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Clock ticks for Leopard

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 18, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- With three official campus visits remaining and not enough time to take them all, Hernando's Dee Brown will reassess his situation after a Jan. 27 trip to Tennessee.

It's a decision he will not be pushed into, not with the words of his grandmother fresh in his memory.

"My grandmother always told me to go wherever I was most comfortable," he said. "She told me to remember that."

Campus visits cannot be taken after Feb. 3 -- four days before signing day -- and Brown, an all-state centerfielder and All-Suncoast linebacker, has toured only Miami and Central Florida.

"It's probably looking like the Tennessee visit may be the last one, but it's too early too tell," Brown said. "By next week, we should know if it's the last one or not."

Brown canceled a visit to South Florida last weekend due to the death of his grandmother, Annie Bell Brown. Her funeral this weekend has forced his family to move a scheduled trip to Knoxville back a week, which jeopardizes a tentative trip to Georgia that could have been taken during the same weekend.

"Right now, we'll see what Tennessee has to offer," said Scotty Scrivens, Brown's stepfather. "Miami is in the hunt. We can't say much about Georgia because they have not given us anything specifically."

South Florida, UCF, Miami and Tennessee have offered scholarships.

New Georgia coach Mark Richt has told Scrivens that Brown could play football and baseball at the school -- a prerequisite for consideration -- but needed to determine how many recruits intend to honor commitments to former coach Jim Donnan.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has increased its profile.

Brown, impressed by a visit Volunteers coach Phil Fulmer made in December, said he would huddle with his family and coaches following the Knoxville visit. "We'll sit down and talk and see what fits best," Brown said, "if (attending Tennessee) is something I'd like to do. If not, we'll look at other options."

The Georgia option would be an intriguing one for baseball, where Brown would play under Ron Polk, the winningest coach in Southeastern Conference history.

At Mississippi State, Polk helped groom Rafael Palmiero, Jeff Brantley, Will Clark and Bobby Thigpen and earned a vocal advocate in Hernando coach Tim Sims, who was recruited by Polk but attended Alabama.

"I know something about Coach Polk, and I know he sticks to his word when he tells you something," Sims said. Brown said no school is a favorite despite urgings from the Brown side of the family. Some of those relatives, he said, would like to see him attend Miami like his father did, but "they're not pushing too hard."

His grandmother, he said, didn't share those feelings.

"Truthfully, she didn't even want me to look that way," he said. "She doesn't like it down there in Miami that much. She wouldn't like her baby to go down there, as she would say."

SIGNED, SEALED: One of Brown's baseball teammates already has his situation settled.

Senior J.T. Fobell, a pitcher who transferred from Springstead this summer, signed with Saint Leo in November and met with his academic advisers Tuesday.

Fobell, a lanky right-hander, went 6-1 with a 3.83 ERA as the Eagles' ace last season.

Sims said Fobell's financial package, including athletic and academic money, would cover "80 to 90 percent" of his expenses.

"It's a good situation for him," Sims said. "If he comes in and does a good job for them, he has a chance to be in the middle and above as far as their plans."

Saint Leo coach Eddie Stabile said he likes almost everything he sees in Fobell: his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame, makeup, a fastball he projects at 84-87 mph and a sweeping curveball.

"He's showed a lot of attributes that he can come in here and win a spot as a freshman," Stabile said. "Then if he shows he can compete for a starting job, that's up to him."

Saint Leo coaches also have expressed interest in Hernando pitcher Jason Dunn and Central pitcher Patrick Ryan. Landing them would further entrench the program into the baseball-rich North Suncoast recruiting base. Springstead's Marc Sbraccia and Bryan Melko already are in the program.

Dunn also is being recruited by Hillsborough and Lake Sumter community colleges, Sims said.

RISING STOCK: Hernando senior first baseman Stephen Blanton has become a commodity after performing well in several off-season prospect camps, including the Unsigned Seniors Showcase in Lakeland last weekend. Blanton spurned an offer from Saint Leo in the early period and has since become actively recruited by the University of Tampa, New Orleans, Mississippi, Auburn and Florida.

"They verbally called me and said they want to see him in the spring," Sims said. "He piqued some interest (at the Lakeland camp). A couple of JUCO coaches that don't think they have a shot at him have recommended him to buddies at the next level."

Blanton, a lanky left-handed batter, hit .364 with nine home runs last season.

"It's all coordination and athleticism," Sims said. "He's just now growing into his body."

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