Florida High School Defense: All-Time Team
High school football in Florida is about as big of a deal in Florida as college football, especially when every year an argument can be made that, the best football players and teams come from Florida. In this article I want to look at a few legendary names, past and present that could help put together a Florida High School All-Time Team. I won’t fill out an entire roster but I will pick a few players as a base, and maybe you could let us know how you would fill out the rest of the team. Let’s look at the best all-time Florida high school defense.
E Deacon Jones
High school: Eatonville Hungerford
The particulars: The best defensive end in NFL history? You can make a case for Jones, who played high school ball in the pre-integration days; he made the FHSAA All-Century team in 2009 despite his high school not being a part of the FHSAA when he played. Jones played one season at South Carolina State and one season at Mississippi Vocational College — now called Mississippi Valley State (yep, the same alma mater as Jerry Rice) — before being selected in the 14th round of the 1961 draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He became a star on what was one of the most talented defensive lines in NFL history, the “Fearsome Foursome.” Jones played 14 years in the NFL and was a five-time All-Pro and an eight-time Pro Bowler. Sacks were not an official stat when he played, but Pro Football Weekly credits him with 173.5 of them, which would be third all time. He had a lethal helmet slap, a move that eventually was banned. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1980 and was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994.
DT Warren Sapp
High school: Apopka
The particulars: Sapp was a two-way standout at Apopka, starring at tight end and linebacker. He was converted to defensive tackle at Miami and became a superstar. Sapp played three seasons at UM and was a two-time All-American; he won the Lombardi and Nagurski awards as a junior in 1994 (he had 84 tackles, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries that season), then turned pro. He was a first-round pick by Tampa Bay in the 1995 draft and played 13 NFL seasons. He was a four-time All-Pro selection for the Bucs and a seven-time Pro Bowler who finished his career with 96.5 sacks; he had four seasons with at least 10 sacks. Sapp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013. He was named to the FHSAA’s All- Century team in 2009.
LB Derrick Brooks
High school: Pensacola Washington
The particulars: Like the other Pensacola native on this list, Emmitt Smith, Brooks hit the trifecta — mega-recruit, college All-American and NFL superstar. Brooks starred at safety in high school and was one of the nation’s most heavily recruited prospects when he signed with FSU in 1991. He was recruited to be a linebacker and put his speed to good use with the Seminoles. Brooks was a three-time first-team All-ACC selection and was a consensus All-
American as a junior and senior; he was the ACC Player of the Year as a senior in 1994. Tampa Bay took him in the first round in 1995, and he was a starter for the Bucs for his entire 14-season career. Brooks became a vital cog on some of the NFL’s best defenses with the Bucs and was a five-time All-Pro and an 11-time Pro Bowler. He finished his career with 1,713 tackles, 25 interceptions (including six pick-sixes) and 24 forced fumbles. His tackles total is sixth in NFL history and he is third with 1,300 solo tackles. Brooks was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He was a member of the FHSAA’s All-Century team in 2009.
LB Ted Hendricks
High school: Hialeah
The particulars: The ‘Godfather of the Linebacker Position”. Hendricks starred in football, basketball, baseball and track in high school, then attended hometown Miami. He was a three- time All-American defensive end for the Hurricanes and finished fifth in the Heisman voting as a senior in 1968. He was a second-round pick of Baltimore in the 1969 draft and was moved to outside linebacker, where the legend of “The Mad Stork” thrived. He was a four-time All-Pro selection — once with Baltimore, once with Green Bay and twice with Oakland. Hendrick won four Super Bowl rings (three with the Raiders, one with the Colts) and finished with 26 career interceptions. He didn’t miss a game in his NFL career, playing in 215 consecutive contests; his last game was Super Bowl XVIII, when the Raiders routed the Redskins in Tampa. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and was a member of the FHSAA’s All- Century team in 2009.
LB Ray Lewis
High school: Lakeland Kathleen
The particulars: He was his high school team’s MVP as a junior and senior, playing linebacker, running back … and kick returner. He also was a standout wrestler. Still, he was not necessarily a touted recruit and his signing with Miami wasn’t considered a big deal. Well, he then got on the field at UM and everything changed. He played three years for the Hurricanes and made 393 career tackles; he was a freshman All-America selection in 1993, then earned “regular” All- American honors as a sophomore and junior. He turned pro after his junior season and was a first-round pick by Baltimore in 1996. He played 17 seasons with the Ravens and was a seven- time All-Pro and a 13-time Pro Bowler. Lewis, who is No. 1 in NFL history with 1,568 solo
tackles, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. He was named to the FHSAA’s All-Century team in 2009.
High school: North Fort Myers
The particulars: Is he the best corner in football history? Well, “Prime Time” is certainly the most famous. He was a star in football, baseball and basketball in high school and developed into a national recruit. He signed with FSU and played three sports there, too: football, baseball and track. Sanders was a four-year starter at cornerback (his 14 picks are second in FSU history) and was a unanimous All-American as a junior and senior. He also was an All-American sprinter and a starting outfielder on a team that went to the College World Series. He was a first-round pick by Atlanta in the 1989 NFL Draft, then spent the next 12 seasons as a starter with the Falcons, 49ers, Cowboys and Redskins. (After a three-season retirement, he was a part-time starter with
Baltimore in 2004 and ’05 before retiring for good.) He also was a dangerous kick and punt returner, with nine career return TDs. Sanders was a six-time All-Pro who had 53 career interceptions for 1,331 yards and nine TDs; the yardage total is fourth in NFL history and the
TDs are fifth. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Sanders also was a member of the FHSAA’s All-Century team in 2009.
CB Ken Riley
High school: Bartow Union Academy
The particulars: Riley starred at Union Academy (which had nine players make it to the NFL in its history) in pre-integration days. He played both ways in high school, then became a star quarterback at Florida A&M. Riley was drafted as a cornerback in the sixth round by Cincinnati in 1969; he became a full-time starter in 1970 and kept that role for 13 more seasons. He was an All-Pro once, in 1983, as a 36-year-old in his final NFL season. Riley spent his entire career in Cincinnati, started 201 games and had 65 career interceptions, tied for fifth-most in NFL history with Charles Woodson. He and fellow Floridian Lemar Parrish (from Riviera Beach Kennedy, also a pre-integration high school) were one of the NFL’s best cornerback duos in the 1970s.
Riley later was the coach and then the AD at FAMU. He was a member of the FHSAA’s All- Century team in 2009, and there are more than a few folks who think he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
S LeRoy Butler
High school: Lee
The particulars: Because of a bone problem in his feet, Butler spent several years as a child in braces, casts and a wheelchair. But he was fine by the seventh grade and developed into an elite recruit at Lee High. He signed with FSU and was a reserve as a true freshman in 1986. He then started for the next three seasons, the first two at safety and his senior season at cornerback, replacing Sanders. In his final two seasons with the Seminoles, Butler had 194 tackles, nine interceptions and a huge run on a “punt-a-rooskie” against Clemson; he was a first-team All- American as a senior in ’89 and a second-round pick by Green Bay in 1990. He was a backup as a rookie, a starter at corner in ’91, then a 10-year starter at safety for the Packers. He was a four- time All-Pro and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1990s. Butler also is credited with originating the “Lambeau Leap.” He was a member of the FHSAA’s All-Century team in 2009 and remains a viable candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
S Brian Dawkins
High school: Raines
The particulars: Dawkins was a lineman as a youth league standout in Jacksonville but was a star in the secondary at Raines and became a three-year starter at safety for Clemson; he earned some All-America notice as a senior in 1995, when he had six interceptions. He was a second-round pick of Philadelphia in the ’96 draft, then became a 16-year starter in the NFL — the first 13 with the Eagles and the last three with Denver. He was a four-time All-Pro and a nine-time Pro Bowler and started 221 games in his career. Dawkins is 20th in NFL history with 911 solo tackles, seventh with 153 passes defended and 13th with 36 forced fumbles. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
Written by: Jacquez McCoy