Searching for the golden ticket

BRADENTON, Fla. -- While many of the top prospects participating in this weekend's IMG Madden 7-on-7 regional qualifier tournament have programs that are close to their hearts, they also understand that earning a scholarship from a a few, select schools can completely change the perception of a prospect.

They can be a golden ticket, so to speak. Ask around and you'll hear many of the same names and it all usually starts with national champion Alabama.

"Now I'll say first that Alabama is like a dream school to me so I'm probably a little bit biased, but that's the big offer right now," said Seffner (Fla.) Armwood wide receiver Alvin Bailey. "It would tell me that I'm doing the right things as a player and a person and they recognize that and believe that I can be part of something big."

Pensacola (Fla.) Washington athlete Dejon Funderburk received an Alabama offer at the beginning of the year and said that once he received that offer, everyone wanted to know more about him.

"I noticed my phone started ringing more from coaches that never really knew about me and my name was showing up in searches and on message boards a lot more," Funderburk said. "Alabama has a real strong fan base everywhere and it's a big deal in Pensacola too because that's where Trent [Richardson] is from."

Miami Carol City quarterback Akeem Jones said that even having an opportunity to talk to Alabama coach Nick Saban can change the perception of a recruit.

"Coach Saban is the best coach in the game and if you make a good impression on him, it's like every coach in America has to check you out," Jones said. "I had the opportunity to sit with Coach Saban and when he talks about the program and what they are looking for you know that only the best of the best get that offer."

Under Armour All-American safety Marcell Harris (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) doesn't necessarily agree with that assessment.

"It's a tough question to answer because, well, I don't have an Alabama offer and man that stings a little," Harris joked. "I mean I understand because they have Landon [Collins] and Ha'Sean [Clinton-Dix] there, so my position is not a big need for them."

Harris suggests that the big offer can really depend on what position a prospect plays and a school's history of producing top talent at that position.

"LSU is a real good one because it's one of the top schools, especially for a defensive back," Harris said. "When you have guys like Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu coming through the program, it's a big deal for a young defensive back prospect to see.

"If I'm a quarterback maybe Georgia is the place because Matt Stafford was a top pick. That's really what you look at when you think about that special offer."

Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage quarterback Tyler Cogswell agreed with Harris that different programs are better for different positions and he's looking for a place that will allow him to thrive as a pro-style quarterback.

"I really don't know anything about if there is a special offer because as a quarterback I have to find the right fit for me and the right comfort level for me," Cogswell said. "It doesn't matter if that's here or outside of Florida. I have an offer from Hawaii and for quarterbacks that's a great situation because it's quarterback-friendly offense."

Still, both Miami Southridge safety Jamal Carter and Tampa (Fla.) Jesuit wide receiver Travis Johnson picked LSU as their golden school as well.

"LSU was my very first offer and I think it really set the table for what came later," Johnson said. "It's a top-five program and in reality they produce so many good players at so many different positions. Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offense and defensive linemen, and defensive backs -- LSU is always producing top guys."

Not surprisingly there was a lot of love for the in-state programs of Florida, Florida State and Miami, all of whom have strong championship pedigrees and a proven track record of sending players to the NFL.

"Around where I live, it's big to get an offer from Florida," said Groveland (Fla.) South Lake wide receiver Kris White. "A lot of kids grow up wanting to play in The Swamp and there are a lot of Gator fans around my area so it's a big deal."

The Gators, Seminoles and Hurricanes continue to have strong support from many of the prospects who live in their respective regions.

"Florida State is always going to be the school around my area," said Perry (Fla.) Taylor County wide receiver Moral Stephens. "There are other big schools that every player wants like Alabama and LSU, but the Seminoles are still the big one.

Class of 2014 running back Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) said that all three Florida schools are still going strong and the only thing better than receiving an offer from one of them is receiving offers from all three.

"For me it's all about receiving offers from 'The big three' and since I have those I'm good to go," Michel said. "As a prospect in the state of Florida that's all you need."