Several of the area’s top football players took advantage of a new NCAA rule allowing prospective student-athletes to sign their National Letters of Intent (NLI) in December, rather than waiting until February to put pen to paper.
Approved in May, the college football early signing period created a 72-hour window for signings from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22.
The next opportunity to sign an NLI will be at any point between the first Wednesday in February (Feb. 7) and April 1—also known as the traditional signing period.
Here’s a look at a few of the top athletes in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area who participated in the first-ever early signing period for football:
Isaiah Bolden, cornerback, Wesley Chapel High School
College: Florida State University (Tallahassee)
The highest-rated football prospect in Pasco County waited until the third and final day of the early signing period to make his official announcement to Florida State.
But, it was hardly a surprise he was headed there.
Bolden de-committed from the University of Oregon on Dec. 5—the same day head coach Willie Taggart left his post at the school to accept the Florida State job, replacing Jimbo Fisher.
Bolden had an in-home visit with Taggart on Dec. 10, then took an official visit to Florida State on Dec. 15 — before ultimately signing with the university a week later.
A consensus four-star prospect, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Bolden is ranked among the top 30 or so cornerbacks for the 2018 recruiting class.
His senior season ended prematurely, however, after he was kicked off Wesley Chapel’s football team in early October, playing in just three games.
The prior year he helped lead Wesley Chapel to a 7-2 record and near playoff appearance, after transferring from Bartram Trail in Jacksonville.
Bolden’s dismissal didn’t deter major college programs from pursuing him, however.
Besides Florida State and Oregon, the rangy athlete boasted about 30 offers from other major FBS programs, including Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma and Michigan, among others.
Local fans wanting to witness Bolden’s athletic prowess still can. He recently joined Wesley Chapel’s varsity basketball team, where he’s averaging about 11 points and eight rebounds per game as a forward.
Jordan Miner, cornerback, Wiregrass Ranch High School
College: Penn State University (State College, Pennsylvania)
Like Bolden, Miner opted to join one of college football’s blue chip programs at Penn State University — a school he verbally committed to back in July.
A four-star prospect ranked among the nation’s top 50 cornerbacks for the 2018 recruiting class, Miner also had offers from nearly 30 Division I programs, including the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Miner’s productive four-year varsity career at Wiregrass Ranch culminated in the football program’s best record ever (9-3) and first playoff win.
The 2017 Sunshine Athletic Conference East defensive player of the year proved to be a Swiss Army knife, of sorts, for the Bulls this season.
Besides tallying 39 tackles and four interceptions, Miner was an integral part of the team’s offense and special teams—racking up nearly 1,200 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns.
Various scouting reports laud the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Miner for his speed and fluidity, as well as his ball skills. His size as a defensive back is another noted plus.
Meanwhile, Miner is the second member of his family to play college football.
His older brother, Jaye, was an All-State linebacker at Wiregrass Ranch from 2011 to 2014. He later played college football at Florida Atlantic University, a Division I FBS program in Boca Raton.
Until his college gridiron career gets rolling, Miner can be found on the hardwood as an integral member of Wiregrass Ranch’s varsity basketball team, which currently stands at 10-3.
Its Feb. 9 matchup against Wesley Chapel—and Bolden—will certainly be one to watch.
Michael Penix Jr., quarterback, Tampa Bay Tech (Dade City native, Pasco High transfer)
College: Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana)
The Dade City native surprised many when he spurned major college programs in favor of Indiana University, a school that has struggled to win consistently in recent years.
The lanky 6-foot-3, left-handed signal-caller committed to the University of Tennessee in April, but de-committed in mid-December, after a coaching change.
He also had scholarship offers from Florida State, Oregon, Arizona, South Florida and many others.
Though headed to the Midwest, Penix will be surrounded by Bay Area ties, as the Hoosiers’ 2018 roster is expected to include a dozen players from Tampa, Largo, Clearwater and Spring Hill.
Moreover, Indiana head football coach Tom Allen has several Tampa connections. He was defensive coordinator for the University of South Florida in 2015, and had coaching stints in the 1990s at Armwood High School and the now-defunct Temple Heights Christian School.
Hoosiers quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan also coached at USF in 2013.
Penix played his first two seasons at Pasco High School before transferring to Tampa Bay Tech, finishing his high school career with 6,986 total yards and 76 touchdowns.
He appeared destined for football and athletic success at early age.
His father and uncle both starred on Pasco High’s football team. Penix Sr., later played college football at Tennessee Tech University, where he met Penix’s mother—who was on the school’s track and field team.
Lavel Dumont, offensive tackle, Wharton High School
College: University of Toledo (Toledo, Ohio)
Dumont’s first season of organized football was in 2016.
Just two years later, he’s headed to the Division I FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) ranks.
After verbally committing to Toledo in June, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman didn’t change course, signing with the Ohio-based university on Dec. 20.
Dumont’ primary recruiter was Toledo running backs coach Marquel Blackwell—
a former standout quarterback at USF, who later coached at Freedom High School in Tampa.
A consensus three-star recruit, Dumont had close to 20 offers, mostly from mid-major schools like Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Central Michigan, Marshall, Tulane, Western Kentucky and others.
A basketball player by trade, Dumont began to take football seriously about two years ago, making significant strides in the weight room and with game fundamentals.
Dumont’s rare combination of size, flexibility, athleticism—and developmental potential — intrigued Division I programs early in the recruiting process.
He reportedly earned his first collegiate offer in June 2016 — from Florida A&M University—before ever playing in a varsity football game.
Meanwhile, Wharton teammate A.J. Hampton is also expected to sign with Toledo during the traditional February signing period; the 5-foot-11 cornerback verbally committed to the school in July.
Donovan Jennings, offensive tackle, Gaither High School
College: University of South Florida (Tampa)
Jennings, like Dumont, is a relative newcomer to organized football—first playing as a freshman in high school because he always exceeded the size limit for youth-league teams.
It’s not surprising why: Jennings stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and whopping 310 pounds.
After early struggles picking up the game, Jennings thrived as an upperclassman.
His blocking skills helped pave the way for Gaither running backs to rack up nearly 2,900 rushing yards this season, and more than 1,500 rushing yards the year before.
Uncommitted throughout the recruiting process, Jennings ultimately picked his hometown team for the next level.
A consensus three-star recruit, he also had offers from Marshall, Old Dominion, Toledo, Central Florida, Virginia and others.
Jennings now joins a long line of Gaither High products to play at the Division I FBS level. Some more recent Cowboys football alums include Decalon Brooks (Florida State University), Estafano Feliciano (Old Dominion University), Alex McGough (Florida International University), Shane McGough (Florida International University), Ernest Suttles (Memphis), Shug Oyegunle (Florida International University) and Amani Oruwariye (Penn State University).
Elsewhere, Jennings’ teammate Matthew Wood signed his national letter of intent to Holy Cross University, a Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) program in Worcester, Massachusetts. Wood tallied 261 tackles in three varsity seasons as a linebacker.
Published January 3, 2018