize. I think [Jadeveon] Clowney could have come real close to it. I hope defensive players keep evolving and can have the chance to win it.

Under Armour Game predictions 

December, 27, 2013
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If past Under Armour All-America Games have taught us anything, it's that we should expect the unexpected. Yes, there are some announcements where there’s not a lot of drama and it’s just a case of a player going public with a decision that everybody has already known about for months. There will be others where there is plenty of suspense throughout the week of practices and the pick will cause controversy in the end. Heck, this is the same game that we saw Landon Collins’ mom become a YouTube sensation when she disagreed with her son’s decision to commit to Alabama and spurn LSU. It’s what makes the Under Armour Game special, and ESPN RecruitingNation’s Jeremy Crabtree has some predictions on what we’ll see over the next seven days.

Fournette won’t be bothered by attention
When you’re the nation’s No. 1 player, you’re already used to the spotlight and never-ending attention from fans and media. But at the UA Game, No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine) is going to be in a fishbowl even more than before. Everything he does this week will be documented for the whole world to see. Every rep in practice. Every interview after. Even when he’s hanging out in the hotel, there will likely be somebody there to tweet or discuss it. That will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Fournette, but those expecting him to fall at some point this week will be sorely disappointed. Fournette will prove once again on and off the field why he’s the best in the country and serve as an example of how other elite prospects should handle the recruiting process for years to come.


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Top SEC UA Game targets 

December, 26, 2013
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Just how strong of a finish could the SEC have in recruiting? Consider this: The top five uncommitted prospects, all five-star players, have a strong chance of landing at SEC programs. Here’s a closer look at those five players who will also be competing in the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla.

1. RB Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
By all accounts, the No. 1-ranked player in the country will likely choose between two SEC West schools, LSU and Alabama. Fournette will be announcing his decision during the game. Alabama has done an incredible job of recruiting in Louisiana, and LSU is doing all it can not to lose this top-rated player to its archrival.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 23, 2013
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We are one week into the dead period that runs through Jan. 15. While the dead period limits contact, it doesn’t stop prospects from announcing decisions. As is always the case, recruiting doesn’t stop during Christmas vacation, and that was certainly the case last week.

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Breaking down USC's '14 class by position 

December, 19, 2013
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A recent string of commitments heading into the dead period has left USC with only five remaining slots in its 2014 recruiting class. The Trojans have 19 total spots to use, as long as four of them are mid-year enrollees.

Here's a position-by-position look at how USC could allocate those empty spots, with a projection of how many players at each position the Trojans will try to sign:

Offensive line: 6

The Trojans hold five commitments on the offensive line, two of those from mid-year enrollees who already have signed financial aid agreements. They might not be done, though, as a big fish is still out there and possibly leaning toward signing with his childhood favorite. If the coaching staff decides a scholarship would be more important at another position, the Trojans might have to part ways with a prospect from this bunch.


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SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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Here are five things to watch over the holidays in the SEC:

Fournette set to announce

The nation’s top ranked prospect, running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), is scheduled to announce his decision during the Under Armour All-America Game Jan. 2, which will be on ESPN at 4 p.m. ET. Fournette has made official visits to Texas, LSU and Alabama.

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Laurence Jones decommits from Alabama

December, 18, 2013
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Under Armour All-American safety Laurence "Hootie" Jones (Monroe, La./Neville) backed off of his verbal commitment to Alabama on Wednesday afternoon. The nation’s No. 22 prospect announced his decision on Twitter and later confirmed via text message.


Jones declined an interview request, but when asked through text message if Alabama was still under consideration for him, he responded with: “Most definitely.”

The four-star athlete originally committed to Alabama on Dec. 2.

According to Maxpreps, Jones totaled 13 interceptions in his high school career.

The Crimson Tide, which has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, still has 23 verbal commitments including 16 ranked in the ESPN 300. Before his pledge to Alabama, LSU was considered to be his other favorite school.

With LSU squarely in the mix for Jones, the Tigers could be set up to make a very big run. In addition to Jones, LSU is still heavily involved with Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine), the No. 1 player in the country, Speedy Noil (New Orleans/Edna Karr), Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) and Gerald Willis III (New Orleans/Edna Karr), all of whom are in the top 50 of the ESPN 300.

There is no time frame on when Jones would like to make his final decision.

SEC signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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With signing day 50 short days away, several questions remain in the SEC. Here's a look at the top storylines as signing day quickly approaches.


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SEC recruiting storylines: Dec. 12 

December, 12, 2013
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Another wild week of recruiting in the SEC is in the rearview mirror. Today, the Florida Gators take center stage with all eyes on Alabama heading into the weekend of official visits before the dead period begins Dec. 16.

Gators nab one of the nation's best

No. 18 David Sharpe (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School) seemed to be a Florida lean for more than a year. After trips to Georgia twice during the season and official visits to Tennessee and Florida in November, the 6-foot-6, 288-pound four-star offensive tackle made it official Thursday, committing to the Gators.

Sharpe becomes the 17th commitment for head coach Will Muschamp and his staff, including the 10th ESPN 300 prospect to select the Gators.

Speaking of Florida, the final decision of No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) likely will come following the Rockets' state title game this weekend. Florida is fighting Florida State and Miami to keep the explosive playmaker.

Make it two for Thursday


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