Athletes from all three Plant City-area schools are working with Pro-Active Academe to get college offers.
Athletes from the Tampa Bay area and central Florida are coming to Plant City to show college football scouts they’ve got what it takes to step up.
The kids running drills and sharpening skills at Marshall Middle School on Sundays with Pro-Active Academe haven’t stopped working since their high school seasons ended, but things are about to heat up with spring camps, exhibitions and other activities in Florida and the American southeast. They’ll spend the rest of winter and the spring competing with some of the top talent in the region in an effort to put their names on the map.
“They have to go in and really, really compete with everybody else that’s tops in these camps,” Pro-Active director Gerold Dickens said. “When you do that, you’ve got an opportunity to get a real good ranking.”
Game film alone won’t net an athlete a four or five-star ranking these days (though it certainly helps). Many athletes looking for those elusive Power Five offers are linking up with programs like Pro-Active in the offseason for that reason. Though Pro-Active is there for athletes in Tampa, Orlando and everywhere in between, several local kids are making big waves these days.
No one on Pro-Active’s roster is getting more attention than Plant City High School’s Mario Williams, the sophomore wide receiver whose reputation as a game-breaking player is well deserved.
He’s got 15 college offers to his name as of press time (including Oklahoma, Miami, Florida State and Penn State) and invites to the Under Armour All-American Game, Nike Opening Regionals and more.
With two more high school seasons to go, Williams is expected to leave school in 2021 as one of the highest-rated prospects in Plant City history.
Dickens said Williams, now in his second year with Pro-Active, has always been an elite athlete, but greatly improved his route running with PCHS wideouts coach Tony Rozier and staff.
This season playing 7-on-7 with the Nighthawks will mostly be for off-the-field benefits: getting Williams matched up against top-tier corners and defensive players will help him stay sharp in the high school offseason. Pro-Active is also helping him become a more vocal leader as he prepares to enter his junior season with high expectations.
“This year we’re working on his leadership because he’s getting everything where you’re tops in this, you’ve got your invites already and everyone else is trying to get established,” Dickens said. “It’s a leadership role where all the ears are on you, everyone has to hear what you’ve got to say so they can become better also.”
Another local standout looking to make waves in the offseason is Durant safety C.J. Barnes, who finished 2018 with more than 100 tackles to his name and got recognition for his fearless, physical play. Durant assistant coach Frank Lane has called Barnes one of the best defensive backs the school has developed in recent years and the junior is determined to make college coaches agree.
Barnes has an offer from Central Michigan University to his name and joining the Chippewas would mean reuniting with teammate Demarcus Governor, himself a former star DB for the Cougars. He has one more season of high school football to play and is hoping to raise his profile in the recruiting scene with Pro-Active.
“It’s just a matter of getting more exposure and getting him the opportunity to go up against the best, too,” Dickens said. “That’s how they’re able to prove themselves and get a better ranking. We’re really working to try to get him ranked, then more offers will come… when he gets these Rivals invites, Nike invites, Under Armour invites, he goes and competes very well.”
Others from the area who are expected to make waves in the offseason include wide receiver James Ross, running back Zamir’ Knighten and defensive back Antron Robinson and Pro-Active has started working with more kids from the area who are attending schools here or in the Tampa Bay area.
They’ll all get to test their skills against top competition in the coming months, which should help in August once the regular season rolls around. With state champion Lakeland joining the schools’ district, these athletes will be under the spotlight like never before.
“That’s fun as far as competition is concerned and also a good look with college coaches,” Dickens said. “It’s one of the toughest districts in the area. That’s where you want to try to go look for some of your athletes — they’re going up against the toughest competition. If they can handle Lakeland, maybe they can handle another opportunity at the next level. College coaches will come to watch those games.”