Clinton Heaven, a defensive back out of Bradenton, Florida's Manatee High School, helped lead his team to an undefeated record heading into the state final last season. They lost to llinois freshman punter Justin DuVernois's school.
"Our record was 13-1. As far as our talent level, our tradition at Manatee, we stayed together as a team and it took us far. We lost against St. Thomas Aquinas. I don't think we had the team together the way we needed to defeat that team."
Most top athletes play both ways for their high schools, but at a school with the talent of Manatee, Heaven was able to focus his efforts on defense alone.
"I played corner, and both free and strong safety. We have athletes on both sides of the ball, so we like to be rested. None of our players really go both ways."
Heaven prefers one safety spot over the other despite performing at the latter due to the defense his high school employs. Given the nature of his position, he doesn't mind since he gets an opportunity to make some noise on defense.
"By far, (I play) strong safety. You get to hit a lot more. In the sense of the position in general, I like free better. But we play a 4-2-5, and I like to hit. In a cover 2, I think I'd rather play free."
Hard hits are always a big confidence boost for a defender. Heaven has dispensed his fair share before, the strongest of which was recently.
"I haven't knocked anyone out yet, but I've had some pretty loud hits. My hardest hit was probably in the spring game."
Heaven talked about where his game is as well as the improvements he hopes to achieve.
"I'm pretty versatile and well-rounded. I think I have good coverage skills, instincts and good tackling.
"There's always room for improvement, so I want to work on my game top to bottom. Coverage, speed, one-on-one coverage, my awareness, and probably most important is getting more picks. I had like 5 or 6 pass breakups, but since I play so close I didn't get a few picks."
Heaven is well-spoken and obviously is concerned with the academic integrity of the colleges he's looking at in addition to the football side of things.
"Definitely the coaching staff, the depth chart, the atmosphere. Can I see myself being in that area? And definitely academics. I'm looking at Physical Therapy."
Heaven does have a group of three schools on top right now, and he plans to visit all three this week.
"I'd say by far Vanderbilt, UNC, and NC State are the schools I'll be visiting on Wednesday through Sunday. Those are my top three right now, with Vanderbilt on top."
Still, Heaven would like to keep his options open and see who else might offer soon.
"I'm pretty open when it comes to recruiting, but as of right now there aren't many other schools I'm planning on taking officials to. I would say maybe Tennessee and Ohio State are close to offering."
Illinois is one of the schools hoping to catch Heaven's attention as the fall visit season approaches.
"It's a good school. I talk to them a lot. There's a lot going on right now, trying to narrow down my choices. Once I get time to establish relationships with more coaches, I'll be able to look into it more."
Illinois defensive back coach Mike Gillhamer has been in contact with Heaven and has made him felt wanted.
"I talk to him mostly by email. We talk on the phone too. I'd say we talk a lot. He's a great guy. I know they want me to be a part of their secondary. He's interested in how I'm doing, and he's very welcoming."
Since Heaven is leaving his recruitment relatively open, Illinois might get a visit from him this fall.
"Like I said, I'm pretty open. It's possible. I don't want to burn any bridges, so it could happen. I could see Illinois being one of them, depending on how things come out."
Still hungry after his second place finish this past year, Heaven has high hopes for his team this year. He believes unity will prove to be the key.
"I'd say just coming together as one every game on every play. Everyone needs to be a family and be brothers for one specific task, to win state."