FAU lands Hillsborough quartet

By Times Staff
Published February 1, 2005

TAMPA - Florida Atlantic is making headway in the bay area.

Receiver Chris Bonner and running back Willie Rose of Gaither have committed to coach Howard Schnellenberger 's Owls, giving them four pledges from Hillsborough County. The others are receivers Jason Harmon of Riverview and Conshario Johnson of Middleton.

Rose, who rushed for 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns in the fall, picked FAU over Villanova. Bonner (31 catches, 437 yards, eight touchdowns) chose the Owls over Illinois, which is led by former Florida coach Ron Zook .

"They're just happy to be able to pluck two more out of Tampa," Gaither coach Mark Kantor said. "Listening to the coaches over there, they say they plan to use Willie in a one-back set and let him carry the ball. And Chris, with his big hands, will probably be used in the slot."

Another Gaither player, running back Ovie Esalomi , has pledged to I-AA Nicholls State (La.). He rushed for 1,165 yards and nine touchdowns in 2004. "He's a diamond in the rough," Kantor said.

BIG 12 TERRITORY: Jason Harris , Clearwater's leading rusher the past three seasons, committed to Iowa State, according to Tornadoes coach Tom Bostic . Harris also considered Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi.

Harris, 6 feet, 200 pounds, helped Clearwater to the playoffs the past three seasons. In 2004, he gained 1,147 yards, his first 1,000-yard season, and scored 15 touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown and was a standout linebacker, where he was named Class 5A all-state.

FREEZE, WHAT FREEZE?: Running back Demetrius McCray , a standout for Armwood's 2003-04 state championship teams, picked Indiana over New Mexico on Sunday.

The reason?

McCray said Indiana simply had better facilities. It snowed on McCray's trip to Indiana, but he lived in New Jersey for much of his childhood and said he's used to the chill.

"It wasn't that cold," McCray said.

USF was his third candidate.

UNSURE QB: Gibbs quarterback Josh McKinnon visited Alabama A&M last week but continues to lean toward a school he hasn't seen, Tennessee State. That doesn't mean he will sign Wednesday. Or the next day. Or at all.

"I don't even know," McKinnon said.

McKinnon's trip to Tennessee State was canceled because of coaching changes. But some of the staff watched him play at the Pinellas Senior All-Star Game, which reiterated their interest.

ON THEIR WAY: Quarterback Billy Tapp and defensive back Rashad Etheridge , keys to St. Petersburg Catholic's playoff run, made oral commitments, Barons coach Dan Mancuso said. Tapp, a starter the past two seasons, picked Columbia. Etheridge chose Western Kentucky. NEW APPOINTMENT: Bloomingdale offensive lineman Richard Miller , who carries a 3.91 grade point average and was a four-year starter, has agreed to attend Army over the Citadel.

"(Army coach) Bobby Ross is excited, and so are we," said Miller's father, Richard Miller Sr . "It's just unbelievable.

"He wasn't getting much attention until Army called."

MOVING ON: Miami is no longer willing to wait for Tallahassee Lincoln receiver Fred Rouse , the Times Blue Chip prospect of the year, rivals.com reported. Rouse visited Florida State last weekend and is scheduled to visit Texas this weekend. He previously visited Alabama and Miami. OTHER COMMITMENTS: Countryside kicker Zach Hobby orally committed to Delaware. ... Lakewood teammates Philip Whipple (offensive lineman) and Chris Bryant (quarterback) will sign with Albany State, Spartans assistant Carl Jones said. ... Wesley Chapel running back and defensive back Nigel Bryant orally committed to I-AA Lafayette (Pa.).

--Times staff writers Keith Niebuhr, John C. Cotey and Frank Pastor compiled this report.