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Stars light up News4Jax All-25 high school football team

From top left, to right, Derrick Henry, Tim Tebow, Leon Washington and Laremy Tunsil. Bottom left to right, Ciatrick Fason, John Theus, Lito Sheppard and Caleb Sturgis are among players on the News4Jax All-25 high school football team.
From top left, to right, Derrick Henry, Tim Tebow, Leon Washington and Laremy Tunsil. Bottom left to right, Ciatrick Fason, John Theus, Lito Sheppard and Caleb Sturgis are among players on the News4Jax All-25 high school football team. (Associated Press)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Heisman Trophy winners. Multiple first-round draft picks. State championships galore.

Quite a bit has happened in the football world over the past 25 years and we wanted to assemble the best high school football team possible with area products who fall into that timeline.

We spent the last two months combing through all-area and all-state teams and talking to coaches who have been apart of the high school football landscape in that span to put together our All-25 team.

Why 25 years, you ask?

I think many would agree that the last 25 years on the First Coast has been the most unforgettable and important from an athletic standpoint in our area’s history. That began when the Jaguars played their first season 25 years ago and made Jacksonville an NFL city.

In that same span, the area has won 25 Florida High School Athletic Association state football championships. So, we wanted to follow that path and see what the area delivered, from a high school perspective, in that same span.

Players who played in the 1995 to 2019 seasons were eligible for consideration. While college and NFL accolades could enhance a player’s resume, the team is based primarily on the high school body of work. Input from select area coaches went in to helping compile the team.

COACHES

Verlon Dorminey, Trinity Christian

When Dorminey returned to Trinity in 1991, the Conquerors were nowhere near a powerhouse. They were fortunate to win ballgames back then. By the time the 90s ended, Trinity had turned a corner. The Conquerors wouldn’t win their first state title until 2002, but that touched off a span of seven championships for Trinity under Dorminey. He’ll start 2020, his 30th season, with a 284-75 career mark, closing in on becoming just the seventh coach in state history to reach the 300-win plateau, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Buddy Collings.

Corky Rogers, Bolles

There are few coaches in high school football history like Rogers. He won seven state championships from 1995 to 2016 and played for titles six other times in that span. He retired with a 465-84-1 record following the 2016 season and is among the most iconic and revered figures in local sports. Rogers got his head coaching start at Lee, but his robust success came during his career at Bolles. He has a state-record 10 championships to his credit.

OFFENSE

QB Tim Tebow

High school: Nease

Final season: 2005

College: Florida

Notable: Played at Trinity Christian on defense as a freshman before unleashing an offensive explosion on the area during three seasons at Nease. Was state’s all-time offensive leader when he graduated (9,922 passing yards, 3,120 rushing yards) and responsible for 159 touchdowns. Junior season in 2004 was one of the most dominant years in state history (5,552 total yards, 46 passing TDs, 24 rushing TDs). Mr. Football in 2005 state championship season. Selected to FHSAA’s All-Century team. Won Heisman Trophy at Florida and only three-time finalist in that award’s history. First-round pick of Broncos.

RB Ciatrick Fason

High school: Fletcher

Final season: 2001

College: Florida

Notable: A four-year player for the Senators, he rushed for 7,479 yards and 96 TDs, breaking the all-time area rushing record set by University Christian’s Willie McClendon. His total now ranks second in area history behind Derrick Henry. Was a five-star recruit by Rivals. Hit the 2,000-yard rushing mark twice in his career. Drafted by the Vikings in the fourth round in 2005. Averaged 105.6 yards rushing per game at Florida in 2004, a number that led the SEC.

RB Derrick Henry

High school: Yulee

Final season: 2012

College: Alabama

Notable: Arguably the most dominant player in area history. All-time leading rusher in high school history with 12,124 yards, demolishing a record that had stood for 59 years. Had 47 consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Henry’s senior season was surreal. Only one area player had reached 3,000 yards rushing in a season, Sandalwood’s Maurice Wells. Henry smashed that with 4,260 yards and a staggering 55 TDs. Went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2015 and was a second-round pick of the Titans in 2016.

RB C.J. Spiller

High school: Union County

Final season: 2005

College: Clemson

Notable: Part of a ridiculously talented Class of 2006 in the country. Finished his four-year career at Union with 5,511 yards on 541 carries and had 93 TDs. Runner-up to Tebow in 2005 Mr. Football voting. Also, a state track sprint champion. Went on to become first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills.

WR Javon Bell

High school: Ribault

Final year: 2009

College: South Carolina/Texas Tech

Notable: All-state selection his final two seasons. He had a staggering 36 TD catches between 2008-09. Bell’s TD grab on the final play of the game in the 2009 Northwest Classic gave Ribault a 27-21 win over Raines remains one of the most memorable plays in that series’ history. Signed with South Carolina out of high school, but wound up going to junior college at Mississippi Gulf Coast to work on his academics before signing with Texas Tech.

WR Ryan Ellis

High school: Nease

Final year: 2005

College: Southern Miss

Notable: Tebow’s primary target during the birth of the spread offense in the area. Excellent hands and route runner. Had 198 catches for 3,923 yards, 38 TDs over three seasons. Set then-state record for TD catches in state championship game with three in 2005 against Armwood.

WR Rocky Ross

High school: Bolles

Final year: 2004

College: UCF

Notable: Played first two seasons at Episcopal and latter two at Bolles. Had 223 receptions for 3,263 yards, 40 TDs in his career. Starring role on 2004 Bulldogs team that went 14-0 and may have been the best team in area history. Had 157 catches at UCF, a total that ranked seventh in team history at the time. Had 1,984 receiving yards, 8 TDs in college.

OL Steve Arflin

High school: Fletcher

College: LSU

Final year: 2000

Notable: Mammoth center who helped clear the way for the area’s No. 2 all-time rusher in Ciatrick Fason. Exceptionally athletic on the field for such a big person (6-5, 320 pounds). Had 85 pancake blocks during final season. Versatile, too, as evidenced by his AAU national championships in both shot put and discus.

OL Lawrence Norman

High school: Clay

Final year: 1996

College: UTEP

Notable: A massive presence on the offensive line and went against some of the best defensive linemen like Charron Dorsey and Sam Matthews during his career. Regarded by some as the best offensive tackle to play at Clay High, which has been a factory for churning out offensive linemen.

OL John Theus

High school: Bolles

Final year: 2011

College: Georgia

Notable: A dominant tackle for the Bulldogs, he played on two state championship teams for Corky Rogers, including Bolles’ final title in 2011. USA Today All-American in high school. Went on to start all four seasons at Georgia and was a fifth-round pick of the Niners. Retired from the NFL in 2018.

OL Laremy Tunsil

High school: Columbia

College: Mississippi

Final year: 2012

Notable: A multi-year starter for the Tigers and one who several area coaches at the time said was the best they’d ever seen at the tackle position. Went on to success in college before becoming first-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016, and then traded to Texans last season. Made first Pro Bowl this year.

OL James Wilson

High school: Nease

College: Florida

Final year: 2007

Notable: Cleared the way for two excellent QBs (Tim Tebow, Ted Stachitas) and was one of the most dominant interior linemen to play on the First Coast. Could play tackle or guard. Played on teams that reached three consecutive state championship games, including the 2005 Class 4A state champ.

TE Will Mallory

High school: Providence

Final year: 2017

College: Miami

Notable: The biggest pure tight end threat of the past 25 years. Had 84 catches for 1,752 yards and 22 TDs in his career. Senior season was limited by injury, but still had 21 catches in his final year. Entering junior season at Miami, where he has 21 catches for 330 yards, 3 TDs.

K Caleb Sturgis

High school: St. Augustine

Final year: 2007

College: Florida

Notable: Hit a 49-yard field goal as a sophomore in the 2005 state title game to put himself on the football map. Deceptive statistically in his career (21 of 44 on field goal attempts in junior and senior seasons) but the majority of those attempts were from beyond 50 yards. Attempted a field goal of nearly 70 yards during a game against Matanzas in 2007. Hit 65 consecutive PATs — nearly eclipsing the state record — between junior and senior seasons before a miss in the 2007 regional finals. A touchback machine on kickoffs, too. Fifth-round pick of the Dolphins in 2013 and is 120 for 150 on field goals in the NFL.

ATH Leon Washington

High school: Jackson

Last year: 2001

College: Florida State

Notable: Two years of varsity football wound up earning Washington the Mr. Football award in 2001. As a junior, he had six interceptions and 1,169 yards of offense. Senior season was stellar. He rushed for 2,357 yards, 28 TDs. Had 88 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INT and returned 4 kicks for TDs. Fourth-round pick of the Jets, where he was a first-team All-Pro in 2008. Spent nine years in the NFL.

DEFENSE

DL Charron Dorsey

High school: Bolles

Final year: 1996

College: Florida State

Notable: Monster on the Bulldogs line along with Sam Matthews during a dominant Bolles era. He had 128 tackles over his junior and senior seasons, and athletic enough that he played tight end, too. Switched to offensive line his sophomore season at Florida State and wound up becoming a dominant enough player on that side of the ball that he was a seventh-round pick of the Cowboys in 2001.

DL Timmy Jernigan

High school: Columbia

Final year: 2010

College: Florida State

Notable: Relentless at the line of scrimmage. Had 118 tackles as a junior, an astronomical number for a lineman. Had 55 tackles for loss over his junior and senior seasons. Second-round pick of the Ravens in 2014, he’s got 17.5 sacks and 132 tackles in his NFL career.

DL Cece Jefferson

High school: Baker County

Final year: 2014

College: Florida

Notable: Had 71.5 tackles for loss, 39.5 sacks in first three seasons before missing the bulk of his senior year due to a shoulder injury. Relentless at the line of scrimmage. Arguably the best true defensive lineman of the 2010 decade. Finished his career with 124 tackles, 34.5 for loss and 10.5 sacks at Florida.

DL Gerard Warren

High school: Union County

Final year: 1996

College: Florida

Notable: Union County teams that Warren played on went 49-4 and won three consecutive state championships (1994-96) during one of the most dominant runs in state history. Tigers won 52 consecutive games between 1994-97, a mark that ranks second in state history. Played tackle his 1993-94 seasons and moved to end and nose guard for his 1995-96 years. Also played offensive guard. Warren’s No. 61 jersey was retired by Union County in 2008. Second-team All-American at Florida as a senior. No. 3 overall draft pick by Browns in 2001. Spent 11 seasons in NFL and had 36.5 sacks. Selected to FHSAA’s All-Century team.

LB Travis Carroll

High school: Bolles

Final year: 1996

College: Florida

Notable: A menace at the linebacker spot and part of the well-known Bolles triangle with Charron Dorsey and Sam Matthews, he amassed 616 career tackles. His senior season in 1996 was staggering — 247 tackles and 51 tackles for loss. He was considered by SuperPrep Magazine as the best linebacker in the country. Signed with Alabama but transferred to Florida. Had 204 tackles in college, with 6 sacks, 3 INTs. Played with the Saints and Texans briefly in the NFL and had 12 tackles.

LB Stephen Nicholas

High school: Lee

Final year: 2001

College: South Florida

Notable: Among Lee linebackers of the past 25 years, Nicholas and Bryce Cox are among the best to play there. Had 159 tackles as a senior, and a player who former Lee coach Ed Barrett said never came off the field and never slowed down. Stellar player in college and an All-Big East first-team selection as a senior. Fourth-round pick of the Falcons and spent seven seasons in the NFL.

LB Kendyll Pope

High school: Columbia

Final year: 1998

College: Florida Sate

Why he’s here: Had 175 tackles, 7 sacks and forced 4 fumbles as a senior. First team All-USA Today and Parade All-American. Hit more than 100 tackles in his sophomore and junior seasons at Florida State. Fourth-round draft pick of Colts in 2004, but injuries slowed his career.

LB Ryan Stamper

High school: First Coast

Final year: 2004

College: Florida

Notable: Good enough that he made all the defensive calls on the field for the Buccaneers. Four-year player and three-year starter for the Buccaneers. Mentioned by two coaches as the best defensive player to come from First Coast. Had 115 tackles, six sacks as a senior. Team captain at Florida his final two seasons there. Had 149 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks with the Gators. Has made his impact, post-playing career, at the coaching level. He’s in his eighth season in an administrative role at Ohio State, currently serving as the assistant athletic director of player development.

DB Jacques Rickerson

High school: St. Augustine

Final year: 2005

College: Florida

Notable: Could make a case as the best all-around player in St. Johns County in the 2000s. Had 21 interceptions in three seasons and scored 21 offensive TDs, most of those as a receiver. Key part of 15-0 state championship team in 2005. Rival of Nease’s Tebow during their high school careers. Had 20 tackles in career at Florida before finishing career at Alabama State.

DB Lito Sheppard

High school: Raines

Final year: 1998

College: Florida

Notable: Had 18 interceptions in 29 career games for Vikings and was the top-ranked corner in the country by SuperPrep in his senior season. Had three punt returns for touchdowns in his junior season. Helped lead Vikings to 1997 state championship. Member of FHSAA’s All-Century team. First-round pick of the Eagles in 2002 and spent 10 seasons in the NFL where he had 350 tackles and 19 INTs.

DB Shaun Wade

High school: Trinity Christian

Final year: 2016

College: Ohio State

Notable: A four-year player for the Conquerors, Wade had 130 tackles and 12 interceptions, including seven in his final season. A threat on offense, too. Amassed 1,569 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs, much of that as a receiver. Three defensive TDs as a senior. USA Today defensive player of the year and Class 3A player of the year in 2016. Entering redshirt junior season with Buckeyes.

DB Dee Webb

High school: White

Final year: 2002

College: Florida

Notable: Incredible senior season saw him make 61 tackles and eight interceptions. Had a staggering eight defensive TDs in 2002. Had 10 picks as a junior and returned four for TDs. Had 17 offensive TDs as a senior. SuperPrep defensive player of the year in 2002 and All-USA Today first team. From a recruiting standpoint, was rated higher than future NFL stars like Maurice Jones-Drew and Joe Thomas, and eventual No. 1 overall draft picks Mario Williams and JaMarcus Russell. Played in 35 games at Florida with four INTs and 102 tackles. Eventual seventh-round draft pick by the Jaguars in 2006.

ATH Guss Scott

High school: Trinity Christian

Final year: 1999

College: Florida

Notable: A dominant safety/running back for the Conquerors. Rushed for 1,920 yards, 22 TDs as a senior and played on what was then the highest-scoring team in state history (528 points in the regular season, a mark since surpassed by Apopka’s 529 in 2014). Averaged 12.1 yards per carry as a senior. Added 92 tackles, 5 picks. Stellar career at Florida (310 tackles, 4 INTs) before being a third-round pick of the Patriots in 2004.

P Jacob Cantwell

High school: Baldwin

Final year: 1997

Notable: There have been solid punters in this span, but Cantwell is the only two-time first-team All-City punter of the past 25 years. Averaged 45.6 yards per punt as a senior and 46.6 as a junior. Versatile player, he had 5 INTs and 8 receiving TDs in his final season.

THE NEXT 25

Position Player, School, Final season

ATH Darlvon Bracy, Trinity Christian, 1997

Why he’s here: Did everything for the Conquerors during his career, starring on offense, defense and special teams. Rushed for 5,424 career yards and credited with 72 TDs in his career.

DL Corey Brown, Raines, 1998

Why he’s here: Had 23.5 sacks over his last two seasons and played on the Vikings’ history-making state championship team in 1997. Played on the offensive line, too.

RB Laveranues Coles, Ribault, 1995

Why he’s here: Played just one season in the decade, but an unbelievable talent. Had 4,824 career rushing yards. Had 17 rushing TDs as a senior. Converted to a receiver at the next levels and went on to enjoy stellar career at Florida State and in the NFL.

DB Willie Cooper, St. Augustine, 2002

Why he’s here: Had 17 interceptions over his final 2 seasons from his safety position. Added 21 offensive TDs as a senior while playing QB. Four-year player, teams he was on went 40-11 and played for the 2001 state title.

ATH Bryan Evans, White, 2004

Why he’s here: Safety had 10 INTs over his final 2 seasons and took 3 back for TDs. Versatile, he had 4 kick returns for TDs. Had 1,502 yards from scrimmage, 20 TDs over his junior and senior years.

WR Isaiah Ford, Trinity Christian, 2013

Why he’s here: A four-year player, Ford had 123 receptions for 2,012 yards and 33 TDs. Smooth route runner and an exceptional athlete who was also an elite basketball talent.

RB Frankie Franklin, Sandalwood, 1995

Why he’s here: Played just one season under this criteria, but it was an exceptional one. Rushed for a then-area public school record 2,466 yards and 32 TDs in 1995 and won state’s Mr. Football during a 14-1 season. Finished career with 5,621 yards, 65 TDs.

WR Ahmad Fulwood, Bishop Kenny, 2013

Why he’s here: Fulwood had 117 catches for 2,262 yards and 44 TDs in 3 seasons. As a senior, he was probably an even more feared player from his safety position.

LB Eriq Gilyard, Trinity Christian, 2017

Why he’s here: In 3 seasons with the Conquerors, Gilyard had 313 tackles and 56.5 tackles for loss. His father, Roshard, was an exceptional two-way player at White in the late ‘90s, too.

OL Jeff Griffin, Bartram Trail, 2004

Why he’s here: The first dominant offensive lineman for a Bears program that became very good at cranking them out. Anchored a Bartram line each of his seasons there and helped lead the program to the playoffs four consecutive years.

RB/LB Hussein Howe, University Christian, 2015

Why he’s here: Rushed for 5,026 yards and 86 TDs in career as a four-year starter. Won a pair of state championships at UC.

DB Kyle Jackson, Fletcher, 2003

Why he’s here: Had 25 career interceptions and essentially never left the field in a stellar four-year career at the beach. How well-known was Jackson? He had a sandwich named after him at popular beaches eatery Angie’s Subs.

QB De’Andre Johnson, First Coast, 2014

Why he’s here: Four-year starter who holds career passing marks in passing TDs (131) and yardage (11,712), and single-season TD passes (47). Was 46-5 as a starter and led Bucs to state title game as freshman.

DL Sam Matthews, Bolles, 1996

Why he’s here: Four-year starter, although he played two years under this criteria. Playing alongside first-team member Charron Dorsey, Matthews, who signed with Alabama, had 20 sacks and a pair of all-state selections in those 2 seasons.

DL Tarek Odom, St. Augustine, 2010

Why he’s here: Relentless player at the line. Had 32 tackles for loss as a senior and doubled as a fullback, who had 12 rushing TDs. Tragically died during a rec football game in 2018.

ATH Derek Owens, Jackson, 2008

Why he’s here: Had 22 interceptions and also a factor on offense and special teams, starting 8 games as a freshman and never looking back. He averaged 39.6 yards per punt return.

ATH Robert Pollard, Orange Park, 1995

Why he’s here: While the bulk of his success came prior to the cutoff for this list, Pollard had 977 rushing yards and accounted for 20 TDs in his final season after missing his entire junior year after suffering nerve damage in his arm. Played at Bolles prior to transferring to OP.

LB Shaq Quarterman, Oakleaf, 2015

Why he’s here: Punishing backer was a playmaker from his first season until his last with the Knights. Had 412 tackles, 23.5 for loss and 2 INTs during his career.

LB Marvin Sapp, Sandalwood, 2004

Why he’s here: Starred at Bolles for a couple seasons before transferring to Sandalwood as a senior. Had 267 tackles during his final two seasons.

LB Kedric Session, Palatka, 1999

Why he’s here: Played during an excellent period of football in Putnam County. Anchored an unbeaten regular season Panthers squad with 195 tackles and 4 INTs during his final year.

QB Riley Skinner, Bolles, 2004

Why he’s here: Played in the time period of Nease’s Tebow, which overshadowed just how good he was. Went 28-2 as a starter, including 14-0 in 2004 senior season. Passed for 31 TDs and completed 77% of his passes that year.

DL Marcus Thomas, Mandarin, 2002

Why he’s here: Brute at the line of scrimmage, he was credited with 45 sacks over his final two years in high school and went on to start multiple seasons at Florida.

DL DeMarcus Walker, Sandalwood, 2012

Why he’s here: An edge-bender who drew constant double teams, he had 44 tackles for loss and 30 sacks over final two seasons with the Saints.

RB Maurice Wells, Sandalwood, 2004

Why he’s here: Posted the first 3,000-yard rushing season in area history when he hit 3,076 yards and 31 TDs in 2003 junior season. Rushed for 5,955 yards, 55 TDs in his career.

QB John Wolford, Bishop Kenny, 2013

Why he’s here: Held multiple state records when he graduated. Passed for 10,621 yards, 126 TDs and completed 706 passes during his four-year career as starter. Also held state record for total offense (13,403) and total TDs responsible for (162).

HONORABLE MENTION

Pos. Player, School, Last year played

RB Bilal Ally, Clay, 2015

DL Chris Anderson, Mandarin, 2001

DL/TE Gary Barnidge, Middleburg, 2003

LB Sam Barrington, Parker, 2008

QB Carson Beck, Mandarin 2019

LB Scott Betros, Bolles, 2007

WR Chris Black, First Coast, 2012

ATH Michael Boone, Baker County, 2013

ATH Caron Bracy, Trinity Christian, 1999

DB Craig Brodsky, Fleming Island, 2011

RB Andrew Buie, Trinity Christian, 2010

OL Jesse Burkett, Bartram Trail, 2013

RB Dexter Carter Jr., Bolles, 2014

OL Thornton Chandler, Raines, 1998

LB Kevis Coley, Palatka, 2000

LB Bryce Cox, Lee, 1996

RB Marcus Crowley, Trinity Christian, 2017

WR Silas Daniels, Ribault, 1999

QB Ivory Durham, Raines, 2017

OL Vernon Edwards, Jackson, 2000

RB Travis Felder, White, 1998

OL John Frady, Bolles, 2002

WR Jabar Gaffney, Raines, 1998

ATH Roshard Gilyard, White, 1998

DE Jonathan Goddard, White, 1999

LB Byron Hardmon, White, 1998

RB Jamie Harper, Trinity Christian, 2007

DE Marquis Haynes, University Christian, 2012

WR Tray Herndon, Bolles, 2006

OL Tom Hilliard, Bolles, 1996

OL Will Holden, Clay, 2011

LB Jeff Holland, Trinity Christian, 2014

RB Brandon James, St. Augustine, 2005

LB David Jenkins, Union County, 1997

RB Keshawn King, Oakleaf, 2018

ATH Reggie Lewis, First Coast, 2001

DB Rashean Mathis, Englewood, 1998

WR DJ Matthews, Trinity Christian, 2016

RB William McCray, Bolles, 1996

OL Isaac Morford, Keystone Heights, 1998

OL Levi Newton, Trinity Christian, 2000

DL Louis Nix, Raines, 2009

DB Eugene Oates, Raines, 1999

K Tommy Openshaw, Creekside, 2012

QB Nathan Peterman, Bartram Trail, 2011

OL David Price, Mandarin, 2002

LB Terrance Plummer, Orange Park, 2010

RB/LB Damien Postell, Baldwin, 1997

ATH Chris Reier, Bolles, 1996

OL Jalen Rivers, Oakleaf, 2019

DL John Russell, Bolles, 2005

OL Ian Silberman, Fleming Island, 2009

ATH OJ Small, Forrest, 1999

LB Ryan Smenda, Fleming Island, 2017

DL Jason Spitz, Bolles, 2000

LB Tony Steward, Menendez, 2010

WR Travis Taylor, Ribault, 1996

DB Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian, 2014

QB Nick Tronti, Ponte Vedra, 2016

RB Casey Turner, White, 2009

WR Charles Wade, Bishop Kenny, 2014

ATH Nick Washington, Trinity Christian, 2012


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