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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Some area prep standouts moved on to stardom. Others just moved on.
By JOEY KNIGHT
Published January 30, 2007
The passage of time has revealed, in high-quality starkness, that college football recruiting is indeed an art. Because it certainly isn't a science. If it were, the two dozen or so Tampa Bay area high school players who will sign Division I scholarships next week would fulfill the lofty - and in some cases, ludicrous - projections heaped upon them at the next level. But history assures us that won't happen. Case in point: the local signing class of 1997. We traced the careers of more than 20 local players who signed Division I scholarships 10 years ago. Some reached the NFL's hallowed ground, some never got their careers off the ground, and a few are, well, fielding grounders.
(Note: Several local players signed with USF in '97, but the Bulls weren't a Division I program at the time.)
WR Darrell Jackson
Tampa Catholic (University of Florida)
High school: Ended prep career as state and national record holder in receiving yards.
College: 97 receptions, 1,501 yards, 14 TDs in three seasons. Bypassed senior season for NFL.
Now: Third-round pick of Seahawks, has more than 6,000 career receiving yards.
K/P T.J. Tucker
River Ridge (University of Florida)
High school: Parade All-American who made 21 of 30 field goals and 76 of 80 PATs and averaged 45.6 yards per punt.
College: Signed with the Gators but bypassed college upon being selected by Montreal Expos with 47th pick of 1997 Major League Baseball draft.
Now: Spent parts of five seasons in majors, going 13-9 with four saves for Expos and Nationals. Not with any club.
OL Ben Brown
High school: Led program to its first playoff berth as senior. Selected to play in prestigious Florida-Georgia All-Star Game.
College: Career cut short by back injuries. Graduated in 2001 with degree in natural resource management.
Now: Thought to be residing in Ball Ground, Ga.
TE Josh Cervi
Jesuit (Boston College)
High school: Two-sport star (he hit .430 as a junior for baseball team) had 27 catches for 349 yards and four TDs as a senior.
College: Spent five seasons as tight end and long-snapper. Graduated in 2001 with communications degree.
Now: Bay area sales associate for Herff Jones, manufacturer of high school/college mementos (i.e. photos, rings, caps and gowns).
DL Willie Comerford
Gibbs (Michigan State)
High school: Two-time state heavyweight wrestling champion and lineman. MVP of Palms/Pinellas All-Star Game.
College: Transferred to UCF in 1998. After sitting out one season, lettered three years ('99-01), starting as junior and senior at strongside guard. Graduated in 2001 with degree in criminology.
Now: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputy.
OL Dan Cutter
Tampa Catholic (Illinois)
High school: First-team all-Hillsborough County lineman and reserve post player for Crusaders' state champion basketball team in 1995.
College: Lettered three years at Illinois, playing guard and tackle. Knee and back injuries thwarted aspirations for a pro career.
Now: Lives in Milwaukee. Works as account manager for Chicago International Trucks (fleet sales of trucks to trucking companies).
FB/LB Luke Farmer
Boca Ciega (Florida)
High school: Third-team Class 5A All-State linebacker shined for nonplayoff team.
College: Groomed to play fullback but forced to retire from football in summer 1999 after major knee surgery.
Now: Science teacher at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg.
DB Markese Fitzgerald
Dixie Hollins (Miami)
High school: One of the state's highest-ranked college prospects as a senior, tallied 75 tackles, five interceptions and 630 rushing yards in final season.
College: Made 13 starts in four seasons as cornerback, recording five interceptions. Played on 2001 national title team.
Now: Spent 2002 in Bucs and Colts camps but was cut. Married and residing in Dallas, Dixie Hollins coach Mike Morey said.
QB George Godsey
Jesuit (Georgia Tech)
High school: Efficient caretaker of Tigers offense (1,655 passing yards, 11 TDs as senior).
College: 17-8 as starter. Ranked among Yellow Jackets' top four in virtually every major category. Led team to two bowl games.
Now: Recently completed second season as QBs coach at UCF.
QB Mike Hedge
High school: Passed for 827 yards as a senior, leading Tornadoes to state playoffs.
College: Practiced with the quarterbacks his first two years. Moved to fullback in 1999 before becoming long-snapper. Handled punts and field goals from '99-01.
Now: Recently completed first season as QBs coach and passing-game coordinator at Division III Otterbein College. Was assistant at Middle Tennessee, Cortland (N.J.) State and Quincy (Ill.). Earned master's degree in business administration from Quincy in 2004.
RB Kevin House
Chamberlain (South Carolina)
High school: Three-way standout who earned Times second-team all-Hillsborough honors.
College: Had 135 tackles, four interceptions and five sacks as defensive back in four seasons.
Now: Spent two seasons on Chargers roster, earning starting spot in secondary. Most recently played in NFL Europe.
QB Kenny Kelly
Tampa Catholic (Miami)
High school: Finished as Hillsborough's all-time leader in passing yardage (7,486).
College: Second-round pick of Devil Rays in '97. Started one season at UM before committing totally to baseball.
Now: Spent part of 2005 in MLB with Reds and Nationals. Recently signed split contract with White Sox, will attend club's big-league camp.
OL Jay Kulaga
High school: Three-sport star who drew attention of Division I schools despite missing most of senior season with leg injuries.
College: Evolved into first-team All-Big Ten guard, starring for 2001 conference titlist.
Now: Signed with Jets as undrafted free agent in spring 2002 but waived later that summer. Returned to Illinois to get master's degree, Seminole coach Sam Roper said.
OL Chad Lennon
High school: All-county lineman who helped Marauders to playoff berth as a senior.
College: Spent lone season at Louisville as a redshirt. Joined exodus of players when coach Ron Cooper resigned and was replaced by John L. Smith. Transferred to UCF, where he didn't play but earned finance degree in 2001.
Now: Operational risk and compliance officer for Foreign Currency Exchange Corporation in Orlando.
LB Dan Macsay
Seminole (Air Force)
High school: Honorable mention on 6A All-State team and defensive MVP of Palms/Pinellas All-Star Game. Runnerup in shot put at 6A meet.
College: Played football one year but shined for track team. Ranks sixth on school's all-time list in hammer throw (186 feet, 11 inches). Graduated in 2001, receiving a commission as second lieutenant in the Marine Corps that year.
Now: Has been deployed twice to Iraq. Now serving at 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Okinawa, Japan. Married to former Seminole and University of Georgia tennis star Christa Grey.
DL Tom Martinez
High school: Second-team 4A All-State pick as senior.
College: Spent two seasons at UCF before transferring to Division I-AA Northeastern. Graduated with degree in marketing and management in 2003.
Now: Tampa mortgage broker for Wells Fargo Financial.
WR Jon Ordway
Armwood (Boston College)
High school: One of most versatile players to emerge from triple-option offense.
College: 154 tackles in 29 games at BC. All-Big East in track and field.
Now: Spent two seasons in Canadian Football League and three with Tampa Bay Storm. On roster of Grand Rapids Rampage of AFL.
LB Derek Piniella
Jesuit (Virginia Tech)
High school: Despite never before playing organized football, shined at linebacker.
College: Spent three seasons with Hokies, playing special teams in 2000 Sugar Bowl against FSU. Transferred to UF and earned communications degree.
Now: Bank of St. Petersburg assistant vice president in charge of South Tampa branch.
OL Mike Pucillo
High school: 6A first-team All-State pick. Strong, agile tackle who benched 500 pounds and helped pave way for a rushing attack that amassed 2,277 yards.
College: Started 25 games, at guard and center.
Now: Played 12 games at guard in 2006 for Redskins, third team in five seasons.
DL/OL Rob Roberts
High school: Sturdy two-way lineman (6 feet 2, 245 pounds) who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds and posted 4.27 GPA.
College: Made 15 starts at Florida, alternating between tight end and fullback. Made SEC Academic Honor Roll three times.
Now: Spent time in Spain (learning Spanish) and Texas (teaching eighth-graders) before earning master's degree at Columbia. Residing in New York City, where he's developing a health curriculum with well-known thoracic surgeon and author Mehmet Oz.
WR Justin Smith
Lakewood (Notre Dame)
High school: Honor student, global youth ambassador and honorable mention on 5A All-State team as senior.
College: Dabbled in offensive backfield and at receiver before settling in as a backup free safety. Earned degree in computer engineering but expelled from university in 2002 after being charged, with three other former players, of raping a female student. Charges then dropped.
Now: Employed in private sector in West Palm Beach.
RB Wayne Ward
Plant City (Virginia Tech)
High school: First-team Class 6A All-State tailback as a senior (1,614 rushing yards, 19 TDs).
College: Evolved into one of nation's top special teams players.
Now: Physical education teacher and co-offensive coordinator at Plant City High.