The FHSAA Football Finals afforded us the unique opportunity to see dozens of spectacular players among the 16 teams which earned their way to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. I’ve been asked numerous times who the best players were in O-town. Today, I will begin with the seniors. In the coming days, I’ll break down the juniors, sophomores and freshmen who impressed.
There were several players to consider including, but not limited to, Tallahassee Godby’s Willie Downs, Jawanza Starling of Tallahassee Lincoln, Miami Northwestern stars Tevin McCaskill and Todd Chandler and several players from Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. But these are the five seniors who I would ask to sign a letter of intent based solely on their performances in the FHSAA Finals.
Andre Debose, Seminole (Sanford)
One of the top players in the nation certainly didn’t disappoint in helping lead Seminole High School to its first-ever state championship with three touchdowns. He has been compared favorably to Florida’s Percy Harvin. In some ways, I’d say that’s true. Debose has terrific speed, quickness and shifty moves to boot. Much like Harvin, the 6-0, 170-pound senior is perfectly suited to play receiver and see some action at tailback. He also could be a top flight return man. I’m not certain that Debose has the first or second step that Harvin has demonstrated. That kind of talent is unique.
Debose led the Seminoles in rushing, receiving and scoring. He had 118 rushes for 1,333 yards and 12 touchdowns and hauled in 26 passes for 661 yards and eight touchdowns. None of the receptions was bigger than Debose’s 40-yard game-winning touchdown reception of a Ray Ray Armstrong pass that allowed Seminole to complete a rally from 21-0 for a 28-21 Class 6A state championship victory over Miami Northwestern. Debose also was the Seminoles’ top return man and averaged 37 yards per kickoff return and 23.6 yards per punt return. Florida is among three schools that Debose is seriously considering along with LSU and Miami. Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State also are lobbying hard for Debose’s services.
Ray Ray Armstrong, Seminole (Sanford)
Is there a better overall athlete than the 6-4, 215-pound Armstrong? During the regular season, Armstrong completed 93 of 172 passes for 1,287 yards and 13 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also was the second leading rusher for the Seminoles with 1,046 yards on 187 rushing attempts and 19 touchdowns.
Armstrong also played safety this season for the ’Noles. I was impressed the first time I saw him earlier this year and he has really improved. Armstrong has the hip rotation of a defensive back, the moves of a big back and the athleticism to play tight end. Armstrong is leaning toward Miami and the Hurricanes are expected to start him at either outside linebacker or safety. It looks like this talented prospect will call Coral Gables home for the next three or four years.
Orson Charles, Tampa Plant
One of most gifted and sought-after athletes in the south, the 6-3, 230-pound Charles plays flanker for Plant. Charles had 75 receptions for 1,418 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, including a pair of touchdowns in Plant’s 34-14 victory over Tallahassee Lincoln in the Class 4A state championship game.
He has the athleticism, speed, quickness and skills set to beat smaller, quicker players. Charles would be a perfect fit for the Gators at the H-back/tight end position of the spread offense. His ability to go up for the football makes him an especially imposing figure. He reportedly has been clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Florida is among several other schools hoping Charles signs with them on Feb. 4.
Nu’Keese Richardson, Pahokee
This Florida verbal commitment was one of the top two-way players in Orlando. Richardson spent most of the season at quarterback, leading the Blue Devils in passing with 55 completions in 123 attempts for 1,020 yards and 14 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also was Pahokee’s third leading rusher with 234 yards on 57 attempts. Richardson had 11 kickoff returns for 376 yards and added another eight punt returns for 213 yards. He also had four interceptions.
The 6-0, 170-pound Richardson has superb athleticism and could star at the next level at cornerback or wide receiver. He also will be considered for return duties. Besides terrific hips, feet and speed, Richardson demonstrated good instincts in coverage. He was matched against Ocala Trinity Catholic junior Kadron Boone for much of the game. Boone, who will be an All-American next season, was quite a challenge, hauling in six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Aaron Murray, Tampa Plant
The University of Georgia verbal commitment returned the week prior to the state championship game after breaking his ankle in the sixth game of the season. In 2007, he set a Florida single-season record with 51 touchdown passes.
This season, the 6-1, 205-pound Murray completed 118 of 196 passes for 2,271 yards and 33 touchdowns with five interceptions. Murray still had a noticeable limp during the championship game yet completed 18 of 30 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Murray competed like a champion and has a lot of upside as he prepares for his collegiate career.