Armwood getting back to basics

SEFFNER, Fla. -- Since the early 2000s, Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) has been known as one of the most efficient, physical teams in the state.

With talented backfields that included running backs Kalvin Bailey (former Iowa commit), Demetrius McCray (Indiana) and Eric Smith (Auburn), the Hawks won 42 games and two state championships between 2003-'05.

At the frontline of an offensive attack, which has routinely averaged over 250 yards rushing a game for the past decade, is an offensive line that prides itself on being physical.

"A lot of schools like to do the shotgun and the spread and run around the sidelines," Watch List offensive lineman Cody Waldrop said. "At Armwood, we just like to go right through you."

Coach Sean Callahan has had his share of talented offensive lineman in the past. Mike Pearson starred at Armwood before becoming an All-American at Florida and a second-round draft choice for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Matt Patchan is a former ESPNU 150 player who is battling for a starting spot with the Florida Gators.

But even the veteran coach admits that his current group has the ability to do something special.

"Definitely the best looking group I've had across the board," Callahan said. "They all have plenty of varsity experience; four have been starting for me for two years, and our transfer comes from a great program in Dr. Phillips [Orlando, Fla.]. The two backups are seniors and capable ones -- Sean Gavitt and Randall Drayton are both over 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds."

After a "disappointing" 14-1 campaign in 2010 that ended with a shocking 17-14 loss to Lincoln (Tallahassee, Fla.), most state prognosticators have pointed to Armwood as the best team in 2011 because of what the Hawks have coming back.

There's Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back who is committed to Florida. He'll be running behind a line that has three players with FBS offers -- Waldrop, Cameron Dees and Kevin McCoy.

If that wasn't good enough, Armwood got an unexpected transfer when John Lightsey enrolled in the program from Dr. Phillips after his family moved. Brandon Teeling, who started at defensive end last season, is moving to the offensive side to round things out.

Five seniors all with experience and motivation. Something that Pearson, who is now the program's offensive line coach, sees at the main factor for the group's potential for success.

"You can tell right away there's a hunger there, and we're still running around with a bull's-eye on our back," Pearson said. "But the guys are ready for the challenge and they have the experience and now they understand that nothing is guaranteed."

It's' no surprise Armwood has been a primary destination for college coaches and scouts during the first week of spring practice. On Monday, there were at least a dozen coaches present on the practice field, and things haven't slowed down since.

"Obviously, with Matt Jones out there, he's the headliner, and it filters down from there," Pearson said. "It's good for the guys that aren't as well-known, but the kids are used to it now, they are comfortable with the process."

One of Pearson's goals is to keep his team relaxed when it comes to recruiting. And he can speak from experience as one of the top offensive line prospects in the late 1990s.

"I just want them to have fun with the recruiting because sometimes you can get so caught up in what would make everyone else happy and saying all the right things," Pearson said. "It should be fun. It's not an opportunity that comes around every day. I want them to enjoy the attention."

Things started to get fun on Thursday, when the pads came on and the starting offensive line got to rough up the scout team a little bit.

But it's all in good fun.

"You know the scout-teamers have been talking a little bit," Dees joked. "So we had to knock them around a few times."

The real fun begins in a few months, when the opposition will have a different color jersey on. And after becoming a spread option team for a few years behind quarterbacks Mywan Jackson (North Carolina) and Josh Grady (Vanderbilt signee), Pearson is eager to get back to the ground-and-pound style of play that Armwood is known for.

"When you have a weapon like Matt, who is such a physically gifted young man carrying the football, it's exciting for the linemen because they can get after it," Pearson said. "They are a mean and nasty group that will get physical and drive you into the dirt."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.