From the Blue Devils to the Crimson Tide, the Pensacola News Journal’s 2016 Super Seniors represent the future of a number of top Division I football programs.
Alabama commit Alex Leatherwood and North Carolina commit Michael Carter may carry the name recognition, but it’s the depth of the area’s talent that makes this group of Super Seniors stand out.
West Florida’s duo of Damond Johnson and Kalia Davis are committed to Duke and Central Florida respectively.
Southern Miss has made an impression this year with a commitment from Pensacola High linebacker Robert Reeves and a pending offer to Escambia quarterback Z’khari Blocker.
New Tate quarterback Jake Henry is committed to Appalachian State, while Escambia linebacker Shountrell Hills has fielded offers and visited schools like Tulane.
Despite all that attention, Super Seniors currently without high-profile offers could be the biggest difference-makers this season.
Quarterback Xavier Saulsberry, the News Journal’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, and running back Jaden Gardner will lead a high-flying Pine Forest offense that’s as talented as any in the area.
When Saulsberry and Gardner are finished scoring, the Eagles can trot out linebacker Ty Howard, who led the Pensacola area with 153 tackles last season.
Not to mention Pace’s Anthony Johnson Jr., who ran for a mere 2,114 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2015.
Between the speed of Johnson and Gardner and the physicality of Leatherwood and Davis, it’s only a matter of time before these seniors are suiting up on Saturdays. And who knows which schools will come calling after watching their senior performances?
Why he’s Super: The reigning Pensacola News Journal Offensive Player of the Year produced a junior season in which he rushed for 1,000 yards and threw for 1,000 yards in the Eagles’ balanced attack. The dual-threat QB threw for 1,602 yards and ran for 1,158 yards for the defending District 1-6A champions.
Why he’s Super: The University of North Carolina commitment is coming off a knee injury, but is expected to not miss a step. As a junior last year, he was on pace for a 2,000-yard rushing season when he was lost in the third game of the season. In just two games, he ran for 532 yards and eight TDs on 46 carries to go with the 744 yards and 12 touchdowns he recorded as a sophomore.
Why he’s Super: The versatile athlete will slide over into the quarterback position after being the Aggies’ go-to receiver and shutdown defensive back last season. He had 45 catches for 970 yards last season and recorded five interceptions. Henry has issued a verbal commitment to Appalachian State after fielding offers from Central Arkansas, Marshall, Southern Illinois and Western Kentucky.
Anthony Johnson Jr.
Why he’s Super: Followed in the footsteps of Quaide Weimerskirch and made a name for himself as a junior. He rushed for 2,114 yards and 25 touchdowns to lead the Pensacola area in both categories. With the Patriots going to more of a spread-out, zone read attack, the running lanes for the shifty Johnson could get wider in 2016.
Why he’s Super: The University of Alabama commitment is ranked as the No. 9 offensive tackle in the country and the No. 51 overall prospect. The 4-star prospect was invited to the prestigious Nike: The Opening event in Oregon and turned heads and nearly earned his fifth star, according to various recruiting websites.
Why he’s Super: The hard-hitting linebacker has been a menacing force on defense since his sophomore season. He’s a Central Florida commitment after fielding more than 26 offers from Division I universities. As a junior, he led the Jags with 114 tackles and finished with three sacks.
Why he’s Super: Coming into his senior season, the speedy Howard has led the Pensacola area in tackles for two consecutive seasons. Last year, Howard upped the ante by recording 153 tackles to go with four tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and one forced fumble.
Why he’s Super: The Duke commitment is one of the area’s best deep threats on offense and has been a playmaker for the Jags for the last two seasons. Last year, Johnson pulled down 38 passes for 761 yards for an average of 20 yards per catch. He scored on 12 of those receptions to help lead the Jags to the District 1-5A title.
Why he’s Super: More prominently known for his basketball ability prior to his junior season, Reeves exploded in his junior year for 108 tackles and showed that he is one of the fiercest competitors in the Pensacola area. Reeves has piled up 16 Division I offers and has committed to Southern Miss.
Why he’s Super: Started his junior year at Catholic, but left the program after two games in which he threw for 223 yards and two scores and added 175 yards and a TD on the ground. As a sophomore, he was one of the top QBs in the area with 2,577 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also added 392 yards and six TDs on the ground. He has offers from South Alabama, Troy and Southern Miss.
Why he’s Super: Gardner was the perfect complement to Saulsberry last season as he led the Eagles on the ground with 1,266 yards and 11 touchdowns. He averaged a first down (10.9 yards) every carry and had eight 100-yard rushing games.
Why he’s Super: When it comes to speed off the edge, it’s tough to top Hills in the Pensacola area. Another Super Senior with Division I offers, Hills added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Amongst returning players, Hills was Escambia’s leading tackler last season and produced five sacks.