Growing up in the state of Florida, football players get a chance to play football year-round. With good weather and good conditions, there is a chance one will find a game of sandlot going on somewhere every day. For high school players the spring brings the excitement of beginning the preparation for the upcoming fall, and it allows the players to get back to being around the team playing the game they love. For many of Florida State's top recruits, this spring was used to continue the momentum and success they had last fall, while others used it to help prepare for expected early enrollment in 2009. And for one particular recruit, it was a chance to get back on the field after missing the majority of his junior season. Nole Digest was able to speak to Jacobbi McDaniel, JaJuan Harley, Lonnie Pryor, Willie Haulstead and Chris Thompson to talk about their experiences this spring, as well as to talk about their expectations as they begin the preparations for their last year of high school football.
Jacobbi McDaniel started the 2009 class off with a mammoth bang after he committed in February. The dominating defensive tackle is considered one of the best at his position in the nation, and he is the clear leader in the state of Florida this year. For McDaniel, he wanted to get out there and build upon what Madison did last year, winning the state title, and help prepare him for what he'll face in the fall.
"Spring football was good. It was nice getting back out there and playing. Our prime goal was to build on what we did last season and make sure that we get ready for what should be an exciting fall. While we fell short in the spring game, it is a good thing because now we know teams are aiming for us and we have to be ready each week."
Madison is a smaller school in the Panhandle area, but they annually churn out some of the top players each year. With Jacobbi, Chris Thompson and Cory Akins just to name a few, they are primed to make another run for the state title in the fall. The loss in the spring game shocked many on the team, especially Jacobbi. But for him it is something to build on heading into the off-season.
"To be honest I was surprised that we lost. The game took us back to when we lost last year early on. We decided then that we needed to come together and get it going. We didn't lose again after that. It's a wake-up call for us again, and now it's about getting motivated for the season."
Jacobbi came into the spring not resting on the reputation has developed as being one of the top players in the nation. He wanted to work on situations he thinks he'll face next fall, and feels that overall he succeeded individually. But the loss left a sour taste in his mouth, saying that wins me more to him than personal accomplishments.
"I wanted to work on facing double and triple teams because I needed to get more used to that. Going into the fall I expect that is what I will be seeing most of the time, therefore I need to be ready. Besides that I just want to get bigger, faster and stronger. I am 278 right now so I am doing well with that."
"Individually I feel like I had an outstanding spring. I had like 7 or 8 tackles in the game, with 2 being for a loss. I also had a half a sack. The team we played were doing quick handoffs and using their center to fall on my legs to take me out of the play. I had to put my hands down a lot to protect myself, but I was able to react quickly and make some plays."
"While all of that was nice, it doesn't mean anything if we can't come together and win. That's what it's all about. The individual success doesn't mean anything to me if we don't win. We had the 5 fumbles, so we need to work on that. But the coaches said this was the best spring they've seen here in a long, long time. So there are positives to build off of and we have a good foundation for the fall."
Football wasn't the only thing McDaniel did this spring. He starred for the Cowboys baseball team, leading the team in every major category. Also, he broke his brother's home run record as he hit 11 this year. While Jacobbi showed his athleticism on the diamond, he is focused on what's ahead over the rest of the year.
"Baseball was good for me. I had some scouts out there watching me. Football is my love though and what I want to do, so I am ready to focus on being the best I can be. If I can get to 280 before the season starts I will be where I want to be. I want to make sure I am ready to go at FSU after my season because I am still planning on enrolling early. I'll be working out hard and taking some classes over the internet this summer so I can graduate early. Overall, man, this spring was a good time for my team and me. I am ready to win another championship."
Getting back into the swing of things on the gridiron was important to JaJuan Harley. The Florida State commitment was excited to get back onto the field after missing the majority of his junior season with a foot injury. Besides getting used to playing the game again, Harley was getting used to the new coaching staff Rickards will have this season.
"It was a great feeling to get back out there and be playing again. Everything went pretty good. This spring was important because we have a whole new coaching staff so we had to get used to what they're doing. I think we mastered pretty much the whole system. I feel like we set ourselves up to do great things because we really clicked out there."
People who follow high school football in Florida know the amount of athleticism Harley brings to the table. This spring he played on both sides of the ball, and he expects that that won't change going into the fall.
"To be honest my mentality right now is on the college level. I am in the mindset that I am going to dominate the high school level in the fall. In the spring I played both ways. I played free safety, cornerback, wide receiver and quarterback. Pretty much I was all over the field. It was exciting to me because I feel like I am more than a one-dimensional player. There was a rumor going around that I was going to be the full time quarterback next fall, but it's more a scheme thing than anything else. I'll come in and run some options stuff and certain passing plays. I played quarterback as a freshman, so I know what to expect. Overall it was a good time for me."
JaJuan showed in the spring game what fans can expect in the fall. In the first half of the game he played his natural position of free safety, and in the second he saw most if his time as the team's signal caller. To say he played well might be an understatement.
"I played well in the spring game. I played on both sides of the ball. The way they had it set up was two halves. In the first half I played free safety. I knocked two players out of the game. My goal was to do that in the fall, so I am off to a good start. The first one was a wide receiver who was crossing the middle. I came up and hit him as he was making the catch. When I hit him the ball bounced around everywhere after the hit. The second guy I put out was the fullback. We were in a cover 2, and the he got loose. I ran up and hit him. When I did the crowd was cheering and wooing. I wasn't on my back, but the fullback was. I looked down and he was looking up at me all dazed. They were okay after, but it was good to do that. At quarterback it was more about ball control, so I rushed a lot getting around 50 yards."
With a solid spring behind him JaJuan is preparing to work hard over the summer. With no camps planned Harley plans on getting bigger and stronger, and like Jacobbi McDaniel, is working on enrolling early at FSU.
"My plan for the off-season is get bigger and faster. I already have the swagger coming off the spring and I want to build on it. I want to put on 5 pounds this summer, which would bring me to 200 pounds. I also want to be able to get my 40 down into the 4.2 range. I am consistently run 4.3 now, and that is getting boring for me (laughs). But I want to take what we built and get ready for the fall."
"As it stands right now I plan on enrolling early. Next week I start classes to make sure that happens. The only reason that won't happen is because my mom has never seen one of her kids walk across that stage. That's really the only hold up with that."