With the Under Armour All-America Game in his home state of Florida, five-star wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers figured to have a pretty strong cheering section.
That cheering section got a lot bigger when Craig-Myers said he donated around 450 tickets to Saturday’s game at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. That includes more than 100 to the Zephyr Hills PAL Bulldawgs in suburban Tampa and another large batch to the Mid-Florida Youth Football Conference.
“That was the team that I played for when I was little,” Craig-Myers said of the Bulldawgs. “The coaches have been coaching for years and asked me if I could help. There will be a lot of friends, family and teammates and members of the community (in the stands).”
Craig-Myers, who plays for Tampa Catholic, and his half-brother, Under Armour teammate and four-star defensive back JayVaughn Myers, who plays for Pasco High, spent years with the Bulldawgs. The program is a member of the larger Mid-Florida organization that covers 42 local programs from Daytona Beach to Sarasota.
RELATED: Nate Craig-Myers Under Armour diary
“Nate asked me if we wanted tickets and as soon as I mentioned that Nate was going to be playing, man, I’m still having people asking for tickets,” said Damien Pickett, the Bulldawgs’ president/director/head coach. “This is a big deal. We’re very proud for a kid like that to come out of our organization and represent us.
“He’s a local hero in these small towns that are right next to each other, Zephyr Hills and Dade City,” just north of Tampa.
Pickett said he coached Nate from the time he was in kindergarten until the eighth grade.
“I always knew he was special, just in the way he carried himself,” Pickett said. “Nate was very quiet, but always about his craft.
“I told people when he was 11 years old that I had the best wide receiver in the state of Florida among kids his age. People thought I was crazy. … But he made a believer out of them quickly.”
Pickett recalled that Craig-Myers won the league’s version of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the top wide receiver just like the college football version , back in 2008. He started playing youth football as a running back because he was one of the top players on the team.
Craig-Myers is now ranked as the No. 2 wide receiver in the nation by ESPN.com and remains coveted by top college programs.
“I used to say this kid is going to do something at wide receiver,” Pickett said. “He kept his speed and kept growing. He loves to compete. He’s a special kid with his mom always by his side and with great family support.”
That family includes his half-brother JayVaughn, who played for Pickett starting as a 5-year-old. JayVaughn is ranked among the top 25 defensive backs in the nation and is uncommitted after decommitting from Florida.
“Jay was the smallest out of my starting 11,” Pickett said. “He was a little guy out there at corner and he competed, competed, competed. You could put any wide receiver on him, and then he had to go against his brother in practice. He didn’t get tall until ninth grade.”
When told that the two are on the same team at the Under Armour game and are likely to go against each other at some point at practice this week, Pickett said, “I wish I wasn’t a work so I could go watch that.”
“Those two go right at each other. It’s all fun. You’re the best, I want to go against you. Nothing negative. They are competitive boys that want to get better.”
Noting that he likely will need to pick up even more tickets for all those who want to come to the game, Pickett said he’s planning to bring his young players over to the stadium early.
“We’re going to get over there and try to get some pictures with some of the kids,” he said.
And the opportunity is coming, in part, courtesy of Craig-Myers.
“Every time we have a football camp he comes and helps out,” Pickett said. “He shows young kids that anything is possible. Any time I call, he’s right there.”
And this time, the Bulldawgs will be right there for him at the Citrus Bowl.