They may not be attracting big-time Division I colleges yet, but these five Collier County players will be vital to their teams' success in 2018. Wochit/Andrew Sodergren
As the Big 15 – the ranking of Southwest Florida’s biggest Division I football recruits as compiled by the Naples Daily News and The News-Press – rolls into the top five, it’s time to take a gander at some of the Collier County players who just missed the cut.
This group of five standouts has no shortage of talent, and each player will be vital to his team’s success in 2018.
All five are offensive skill players, but two of them will also play vital roles on defense.
Henderson Francois, RB, Lely: While he doesn’t have the height most big-time colleges covet, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Francois has got speed to burn and plenty of power to boot. Francois missed most of last season with a leg injury, which certainly didn’t help his college prospects, but he dominated in the three late-season games he started. In those contests, he ran for 426 yards on 65 carries with four scores, ran a kickoff back 95 yards for a score and also caught a pass for 35 yards.
“I’m looking forward to staying healthy this year, playing all 10 regular-season games and really working hard,” Francois said. “I’d describe myself as a hybrid (back). I’ve got balance, power and speed. I feel the injury played a role (in not getting offers) but I’m not going to let that bother me. I’m going to trust the process and see what happens.”
Lely coach Fritz Jacques said the Trojans are excited to see what their workhorse can do over the course of a full season.
“He’s a big-time player who makes big-time plays,” Jacques said. “We’re going to give him the ball. He’s a beast. We’re excited to watch him play.”
Jay Herard, QB/RB, Golden Gate: A three-year starter at quarterback for the Titans, Herard will get the ball more as a running back this year in Golden Gate’s misdirection-heavy offense.
Herard accounted for 1,529 yards of total offense last year (835 passing, 694 rushing) and 12 total touchdowns. The combination of Herard and Washington State-bound Jouvensly Bazile in the backfield will surely create some mismatches in what is expected to be an exciting Titans offense this season.
“With me and Jouvensly back there, it’s going to be amazing,” Herard said. “We’ve got so many different plays built for both of us. They might key on Jouvensly and I can pop out on a bubble (screen) or the other way around. It’s just going to be incredible.”
Coach Mike DiGrigoli hopes this will be Herard’s best season yet, as the versatile quarterback has steadily gotten better each year.
“We’re going to give him the ball a lot,” DiGrigoli said. “Between him, Jouvensly and quite a few of our other guys in the receiving corps that we’re going to throw it to, we’ve got a lot of options. But Jay Herard is our workhorse.”
Jensen Jones, RB/QB/DB, St. John Neumann: One of the better all-around athletes in the area, Jones led the Celtics to the first undefeated regular season in program history last year as the team’s quarterback.
The son of coach Damon Jones, Jensen is expected to play more running back this year with a pair of sophomores vying for time at the quarterback position. But he’s already received three Division I offers – Air Force, Butler and Morehead State, and those three schools along with Division II squad Florida Tech have interest in him to some degree at all three positions – quarterback, running back and safety.
“I like moving around,” Jensen Jones said. “Don’t get so used to something and get ready for something new every play … The film (at each position) really helps. This generation of recruiting is based off of Hudl. The more positions, the more different types of movements colleges can see, that’s definitely helping you.”
Jones says he expects the Celtics to be just as good as they were a year ago, and is hoping for a deeper run into the postseason.
“Team goals come before personal goals,” he said. “We want to make the playoffs, go past that first round this time. Personally, I want to get better, improve on the stats and every aspect of my game. But the main thing is I want to help us win games.”
Jayden Rolle, WR/DB, Barron Collier: Rolle was one of the top all-around players in Collier County last season, starring on both offense and defense for the Cougars.
He caught 35 passes for 477 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver, and registered 41 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and seven pass break-ups on defense.
“He’s been a leader the last two years in the program,” Barron Collier coach Mark Jackson said. “He was a captain as a junior, and his work ethic and determination both in the classroom and on the field really shows. Like I said to numerous people, I thought he was the best player in the county last year, and I still believe it.”
Rolle has three Division I offers – Brown, Cornell and Davidson – and the outstanding student says he’d love to attend one of the Ivy League schools and pursue law.
As for his what he wants to accomplish this season, it’s pretty simple – he’s aiming to lead Barron Collier to a memorable finish this year.
“We’ve got a lot of really good guys returning, and we all want to make a big impact and go out with a bang our senior season,” Rolle said. “We want to flip the Barron Collier tradition and turn it back into a powerhouse.”
R.J. Rosales, QB, Immokalee: It’s difficult to call a guy with Rosales’ pedigree underrated, but as far as college recruitment is concerned, he certainly is.
Due to his lack of size, Rosales hasn’t received a college offer yet, and it’s a fact that drives the 5-foot-8, 180-pound quarterback. He guided the Indians to a 12-1 record last year and an appearance in the state semifinals, where the Indians lost a 28-21 heartbreaker to eventual state champion and longtime powerhouse Plantation-American Heritage. Rosales completed 71 percent of his passes, tossed for 2,154 yards and delivered a sterling 35-4 touchdown to interception ratio.
“He helps our offense work, he helps our team work,” Indians coach Rodelin Anthony said. “R.J. Rosales is vital to our team’s success on the field and off the field. He’s a leader in the classroom, he’s a leader in the hallway and he’s a leader out here on the field. The young men around him understand that and respect that, and he replicates what the coaches want on the field.”
The Indians graduated a bevy of talented skill players last year – including the running back trio of Fred Green, Malcom Jackson and Abraham Alce – and all three starting wide receivers. But Rosales doesn’t anticipate a drop-off in production.
“I expect a lot of maturity and for the young guys to step up,” Rosales said. “It’s going to take a lot to replace what we had last year, but I expect nothing but greatness because we all know how hard we work.”
Others to watch
Luke Baker, TE, Gulf Coast: The 6-foot-5, 225 pound senior committed to Southern Miss last month. Other schools reportedly showing interest were Duke, Florida Atlantic, Maryland and UCF.
Ar’Quel Smith, LB, Naples: The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior is a dynamic playmaker for the Golden Eagles, leading the team last year with 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Also finished second with 93 total tackles.
Elkhanan Tanelus, OL/DL, Barron Collier: The 6-foot-2, 295-pound senior lineman has offers from Air Force, Gardner-Webb and Southern Miss. Paved the way for a Cougars offense that averaged 32 points per game and more than 300 yards of total offense per contest.
Marc Viechec, LB, Naples: The 6-foot, 225-pound senior outside linebacker has offers on the table from Albany, Kent State and Southern Miss. Registered a team-leading 126 tackles along with 4 ½ sacks for the Class 6A state semifinalists last year, earning third-team all-state honors.
Jordan Williams, DB/WR, Golden Gate: The 6-foot-4, 190-pound senior is a physical specimen, and will be a bigger part of the Titans’ offense after starring on defense last year. Stetson has made an offer, but coach Mike DiGrigoli expects more to roll in for the outstanding student and athlete.