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Hard Knocks Foundation puts South Miami-Dade on the map

While the inner city teams in Miami-Dade County seem to get much of the attention when it comes to football recruiting, there is a region of the county that has been making plenty of noise, and recently, it was loud enough where the entire state heard them - loud and clear.

As college coaches make plans to attend schools in South Florida during the month of May, many will have to start altering their plans - especially when it comes to getting a chance to see some of the emerging an elite players.

South Miami-Dade County has always produced talent, but as the Hard Knocks Foundation 7-on-7 team found out on a recent New Level Athletics South Regional tournament in Rockledge (near Cocoa), there are plenty of athletes who will have the chance to be very special over the next few years.

Coached by former South Dade High football and wrestling standout Derrick Lester and current Coral Gables assistant coach David Cooney among others, the Hard Knocks Foundation was started to help those youngsters who couldn't afford to take part in many off season events. The foundation provided the opportunity for college exposure, while giving many of these athletes the spotlight against some of the top prospects in the state - and eventually - the entire country.

"I have long said that this is as good an area as you will find when it comes to athletes and football talent in particular," said Lester. "We started this to give many of our local kids a chance to compete in off season events when they didn't have the chance to play for some of the other elite programs."

This is a team that truly surprised some of the top players in the state of Florida during the Rockledge event. They ended winning the entire thing. While it came as a shock to many, it wasn't to those who have been around these athletes for years, watching them throughout their youth football career as well.

"We all know how impressive the football talent is in South Florida," said Cooney. "The one thing that was hard to do was to watch many of our talented kids - from Southern Miami-Dade have to sit home and not compete."

The 7-on-7 format which was started by Brett Goetz and the South Florida Express, has now grown into several teams - all designed to give the over 100 major college prospects a chance to play and showcase their many skills.

Fundraising has always been a priority for this program that also provides and opportunity for many of the rising prospects to take summer trips to colleges and universities actress the southeast as well as to other key regions of the country.

Because many of the players from South Dade, Killian, Gulliver Prep, Coral Gables, Southridge and other programs have not been included in the elite 7-on-7 mix, Lester and Cooney found that giving these players a chance to compete would eventually bring in some of the heavily-recruited prospects. This year, present standouts are mixing with the future prospects to come up with a winning and a very competitive formula.

Among the rising seniors on the team include FSU receiver commit C.J. Worton  and his teammate (South Dade) Devontay Keaton. Other Class of 2014 receivers on the team include Antiwon Johnson (Coral Gables) and Malcolm Vandergraff (Killian). Killian running back Jamel Burgess is also seeing plenty of action.

Former Homestead quarterback and current South Dade prospect Kahlil Render was the talk of the first big tournament of the off season. He is joined by Killian’s Nigel Dillard.

Defensively, the rising senior class was the difference in last weekend’s tournament. Secondary standouts such as Mark Wynn (Coral Gables), Devante Gulley (Coral Gables), Tyrone McGhee (South Dade), Derrick Nottage (South Dade), Marcus Jackson (Homestead), Marcus Stevenson (Southridge) and speedy South Dade prospect Antwan Cordy continue to make a difference.

Even Homestead linebacker Frank Newman has looked good so far this off season.

The talented group of underclassmen begins with one of the nation’s best in versatile Miami Westminster Christian standout Tim Irvin (Miami Westminster Christian) and his teammate Jordan Cronkite. It also includes Jordan Herrera (Killian), Shaquery Wilson (Coral Gables), Sheldrick Redwine (Killian) and receiver Devonaire Clarington from Southridge.

The Class of 2016 is also worth keeping an eye on with Dionte Mullins (Gulliver Prep), Wanya Clarington (Southridge), John Velasco (South Dade) and Sheldon Wynn (Killian). The Hard Knocks team is also looking into the future with Class of 2017 defensive back Devonta Lopez from Pembroke Pines’ Somerset Academy.

We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All you have to do is send a You Tube or Hudl link and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein at Floridakids1@aol.com.

Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein.