TAMPA — The sidelines were packed with folks wearing so many different colors, the game could have been mistaken for an Easter parade.
When Sickles hosted its four-team high school football jamboree May 23, some of the best players in Northwest Hillsborough County were on display.
But the crowd of coaches and scouts — all sporting their team colors — was there for one reason: Sickles’ all-everything Ray Ray McCloud.
McCloud is one of the most highly recruited athletes in recent memory in Tampa Bay. McCloud is arguably the best running back in the area. But he also could be the best defensive back in the area and the best special teams player as well.
Putting a position next to his name is pointless. He plays both sides of the ball and rarely takes a seat, even when Sickles has a comfortable lead — and the Gryphons had a lot of them last season when they went to the regional finals.
McCloud’s mailbox is filled with recruiting letters every day, mostly from the biggest football schools in the nation, mixed in with a few longshots.
McCloud is only 5 foot, 10 inches, but he has time to grow. He runs with speed and surprising power. On defense, he has the chops to knock down any ball that comes his way and plays a lot larger than his stature would suggest.
McCloud is being recruited at running back and defensive back.
He has said all along that he’d entertain offers from both sides of the ball, but after scoring a game-winning touchdown in the spring game against Gaither, he admitted he prefers running back.
“I can play both, but I like running back,” the soon-to-be senior said. “The (recruiting) process has been fun, but I still have visits to make and I’ll make a decision when it’s time. I don’t really favor anyone yet.”
Last year McCloud ran for more than 2,300 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He has said that he wants at least 3,000 yards in 2014. If it weren’t for the talents of Sickles quarterback Isaac Holder, who recently received an offer from Ball State, people close to the Sickles program say McCloud could easily be the Gryphons quarterback.
“We’ve never had a player like Ray Ray,” said Sickles coach Brian Turner. “I could take him out of games a little earlier, but I feel like I owe it to him to let him put up some numbers.
“He’s a special player and he’s going to make one of those coaches really happy.”
McCloud said he’s gotten used to seeing the Easter parade out on the sidelines. They stand together, all rival coaches looking to land the big prize.
“I see them but I don’t really pay attention,” McCloud said. “I just want to win.’’