Over the next eight months, we will visit camps, combines, practices and 7-on-7 events, watching and evaluating talent throughout one of the richest regions in the nation.
In our many visits, we will see players who have improved and have started to make that climb among the elite. We will also find a number of athletes that have simply come out of nowhere.
While this top 20 ranking is a pre-spring list, you can guarantee that as we get to more events, we will see a number of hidden gems.
If there are player you want us to keep a close eye on as we compile information to update this “subjective” list, drop Larry Blustein an e-mail at Lblustein@miamiherald.com. Also, follow Larry on twitter @LarryBlustein.
1. Tracey Howard, 6-0, 180, Miramar: As time goes on, this is a player who will definitely turn out to be one of the best in the country. An outstanding cover-corner prospect who has speed and plenty of athletic ability.
2. Avery Johnson, WR, 6-2.5, 180, Ely - (Committed to LSU): Having watched this quality football player compete since his youth football days, you see someone who continues to mature every year. The younger brother of Patrick Peterson (LSU), Johnson has the size and speed to be an elite receiver nationally. He runs good routes, has soft hands and the speed to stretch the field.
3. Jelani Hamilton, DT/DE, 6-5, 245, St. Thomas Aquinas: Perhaps nobody benefited from the success of the national champion Raiders more than this gifted big man. Not only did he shine in all the big nationally televised games, but was a force in the state title game. Hamilton can play defensive end in a 3-4 defensive scheme or move inside and play the 3-technique. Is a member of the wrestling team as well.
4. Willie Bailey, DB, 6-1.5, 175, Hallandale - (Committed to University of Miami): There were a lot of people who were caught off guard when this top-flight prospect committed to attend Miami. But if you have followed him for any length of time, you will understand that he is an exceptional talent who makes a major impact as a pass defender and is improving his run support. A very fluid player.
5. Devonte Mathis, WR, 6-2, 210, Miramar: After starting his career in Miami-Dade (Carol City) as a quarterback, he made the change last year, and from everything he showed, this is going to be one of the most talented and physical players around. We expect his stock to rise during the next six months.
6. Malcolm Lewis, WR, 5-11, 175, Miramar: One of the most underrated receivers in the state, here is a fast, sure-handed pass catcher who has more than proven he can be the go-to guy for the Patriots. We look for him to make major strides this season and establish himself as a player to keep an eye on.
7. Marshall Morgan, K/P, 6-3, 180, Archbishop McCarthy (Committed to Georgia): Not since Sebastian Janikowski made a major impact at Daytona Beach Seabreeze has there been such a dominating special teams performer who is one of the best in the nation. Not only can he kick, but this three-time all-state performer owns one of the best career punting averages. Every college in the nation wanted him!
8. Brandon Butler, DB, 6-0, 180, Lauderdale Lakes Boyd Anderson: The talent train continues to pull up to the Cobras’ front door every year and drop off a special prospect like this. Will be a BCS recruit who brings so much to the table. Has size, speed and plenty of experience, which is what the program will be looking for in 2011.
9. Danny Isidora, OT, 6-3.5, 320, Cypress Bay: If you‘ve had the chance to watch this big man play, you understand why college coaches have been waiting patiently for this coming year. This is a player who gets to that second level immediately with his quickness and strength. Was part of a unit that paved the way for a region final appearance. He is very effective as a run blocker, who will play either right tackle or inside at guard.
10. Kevis Jones, WR/TE, 6-3, 217, Northeast: This former quarterback prospect has turned his talents to playing a different position for the Hurricanes. One of the players who many college coaches expect to mature and become one of the top players around. He has all the physical tools needed to be a very good one at the next level.
11. Abraham Garcia, OT, 6-5, 340, University School: After an impressive sophomore year, a strong off season in which he participated for the national championship South Florida Express 7-on-7 team, “Nacho” as his teammates call him, had a rough junior season. Injuries kept him out of the lineup all year, which means he has a lot of making up to do this off season!
12. Traveon Henry, RB, 6-0.5, 200, Pine Crest: Burst onto the scene this past year with game-breaking speed and power. Has emerged into one of the top backs in Florida. With another year under his belt along with plenty of off season exposure, this is a player who will explode over the next 10 months. Very gifted football player.
13. Justin Ferguson, WR, 6-1.5, 200, Flanagan: Moving to South Florida from Philadelphia before the start of his junior year, this is one player who simply took the state by storm, finishing among the top pass-catchers in the region and establishing himself as a top-flight prospect for the future. He has the size to match up against pretty much any cornerback, but will need to continue to work on his overall speed.
14. Jeremy Donaldson, RB, 5-10, 190, Pines Charter: After winning the Broward County rushing title as a junior at Hollywood Hills, this gifted back makes the move west - and while he may not put up the huge numbers he did last season, expect him to make a major impact in the Jaguars‘ running game. Another of the many hidden gems.
15. Macgarrett Kings, Athlete, 5-11, 180, University School: If you watched the Suns play this year - or had the opportunity to watch the exciting 2B state final contest, you saw a versatile football talent who has a gift of running the ball out of the backfield, catch up field or play a key role on special teams. Get him in space and there are not many defensive backs that can stay with him.
16. Kameron Davis, OL, 6-5, 290, Boyd Anderson: A three year starter already. This is one of the top athletic big men in the state. Has great feet, tremendous upper body strength and a work ethic that is second to none. In a year that is loaded with big time linemen, here is yet another one to add to that quality mix.
17. Cole Champion, LB, 6-1, 190, St. Thomas Aquinas: While he makes tons of plays at the linebacker position, this is a player who colleges truly believe will emerge as a top-flight safety at the next level. Has everything you are looking for in a great football player. Will be a leader and catalyst for the defending national champions in 2011.
18. Dami Ayoola, RB, 5-11, 180, St. Thomas Aquinas: Power, speed, blocking, catching out of the backfield. The resume is long and impressive for a player who will be coming up on his fourth year at the varsity level. Can fit just about any collegiate system as well.
19. Fred McRae, WR, 5-9, 165, Chaminade-Madonna: Made a huge impact two years ago as a sophomore who had tremendous speed and very good hands. Last year, while being one of the go-to players, he stepped up his game to another level. This will be another player who is ready to have a breakout year.
20. Daniel Braverman, Athlete 5-11, 180, University School: Is there a more versatile football player in the state? Receiver, defensive back, kicker and kick returner. He has 4.47 speed and can create separation against anyone! This is a big time football talent who will have a breakout season!