By MANNY NAVARRO
Broward County leading rusher Travis Liburd never had any illusions about himself as a football recruit entering his senior season.
At 5-6, 170 pounds, he knew it was going to take more than a great senior season at Piper to get one of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country to take a chance on him. Akron and Ohio University showed interest, but in the end neither was willing to dish out a concrete scholarship offer.
So on Wednesday, when dozens of three, four and five-star recruits in South Florida who played alongside Liburd in the Miami Dolphins All-Star Game sign with big name schools in front of throngs of media, the two-star recruit and All-Broward First Team selection will quietly do his own thing in front of a much smaller audience at school.
He’s signing with Stony Brook, a Football Championship Subdivision program in Long Island, N.Y., where it was snowing so hard this past weekend during Liburd’s official visit he said he “barely saw the ground.” Being relegated to college football’s second tier might feel like an underachievement to some, but not Liburd. To him it’s just another avenue to success.
“It’s a great team for me because they run the ball a lot,” said Liburd, who ran for over 4,100 yards and 36 touchdowns in three years for Piper despite being the only weapon on a losing team and seeing many eight and nine man fronts. “I’ve already got my major – electrical engineering – and everything. And there’s opportunity to get on the field as a freshman, especially on kickoffs.”
Special teams is usually where the smallest guys in college and pro football make their money. Liburd, clocked at 4.35 in the 40-yard dash according to his coach, ran back eight kickoffs for touchdowns as a junior. “He didn’t have any as a senior because no one would kick him the ball,” his coach Roger Mitchell said.
Said Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services: “Liburd’s a little pocket rocket. He’s not elite, but he’s in that second or third group locally if you’re talking about production and what he does. You’re telling me there’s 120-something D-1 schools and none can use a kid like that?”
Size is ultimately what scared BCS programs off, Mitchell said. The numbers certainly support the claim.
According to Rivals.com’s recruiting database, a total of 221 players listed as being 5-feet, 7-inches or shorter have signed with Football Bowl Subdivision (126) or Football Championship Subdivision schools (95) since 2002. That averages out to a little less than 16 scholarships a year across Division 1 football being given nationwide to players of that height (nine to FBS programs and a little less than seven to FCS schools). Of that group, 60 scholarships have been awarded to players listed 5-6 or shorter including only eight listed at 5-5 or shorter.
Most are running backs (122) or listed as athletes (42) or receivers (27). Dolphins Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes, listed at 5-6, 180 pounds coming out of high school in Louisiana, is among that group. He was a two-star recruit who signed with Central Arkansas.
His success story – like that of Eagles Pro Bowl running back Darren Sproles (5-6, 190) – give Liburd and other small guys like Dillard linebacker/safety Christian Bouie hope.
Bouie (5-7, 160) led Dillard in tackles two years in a row and was “blowing receivers up in the secondary at the Dolphins All-Star Game,” Mitchell said. But he also couldn’t get any FBS schools to bite and offer him a scholarship.
Dillard coach Lorenzo Davis said he expects Bouie to sign with Division II Stillman College (Ala.) on Wednesday. According to Rivals, only 25 defensive backs and one linebacker listed at 5-7 or shorter have signed with Division 1 schools since 2002.
“Three inches taller and everybody in the country is after him,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, when you’re making $200,000 to $300,000 a year as a college assistant and your job is on the line every year you can’t take that chance because if the guy doesn’t pan out the boss will be looking at you and saying ‘Well, you knew he was too small.’ I was really trying to get FIU and FAU to look at him. I just couldn’t get him a shot.”
Bouie, who has a 3.4 GPA, says he’ll take the shot wherever he gets it. Stillman, by the way, had eight players on its roster last season listed at 5-7 or shorter.
“You can measure my height, but you can’t measure my heart,” Bouie said.
Said Mitchell: “Like I told Travis, put that chip on your shoulder and just turn and look at it every time before you get the ball. Show them what they missed every day.”
LOCAL PLAYERS 5-7 OR SHORTER TO SIGN WITH D-1 (FBS/FCS) SCHOOLS SINCE 2002
RB Dareyon Chance, Cardinal Gibbons, 5-5, 175, 3-star (Western Michigan, 2010)
WR Derrick Hopkins, Monsignor Pace, 5-6, 160, 2-star (USF, 2009)
RB Krondis Larry, Booker T. Washington, 5-6, 160, 2-star (FCS Samford, 2014)
DB Terry Jefferson, Booker T. Washington, 5-7, 170, 2-stars (FCS Monmouth, 2014)
WR Jarius Brown, University School, 5-7, 172, 2-stars (FCS Dartmouth, 2014)
ATH Franklin Labady, Champagnat, 5-7, 180, 3-stars (Cincinnati, 2014)
DB Nico Marley, Cypress Bay, 5-7, 182, 2-stars (Tulane, 2013)
RB Darius Hoggins, Monarch, 5-7, 156, 2-stars (Louisiana-Lafayette, 2013)
RB Jared Sanders, Hallandale, 5-7, 165, 2-stars (Eastern Kentucky, 2012)
RB Orville Reynolds, Douglas, 5-7, 175, 3-stars (Wake Forest, 2011)
ATH Ronnie Kennedy, Plantation, 5-7, 147, 3-stars (Central Michigan, 2009)
WR Brandon Drayton, Northwestern, 5-7, 156, 0-stars (FCS Howard, 2008)
WR Tim Brown, Northwestern, 5-7, 146, 3-stars (Rutgers, 2006)
RB Jovens Degage, North Miami, 5-7, 180, 2-stars (Ball State, 2004)
RB Jerry Seymour, Monsignor Pace, 5-7, 183, 2-stars (Central Michigan, 2003)