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South Florida leaves a mark in NFL Draft, again!

When Ryan Shazier walked across the stage two weeks ago in New York, put on the Pittsburgh Steelers' cap and embraced the Commissioner, it sent a message to every youth and high school football prospect in south Florida that dreams do come true.

What has become common place through the years, area athletes have not only made it happen in high school and college, but have shown so much skill and athleticism, this region of the country continues to be a pipeline that ushers quality football talent from local football fields and brings them to a professional level.

Whether it’s Shazier, a one-time Plantation standout who carved out a positive reputation at Ohio State before landing with the Steelers in the first round (15th selection), or a dozen other south Florida-bred athletes who found a home this year with NFL teams, the reality that the next great football prospect will be lining up at a school near you this coming fall.

There is no hiding that south Florida has become ground zero during spring football each and every year – as hundreds of colleges flock to programs from Deerfield Beach to Homestead. That’s why having a first round selection such as Shazier – or former Miami Northwestern standout Teddy Bridgewater being selected in the first round is no longer a major surprise.

For Bridgewater, who was chosen by Minnesota with the final pick of the first round, there was really never any doubt to when this Louisville standout would be chosen. Even though he was picked 32nd, there are those who still feel that he was by far the most NFL-ready quarterback coming out of college this year.

While Bridgewater didn’t wow many with his pro day workouts, there were teams – such as the Vikings who felt otherwise. Remember, during the season, many felt that if he was the No. 1 pick overall by Houston, it would not be a total surprise, but unfortunately, instead of focusing on what he did over three years – leading the Cardinals to over 30 wins – they opted to dwell on what he did in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.

While Shazier and Bridgewater were south Floridians chosen in the first round, former St. Thomas Aquinas and Southwest Miami defensive back Lamarcus Joyner was impressive enough for the St. Louis Rams to select him in the second round.

The FSU product, who grew up in Miami-Dade’s inner city, just down the road from Bridgewater, was easily one of the most athletic football players in this year’s draft. He is a true south Florida product, having played youth football and high school in two counties and being viewed as one of the nation’s premier athletes.

The south Florida player rush didn’t end with those three talented performer. Nebraska’s Stanley Jean Baptiste – who attended tiny Westlake Prep – and was coached by current Champagnat Catholic head coach Mike Tunsil – was another area player who was selected in this year’s draft. The New Orleans Saints chose the safety in the second round.

The south Florida talent explosion continued into the third round with St. Thomas Aquinas defensive back product Dezmen Southward (Wisconsin), who was chosen by Atlanta, and lineman Brandon Linder (University of Miami) – selected by Jacksonville.

In the fourth round, Miami Central running back Devonta Freeman (FSU), was taken by Atlanta. Freeman, who began his career in high school at Edison before leading the Rockets to the state championship, was joined by St. Thomas Aquinas and Wisconsin running back James White (New England) and Piper and Utah State safety Nevin Lawson (Detroit).

The fifth round also highlighted south Florida talent with former Miami Central lineman Kevin Pamphile, who emerged at Purdue and was selected by Tampa Bay, and one-time South Dade standout defensive end Ed Stinson (Alabama), who will be headed to Arizona. FAU defensive back Keith Reaser (Killian) was selected by San Francisco.

This year’s south Florida talent extended to the seventh and final round with one-time Pompano Beach Blanche Ely defensive back Jabari Price (North Carolina) finding a home with Minnesota, and former Stranahan lineman Demetrius Rhaney (Tennessee State), who landed with the St. Louis Rams.

“When you look at all the south Florida talent that got drafted – and those who signed on as free agents, it is truly amazing,” said Central assistant coach Alexander Snipes. “We take great pride in the athletes we produce down here. It speaks volumes for all the programs in Miami-Dade and Broward.”

We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. 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.