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August 11, 2010

Pensacola area is back as football power

RIVALSHIGH FOOTBALL: Plant (Fla.) is preseason No. 1 team | Top 100 players

Roughly a dozen players have scholarship offers. A few have even committed. There is a defending state champion - an impressive accomplishment in football-crazy Florida - and a team in the preseason RivalsHigh 100 rankings.

Yes, football is back in Pensacola, Fla. - the western-most town in the state known for its beaches. But the question some of the locals are asking is: Did it ever leave?

"It is just the cyclical nature of it all," Pensacola (Fla.) Pine Forest coach Jerry Pollard said. "For awhile the area hit a bit of a downslide, but I knew it would come back."

Indeed it has.

Pensacola High, which won the Florida 3A title last year, is the top team and starts the season at No. 37 - just one spot behind Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas, considered one of the top programs in the nation.

Pensacola Catholic appears to have the most recruits with five players already receiving offers. It figures to have a chance to make noise in Florida 2B.

Of course, this is the way it always used to be.

The schools are just two of 17 that call the greater Pensacola area home - schools that produced NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith (Escambia High) and Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel (Fort Walton Beach) among hundreds of college players.

From the late 70s to the early 90s, major college coaches were as common as the sea oats on the dunes of the area's sugar-white beaches. But then something odd happened. Instead of a handful of high school players signing with the Alabamas, LSUs and Floridas of the college football world, it was one or two.

That seems to have changed. Before a single team has taken the field for preseason camp, the area can boast 11 players who already have Division I offers. That's enough for a starting lineup.

Pollard, the Pine Forest coach since 1989, is benefiting from it.

Defensive back Louchiz Purifoy is a multi-threat player who was offered by Florida on the spot after running a 4.35 40-yard dash at a summer camp. He gave the Gators a verbal commitment at the end of July.

Pensacola, which defeated Miami (Fla.) Belen Jesuit 28-7 in the 3A final last season, looks strong behind a pair of players with offers already in hand.

Chris Milton, a receiver/defensive back has been offered by Iowa State and Northern Illinois, while linebacker Cordivido Grice has been offered by South Florida and South Alabama.

Brian Turner, who was the recruiting director for Troy and packed the Trojans' roster with Florida players, is doing the same for South Alabama - especially in Pensacola.

"After Mobile, Pensacola is our top recruiting priority," Turner said. "It isn't just the quality of the players that makes the area special; it is the quality of the coaching they get there."

South Alabama, which competed on the field for the first time last year, had 15 Pensacola-area players on the roster. One school South Alabama will definitely have an eye on is Pensacola Catholic.

Although the only private school in the area and competing in class 2B, the Crusaders already have five players with offers.

Leading the way is D.J. Pettway, who already has committed to Alabama. Add to that quarterback Shaun White, linebacker Demarius Ransifer, fullback Marquis Sumler and lineman James Elliott, and Catholic could be primed for a run at the state playoffs.

Navarre's Sterling Lovelady is the only other local player to verbally commit. The offensive/defensive lineman is headed to Florida State.

Rounding out the players with offers in their pockets is Milton quarterback Matt Floyd and Pace lineman Will Sport.

The list of offers will undoubtedly grow for these players, but the list itself should also. Several other players, including Crestview tight end Michael Caldwell, Fort Walton Beach defensive end Deiontrez Mount, Walton County defensive end Deon Lee and Milton safety Casey Freeman figure to get plenty of attention from recruiters.

Pensacola - no doubt about it - is back.

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