With the high school season about to begin, Rivals.com recruiting analyst Kynon Codrington takes a look at the six players to keep an eye out for in the Southeast.
1. DL Joey Bosa, 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas: Bosa, a four-star defensive, had a productive junior season recording 52 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. However, the Ohio State commit missed some time last season. That included a 27-20 overtime loss to Miramar (Fla.) that snapped the school's 19-game win streak.
Bosa is one of the most athletic defensive linemen in this year's class. He offers scheme versatility, which allows him to line up inside in addition to his normal end spot. The talented run-stopper spent the summer taking unofficial visits and didn't attend any of the elite summer events. He missed an opportunity to measure himself against some of the premier offensive linemen on the national scene. Look for him to post bigger numbers if he can stay healthy during his senior campaign.
2. DB Antonio Conner, 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, Batesville (Miss.) South Panola: The consensus No. 1 player in the Magnolia State looks to return the Tigers to the state championship following a disappointing 9-4 season and second round Class 6A playoff loss. Conner projects as a safety, but the versatile prospect plays quarterback, running back and is dynamic in the kick and punt return game. He has tremendous ball skills, range and playmaking ability that college coaches crave.
The back end defender chose to stay away from the off-season camp and combine circuit. It was reported that he had a minor injury and wanted to rest. South Panola opens the season Saturday against West Point (Miss.) before welcoming perennial power Hoover (Ala.) to Batesville on Aug.31.
3. TE O.J. Howard, 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Prattville (Ala.) Autauga Academy: It would be hard to find another player at the high school level with the size and speed ratio Howard possesses at the tight end position. Perhaps no other player improved his stock as much as the Alabama commit this summer at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge, The Opening and Gridiron Kings. At times it looked like he was a man among boys. One play that stands out from The Opening was Howard's 80-yard touchdown reception on a smash corner route that saw him outrun the entire secondary. That included Michigan commit DB Ross Douglas of Avon (Ohio), who has been clocked at a 4.50 laser-timed forty.
The Yellowhammer State star doesn't face many BCS-caliber players in the Alabama Independent School Association. It was great to see Howard rise to the occasion against the nation's best athletes and dominate the competition.
4. RB Sony Michel, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage: After leading Broward County in rushing as an eighth-grader with 1,825 yards and 18 touchdowns, Michel has proven he is among the state's best for the class of 2014. Unfortunately, the elusive back missed all but one game of his sophomore year with a knee injury. He will make his junior season debut against Miami (Fla.) Coral reef next Friday. His highly anticipated return will be one to follow as fans, college coaches and recruiting experts all want to know if he has regained his old form.
5. LB Matthew Thomas, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington: The big play linebacker attended the Rivals Five-Star Challenge, The Opening and Gridiron Kings, along with a couple of his team 7-on-7's. Thomas loves to compete and that is what makes him a top-tier player. He finished his junior season with 117 tackles and 13 sacks while his team finished as the Class 3A state runner-up.
As of now, Thomas is rated as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the Rivals 100 and is still chasing his first state title. The program has the country's ninth toughest schedule according to Rivals staffer Dallas Jackson and a mythical national championship may not be out of the question if his team can run the table. It is safe to say Thomas will have plenty of motivation this fall.
6. OL Laremy Tunsil, 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, Lake City (Fla.) Columbia: Tunsil is the highest rated offensive lineman in the Rivals 100. He has the skill set to be an All-American tackle in college and there is little debate about his ability. The massive prospect declined an invite to The Opening after earning a spot as a sophomore. It has some asking if he is hungry enough to keep his lofty status. His recruiting situation is one to watch as well because he is tough to read. Either way, Tunsil's senior year is one to keep an eye on as the season gets underway.