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Local Football Players Sign College Scholarships

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Manatee's Anthony Lauro (23) and Thor Miller
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Manatee's Willie Smith and Derrick Calloway (57)

BRADENTON – Wednesday marked the event known as National Signing Day, the first day of the year when high school seniors could officially sign letters of intent to accept college scholarships. The day is traditionally associated with football, as the season has already ended and college coaches have had plenty of time to recruit their preferred athletes. Locally, more than a dozen Manatee County players signed football scholarships, including seven from Manatee High's nationally-ranked program.

Manatee's first-team 7A All-State QB Cord Sandberg signed with Mississippi State, whom he'd committed to late last summer. Sandberg's interest in the Bulldogs surprised many local fans, but when you consider they are coached by Dan Mullen, who often uses the spread option and was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Florida during the Tim Tebow era, the pieces begin to fall in place.

Mullen, who also developed former number-one NFL draft pick Alex Smith while QB coach at Utah (again under Urban Meyer), will have to hope that Sandberg is still interested after the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, in which the power-hitting center fielder is likely to go in the first few rounds. Mississippi State only had two scholarship QB's in 2012 and still made it to their third straight bowl game as they continue to become one of the better teams in college football's top conference under Mullen. 

Hurricane defensive lineman Derrick Calloway made big news recently when the top recruit indicated that he was reconsidering his verbal commitment to Louisville, in order to play for fellow Manatee alum Willie Taggart at USF. Calloway made it official on Tuesday when USF nabbed both Calloway and Booker's All-State DE Eric Mayes.

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Manatee's Blake Keller (55) and Marquis Dawsey
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Manatee QB Cord Sandberg

Fellow Manatee defensive lineman Blake Keller signed with UCF, who he'd committed to prior to the 2012 season, while Manatee defensive back Willie Smith signed with Florida International and slot back Anthony Lauro, who missed half the season with an injury, signed with his father's alma mater, Akron.

Despite an impeccable career that included four years as a starter with the Hurricanes, All-State DE Marquis Dawsey was unable to overcome concerns about his 5'11 height and signed with Division II Ferris State, a Michigan school known more for its hockey program, where he will have the opportunity to have an immediate impact. Manatee's star offensive lineman Thor Miller signed to play for I-AA McNeese State in Lake Charles, LA.

Across the bridge in Palmetto, Cory Crawford signed with Big East school Temple, following a breakout season that saw him light up the field as both a running back and receiver, in addition to stellar performance as a punt returner. Two of Crawford's teammates, wide receivers E.J. Burston and Shaq Harris, signed with the University of Massachusetts, while lineman Joe Bundrage signed with Coffeyville Junior College in Kansas.

Southeast put three players into the college ranks. Jordan Grabski (P, DB) and Jacob Sannon (WR) signed with Idaho, while DB Eric Thompson signed with Youngstown State. Braden River's Trevon Young remains undecided. The 6'5 275 lb. lineman only started playing football as a junior and has long been a standout in his favorite sport – basketball. However, Young's hoop dreams have so far been limited to Division II Eckerd College, the only school to make him an offer. Meanwhile, college football scouts see tons of potential, possibly as a tight end at the Division I level, where the agile big-man would have a legitimate shot at the pros. Young has football scholarship offers from multiple schools including Florida and USF, but might turn them down to stick with basketball, even at a much lower level.

In national recruiting news, Georgia DE Robert Nkemdiche, the number-one ranked prospect in the nation, surprised many fans when he signed to play with Ole' Miss. 6'3 243 lb. Yulee Florida RB Derrick Henry, who became the all-time high school football rushing leader this season, signed to play for national champions Alabama.

Palmetto's Cory Crawford (3) takes off around the outside against Sarasota.


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