Posted: 6:17 am Friday, April 24th, 2009
By Jason Lieser
The Atlantic Eagles went 10-0 in the regular season and finished No. 4 in the area before losing in the second round to South Fork last year. They will lose cornerback Jayron Hosley and seven other 2008 opening night starters to graduation, but the Eagles are bringing back plenty of stars — some of whom are among the state’s top recruits.
The big prize is wide receiver James Louis, who has a list of offers in the dozens now. One of those schools is Florida, where Louis visited for the Gators’ spring game. He enjoyed the trip to Gainesville but denied rumors that he is close to committing to Florida.
“No, that’s not true,” he said. “There’s no talk right now. Everybody’s getting treated the same.
“It was my first time in Gainesville and I liked it. The receivers got the ball a lot. They spread it around. Everybody touched the ball and I was impressed by that.”
Eagles coach Andre Thaddies said if Louis did commit next month it probably would be to the Gators, but a decision that early sounds unlikely.
“I think that’s definitely a possibility,” Thaddies said of an early commitment to Florida. “I could see that. He likes it, but he has to also realize they’re recruiting every other James Louis they can, too.
“Look at Deonte Thompson. He’s kind of buried on the bench up there. You don’t hear anything about that kid and the more receivers they’re bringing in, it’s like, where does he fit in? It’s an example of why you shouldn’t go for the hype.”
The Gators reportedly have yet to land a commit at wide receiver, but locally they are pursuing Royal Palm Beach’s Chris Dunkley and Pahokee’s De’Joshua Johnson in addition to Louis. It’s a safe bet they are trying to land plenty of receivers outside the area as well.
Even if Louis (5-11, 180) did commit to Florida in May, it should be taken with some caution by Gators fans. Obviously that commitment would be non-binding, and Louis and some of Atlantic’s other stars already are talking about which camps they will participate in this summer. He is also pondering which campuses to see once official visits are allowed this fall, and he still wants to see if more programs will jump into the mix once they see him on the practice field next month.
More realistically, Louis hopes to narrow his list down to five finalists by the end of next month and start planning visits. Thaddies endorsed that plan as well, saying it would give Louis time to truly do his homework.
The good news for Gators fans is that Louis said Florida definitely will be in that fave five. Georgia and LSU will be in that group, too, and Louis hopes to determine the other two teams relatively quickly. He also said he is interested in Tennessee, but he is still doing his research on the Volunteers. Miami also is likely to make a strong play for him.
Louis runs the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds, which is his greatest asset as a receiver. Last season, he finished second in the area with 846 passing yards, as well as 43 catches and eight touchdowns. He was all-area and third team all-state in Class 5A. He accepted an invitation to play in the 2010 Under Armour All-American Game, too.
“I think his best stuff is his ability to make you miss,” Thaddies said. “You don’t have to throw the ball way down the field. You can just throw the quick passes and let him use his athleticism to create some stuff. Wherever he goes on the field you have to watch for where he is.”
Louis started at receiver and in the secondary last year. Florida State offered him as a defensive back, but he said he has no interest in playing anything other than receiver in college. He will play some in the secondary this season, but receiver will be his primary role, Thaddies said. Louis will also fill the special teams void left by Hosley, who was one of the area’s elite return men.
“I think I’m good at it,” Louis said. “That’s his specialty, but I feel like I can do the same things.”
Louis has a goal of reaching 1,000 receiving yards this season, a feat no area player accomplished in 2008, and one of the main reasons he has a shot at that mark is Atlantic quarterback Mark Leal.
Leal (6-1, 190) was spectacular as a junior, completing 108 of 218 passes for 1,785 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. The only area players to throw for more yards were Inlet Grove’s Terry Bradden, Glades Central’s L.J. Thomas and Boca Raton’s Eddie Sullivan. Sullivan and Thomas are juniors as well.
Leal runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and probably has the talent to play some other positions — he was a safety his freshman season — but he is a true passer. He already has offers from Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Oregon, Minnesota and Florida International at quarterback.
“I’m taking my time,” Leal said of the recruiting process. “I’m going to go through spring and see what else comes up. In the summer I’ll take my visits and see what schools I’m really interested in. I’m not really in a rush to commit, but I’d like to have an idea before the season starts.”
Rutgers was the first to offer Leal, but Virginia Tech feels like the frontrunner right now. He has not said anything to directly indicate that, but he is planning to attend their camp this summer and the Hokies’ most recent Atlantic recruit, Hosley, has been recruiting him already.
“That’s all he’s been doing,” Leal said. “He gives me every coach’s number. He’s always on me about going to Virginia Tech. He says, ‘Come join the family.'”
Leal also said he plans to go to Minnesota’s camp.
The third member of this offensive triumvirate is running back Donell Kirkwood. Kirkwood’s 846 rushing yards were good for ninth among big school players in 2008 and he scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. He was all-area honorable mention as a junior.
Thaddies said Kirkwood (5-9, 195) has offers from Pittsburgh, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kansas State, Virginia, Minnesota, Wake Forest and Rutgers, but Kirkwood seems to have put little thought toward college at this point. He even said he does not know his 40-yard dash time.
“I’ll worry about that in the beginning of the season,” Kirkwood said. “Right now I’m trying to focus on a state championship. Of course I want to be highly recruited — who doesn’t? — but I need to be focused on our team goals.
Does that mean he won’t be committing this spring, either?
“I think it’s a little farther down the road,” he said. “But I don’t think I want to (wait until signing day). After I take my visits, I’ll probably commit to the school I prefer.”
At this point, and it is always subject to change, Kirkwood is likely to commit around December.
Two other Atlantic players who could use this spring to vault their recruiting prospects are DT D.J. McCellion (6-2, 270) and CB Corey Denson (5-9, 170).