TAMPA — Tampa Catholic head football coach Mike Gregory had to chuckle just a bit Monday when asked about Nate Craig's first official practice with the Crusaders.
“He did a terrific job,” Gregory said.
What else would you expect to hear about the No. 1-rated junior in America. Rivals, a national Scouting service, recently ranked Craig as the No. 1 player overall in the class of 2016.
Craig, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver, recently committed to Auburn, choosing the Tigers over offers from Florida State and Ohio State, among others.
Craig transferred to Tampa Catholic from Pasco High in January and did not participate in spring practice at his new school.
“I think it went well,” Craig said of his first practice. “We still have a lot to improve on to get ready to play Sickles (in the preseason).”
Craig said he played in an option offense at Pasco, whereas Tampa Catholic uses the spread, which will cater to his talents.
In two seasons at Pasco, Craig had 37 catches for 502 yards and 12 touchdowns. He already has received an invitation to play in the 2016 Under Armour All-American game.
Craig's eligibility status, however, remains a question mark. The Florida High School Athletic Association is investigating Tampa Catholic's athletic program for possible recruiting violations.
In January, Pasco County athletic director Phil Bell filed a formal complaint with the FHSAA on behalf of Pasco coach Tom McHugh, claiming Tampa Catholic recruited Craig and two other Pasco players.
“I'm not too worried about it,” Craig said. I'm worried about my team first and whatever happens, happens.”
In addition to Pasco, three Sunlake coaches sent signed letters to the FHSAA detailing alleged illegal recruitment of their players by Tampa Catholic coaches.
“The kids aren't talking about it, the coaches aren't talking about it,” Gregory said. “It's almost like it's not there. But it's always in the back of my mind. We have to move forward. If we dwell on it, it will hurt us.”
Armwood's Johnson receives high praise
Last season, Noah Johnson stepped into the role of starting quarterback for Armwood, having not played the position consistently since his youth football days.
Johnson surprised many, however, leading the Hawks' offense with more than 2,000 passing yards, 800 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns en route to the class 6A state championship game.
He's back, and and according to head coach Sean Callahan, “Don't be surprised if Noah's the best quarterback in (Hillsborough County).”
Johnson said he's improved this offseason.
“Just the simple things,” Johnson said. “I've been working on my footwork, going to the beach to work on it, throwing intermediate passes, my accuracy has gotten better and I'm a lot faster.”
The players have the utmost confidence in their second-year quarterback.
“I always looked at Noah as a player who is an achiever,” senior linebacker Jordan Griffin said. “I always thought Noah was a guy who can take us to the state championship and lead us, and he's proving to everybody what I thought.”
Familiar name under center at Jefferson
There is a new quarterback at Jefferson with a name relating to the past: Cade Weldon.
Weldon, son of former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Casey Weldon, is a sophomore who transferred to the Dragons from Berkeley Prep over the summer.
Even though Weldon has never played in a high school game, it's a move that had everybody in Dragon-land very happy during Monday's first official day of practice.
“Cade has all the tools and he has the enthusiasm,” Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said. “To say the least, I'm excited.”
Weldon (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) has big shoes to fill following the graduation of Tampa Tribune player of the year Deiondre Porter, who in 2013 threw for 3,199 yards and 33 touchdowns, and rushed for 1,499 yards and 20 touchdowns and led the Dragons to a 10-2 record.
Weldon, however, says he feels very comfortable.
“It's a great atmosphere here,” Weldon said. “I have a chance to be a three-year starter here with a lot of talent around me. It feels right.”
Durant talks about unfinished business
Don't be deceived by Durant's 3-7 record from last year, because the Cougars came within a few whiskers of going 7-3.
Durant lost four games by less than a touchdown, including three against Class 7A-District 8 opponents by a combined five points.
That's why Durant's first official practice came with chips on many shoulders.
“We feel we have something to prove,” Durant running back Crispian Atkins said. “We know we can get it done.”
Atkins, a senior, might have a little more incentive than most after suffering a deep ankle sprain midway through last season. After the injury, his production tapered dramatically.
“But I'm 100 percent healthy now,” Atkins said. “I feel stronger and quicker. A lot of us feel that way.”
Durant coach Mike Gottman is optimistic, largely because of this year's overall team attitude.
“I think we all feel that we have unfinished business to take care of after last year's tough losses,” Gottman said. “We feel that we're in it together.”
Plant City and Freedom begin the season without their top returning players.
Plant City junior receiver Tavares Chase and Freedom senior defensive end Scott Patchan transferred to Bradenton's IMG Academy.
Chase, rated one of the top juniors in the country, was the Raiders' top receiver last season with 28 catches for 562 yards and four touchdowns.
Patchan, who verbally committed to Miami and announced his enrollment at IMG Academy via Twitter on Sunday, led the Patriots with six sacks to go with 47 tackles.
As an independent program, IMG Academy football plays a national schedule.