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SWFL Grads head to NFL

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After last weekend’s NFL draft, seven football players who graduated from Southwest Florida high schools before going on to their college careers are headed to NFL camps.

Six were signed as undrafted free agents and one received a camp invitation. Ed Reed, USA Today Florida Network deputy sports editor, explains what it means to be an undrafted free agent.

“ Some people think that going undrafted is a bad thing, but honestly, when you’re drafted,  that’s who has your rights. You don’t really have a choice," he said. "Say the Miami Dolphins pick you, they pretty much own you for the next four years and potentially a fifth year. So you really don’t have a choice where you’re going unless the team decides to release you. When you’re an undrafted free agent, that’s exactly what you are. You’re a free agent and you can shop around to a team that doesn’t want you. Now you can see if they really need someone who has my skill set, they actually have some openings, so I actually think I could make the team, so I am going to sign here.”

Undrafted or drafted, this area does seem to produce a disproportionate number of NFL players. Ed Reed again.

“Southwest Florida has done really well when it comes to developing football talent. Florida in general is one of the hotbeds along with Texas and California, for football talent. And I just think we have great athletes in Fla and this area in particular,” Reed said. “And they have great role models. SWFL, you look back at the Deion Sanders, Javon Kerrs. Right now we have Sammy Watkins, Jaylen Watkins’s brother, and Tre Boston, and you see these guys go off and get contracts. De'Vondre Campbell, who’s with Green Bay now, just signed a 5-year contract, it’s generational money for him and his family, and he earned it. So these are the role models that our local kids have. So of course they can see themselves the same way and do the things they need to do for the most part to at least try to emulate and follow those players.”

One local player, J.C. Jackson from Immokalee, was an undrafted free agent years ago and went on to be a huge success story.

“J.C. Jackson went to Florida, ended up in Maryland. Had some baggage in college with some issues. The New England Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent," Reed said. "And over the last four years he has basically become a superstar and one of the top  cornerbacks in the NFL. And this year,  just two months ago, he signed a  5 year deal worth $82.5 million, including $40 million guaranteed. The kid from Immokalee who was an undrafted free agent. They can make it, and when they make it,  they can make it big.” 

The baggage Reed refers to is that J.C. Jackson was found not guilty of armed robbery in 2015.

The players who went to high school in Southwest Florida and will try their hand at the NFL this year are:

From North Ft Myers H.S., Elijah Jones to the Seattle Seahawks and ZaQuandre White, to the Miami Dolphins.

From Dunbar H.S., Deven Thompkins, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

From Golden Gate H.S., Oscar Shadley, to the New Orleans Saints

From Riverdale H.S., Cole Schneider, to the Green Bay Packers

From Gulf Coast H.S., Lukas Masterson, to the Las Vegas Raiders

And also from Gulf Coast high, Cameron Kaye has a camp invite for the Green Bay Packers