Auburndale High senior Elijah Davis (right), shown lined up at wide receiver during a 2021 Class 6A state playoff game against Jones, signed a national letter of intent last week to attend the University of Utah.

 As University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham met with the media to discuss Early Signing Day, he referenced the Utes’ recruiting efforts in the state of Florida.

Whittingham said the program isn’t necessarily making a concerted effort to go national with its recruiting, but the Rose Bowl-bound Utes’ name “is becoming more nationally recognized.”

“Particularly in Florida, we’ve had really good success with a lot of players out of that state,” Whittingham said. “Our name is pretty good down there because of the success that those players have had. (Buffalo Bills running back) Zack Moss, (Baltimore Ravens quarterback) Tyler Huntley, Demari Simpkins…just to name a few.”

Last Wednesday marked the start of a three-day early signing period, and Auburndale High senior Elijah Davis believes the Salt Lake City-based school has much to offer, too. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Davis made his commitment to Utah official by signing a national letter of intent during a ceremony inside the Tracy McGrady Gymnasium.

Davis was one of 20 Early Signing Day additions to Utah’s 2022 roster. The Utes won their first-ever PAC-12 Championship this season and are preparing for a New Year’s Day matchup against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

Utah views Davis – a three-star recruit who helped lead Auburndale to an undefeated regular season, a district title and a pair of Class 6A home playoff games in 2021 – as a talented and promising defensive back. Davis not only contributed 40 tackles, eight pass breakups, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries to the Bloodhounds’ milestone season, but he was also a key offensive player with a team-high 30 receptions for 693 yards and five touchdowns.

Davis was one of three signees from the Sunshine State, as the Utes also landed Lake Gibson running back Jaylon Glover and Wekiva High wide receiver Chris Reed. Utah is scheduled to open the 2022 regular season on Sept. 3 in Gainesville against the Florida Gators, whose current roster includes former Lake Wales Highlander Gervon Dexter.

With the early signing period over, the regular signing period for Division I and II football starts on Feb. 2, 2022.

10 extra points

1. Auburndale senior quarterback Zach Tanner joined Davis for last Wednesday’s on-campus signing ceremony. Tanner, who played at Discovery High before transferring to Auburndale, was one of nine prospects to commit to Robert Morris University (Moon, Pa.)  during the early period. Tanner was the lone quarterback signed by the Colonials, who became the Big South’s ninth football member in 2021. Tanner, standing 6-foot-2, threw for 2,042 yards and 13 touchdowns and ran for 399 yards and three scores this season.

2. Tracy McGrady visited Ann Arbor, Mich., this past Saturday to see the University of Michigan men’s basketball team play Southern Utah. The Naismith Memorial Basketball (Class of 2017) Hall of Famer spoke to the Wolverines – coached by McGrady’s former Orlando Magic teammate, Juwan Howard – in the locker room following their 87-50 victory. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was also at Crisler Center to support Howard and the Wolverines, who improved to 7-4. Some of McGrady’s comments were posted on social media via Michigan: “This is your family. Twenty years from now you want to have those moments that you talk about, sitting and just having a conversation and bring up this season. Make it a memorable moment. And that’s what it’s all about, is creating memories, right?”

3. Frostproof High senior Davion Williams was one of eight players to comprise the early signing period class for the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. The Bucs recruited the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Williams for their defensive secondary. Williams previously earned an invitation to play for the South Team as a defensive back during the upcoming Blue-Grey All-American Bowl on Jan. 31 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. (Raymond James Stadium also hosts this Thursday’s Gasparilla Bowl between UCF and Florida.)

4. Winter Haven High introduced James Thomson as the Blue Devils’ new varsity football coach last Thursday. The 39-year-old Thomson replaces longtime coach Charlie Tate, who resigned during the 2021 season. Thomson attended Dr. Phillips High where he played quarterback, while his previous coaching stops included Gainesville High and DeLand High as well as Northview and Tucker high schools in Georgia. The Blue Devils posted a 1-9 record this season.

 5. Bartow High senior and Morehead State commit Lin Johnson earned quarterback MVP honors during last Saturday’s 2021 Christmas Advanced QB Camp held at Central Florida Christian Academy. Auburndale offensive lineman Arquis Ward recently committed to Alabama State University for new head coach Eddie Robinson Jr.; Lake Wales running back Marquish Seabon received several offers this month including his first Division I (Western Carolina University) offer; Bartow senior Jordy Lowery holds offers from Kansas, Appalachian State, Colorado State, FIU, South Florida and Western Carolina among others; and 6-foot-6 quarterback Brinley Vandiver (offer from Allen University) gained interest after an impressive senior season at first-year Davenport High.

 6. The Polk County All-Star Series Football Game (presented by Bros. Elite) is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15, at Bryant Stadium in Lakeland. The East Team will be made up in part by players from Ridge Community, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, All Saints’ Academy, Haines City, Jordan Christian Prep, Auburndale, Frostproof, Fort Meade, Lake Region and Discovery; Bartow High is one of 10 schools that will form the West Team.

 7. Bartow High’s Richard Tate will serve as head coach of the South Team for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association’s annual North-South All-Star Football Classic. The game is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday (Dec. 22) at The Villages High School. Robert Tate (Bartow) and Ali Cannon (Winter Haven) are among the assistant coaches on the South roster.

 8. Marshall University redshirt senior tight end Xavier Gaines (Lake Wales) posted one reception for 7 yards in the Thundering Herd’s 36-21 loss to Louisiana at the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday. Gaines had 42 catches for 483 yards (long of 56) and three touchdowns this season as Marshall finished with a 7-6 record.

 9. The 2022 Under Armour All-America Football Game happens on Jan. 2 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Kickoff is 2 p.m. and admission is free to the public.

10. Warner University in Lake Wales recently hired former NFL, NFL Europe, XFL and Arena Football League player Dialleo Burks as the Royals’ new head football coach. Warner went 3-8 this past year, while Burks was the wide receiver/special teams coach at Division III LaGrange College last season.

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