ORLANDO - The Rivals100 Junior Day Saturday at University of Central Florida brought out around 60 of the state of Florida's top prospects. But it also turned out to be a symbolic passing of the torch from the nation's top prospect in 2003 to the guy that might be the best in 2004.
Florida State bound Ernie Sims III of Tallahassee (Fla.) North Florida Christian spoke along with his father Saturday at the event about the ups and downs that he went through in the recruiting process. And sitting a few rows back listening intently was Lake Mary, Fla., linebacker Keith Rivers.
Sims was the nation's top player in the Class of 2003 and Rivers is likely going to contend for that honor in 2004. Rivers measured in at an impressive 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds and with offers from some of the top teams in the nation already there is not much doubt that Rivers will be a five-star prospect.
So what did the future five-star player learn from the former one?
"I learned a lot about dealing the phone calls, how everything works and going through the process," Rivers, who listed in order his top schools as USC, Florida, Miami, Georgia and Notre Dame, said.
"I got quite a lot from the guest speakers, like Ernie Sims and Renford Parkes. It was great to see what Ernie went through and how he handled the recruiting process. I get the feeling my recruitment will be as wild as his was."
It probably will, Keith. It probably will.
"I have between 15 and 20 offers now," Rivers said - who listed as many of the teams that he could remember, including USC, Miami, UCF, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Michigan and several others.
"I've had good coaching from my linebacker coach at Lake Mary. He helped me learn how to use the tools I was born with."
And those tools are a great motor to the football and amazing frame that already looks like he's ready to step on the football field. Now the question is how he's going to make that college decision and pick the perfect school.
Saturday's event definitely helped, Rivers said. He said he now knows that he must not focus totally on picking a school based on its head coach and that he'll need to look at things like the depth chart and what other types of players the school is recruiting.
"Plus the caliber of the team will be important," Rivers said. "Are they going to be good in the next couple years?"
But Rivers wasn't the only star there.
There was a whole crew that showed up from Avon Park, Fla., and one if its best players - Travis Anderson (5-foot-8 ½ and 204 pounds) - already has a scholarship offer on the table from Auburn. He's also heavily interested in UCF, Florida, Notre Dame and Florida State.
John Peyton from Dade City (Fla.) Pasco also came in impressive looking, measuring in at 6-foot-4 ½ and 179 pounds. Peyton lists Florida, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Iowa as his top teams, and he already has scholarship offers on the table from the Georgia Tech and Iowa.
The Bolles School in Jacksonville always has top-notch players and one of its best in the Class of 2004 already has a scholarship offer on the table. Bolles linebacker Keith Lisante came in at 6-2 ½ and 207 pounds.
He reported that he just picked up an offer recently from UConn and that the event Saturday will help him judge what he needs to do going through the recruiting process.
"I know now how to better communicate with the coaches," he said.
It also seems like every year in Florida there are a few players that emerge out of nowhere in the early part of the fall with a number of scholarship offers. One such player that might have gone overlooked if it wasn't for his attendance Saturday at the Junior Day was Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) North Lauderdale Academy linebacker Vernon Smith.
Smith was on a few pre-season lists but after seeing him in person, he definitely passes the eye-ball test at 6-foot-1 and 219 pounds. But when you talk to his coach, it's clear that Smith might just be one of the top 25 players in the Sunshine State this upcoming season.
And he has the offers to prove it.
Smith already has offers on the table from Oklahoma, Florida, East Carolina, West Virginia, Kansas and Pittsburgh. He lists the Sooners as his top team over Florida, West Virginia, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Michigan and Kansas State.
"This really helped me learn how to conduct myself through the recruiting process," Smith said. "I know now that I need to be focused on academics, playing time and the atmosphere of the school."
And Smith will have plenty of chances to test his new knowledge out. After recording 111 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions as a junior, he could be one of the Sunshine State's fastest rising prospects.