Lake Nona quarterback Tucker Israel and wide receiver Ryan Sousa, shown here at the January Under Armour National Combine in St. Petersburg, are expecting big things next season. (PHELAN EBENHACK/FOR THE SENTINEL / March 6, 2013)
Ryan Sousa caught 92 passes last season. He had 21 touchdowns. He accounted for 1,601 yards.
Those are scary numbers as we head into the 2013 football season, because he bigger, faster and stronger than last year, the Orlando Lake Nona wide receiver's junior season.
Look for the records to come crashing down.
Sousa, the No. 9-ranked player in the Sentinel's 2014 Central Florida Super60, was in solid form this past weekend at a pair of offseason events put on by Step It Up Camps and National Underclassmen Combines.
He was easily the class of the bunch at Saturday’s Step It Up Combine in Orlando, earning the overall MVP honor, as well as the event's Fastest Man award for the 4.44-second, wind-aided 40-yard dash time he posted. Sousa is fast, but probably not THAT fast. A howling wind at their backs helped pick up the pace for all participants.
Sousa also enjoyed the familiarity of his teammate and Air Nona partner in quarterback Tucker Israel, who was also on hand. Israel, a 2015 prospect, won the QB MVP honor, and looked impressive even throwing against those gusting winds.
Then, on Sunday, Sousa was one of the top receivers at the talent-loaded NUC Five-Star Showcase in Kissimmee. He was edged out for MVP honors by fellow Orlando receiver Roderick Proctor of Dr. Phillips.
Lake Nona head coach Anthony Paradiso was also in Kissimmee and he said Sousa’s drive and offseason workout regimen has been aided by trying to keep up with his older brother. A former Lake Nona quarterback, Kevin Sousa will be competing for the starting job at Wake Forest this year as a redshirt sophomore.
But that’s not all that drives him. Lake Nona has a chance to have its best season in the school’s short history, and Sousa intends to leave his mark.
“Yeah, I’ve been working hard,” Sousa said. “Coach ’Diso and Coach Quinones, they all help me out to make me bigger, faster.”
Getting better physically is what sets Sousa apart. He’s particularly big in size -- he was measure at the Under Armour National Combine in January at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds -- but he can fight off defensive backs as if he were. He’s physical and battles with the best of them when challenged.
Sousa is also one of the best route runners in his class, another attribute that college coaches see, maybe even more so than any of his other qualities.
“I see route running as getting yourself open, finding the open space, knowing where the defense is going to be,” he said. “I do a lot of film study and I have a great quarterback and a great coach. That all helps a lot.”
And Sousa knows that if you can’t run routes … “You’re not going to catch the ball,” he said.
He was able to watch his brother go through a whirlwind recruiting affair during his senior year of 2010-11, so he knows all about the rigors of the process.
“Oh yeah, that’s going to help me a lot,” Sousa said. “He told me a lot and taught me a lot of things so I’m thankful for that. It is a hassle, but at the same time it’s fun. It’s all part of it.”
Right now, however, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound, Sousa is not concerned about college offers.
“I’m not even really sure,” Sousa said Saturday of how many offers he has. "Coach ’Diso takes care of all of that."
There's one inparticular he knows full well about. UCF offered Sousa on Wednesday, giving him seven total with the others coming from Wake Forest, UCLA, Rutgers, Cincinnati, FIU and FAU.
“I think I’m going to take some visits during the summer,” Sousa said. “But I’ll take some time to think about it.”
What he thinks about now is winning football games and getting as many off-season reps with Israel as he can.
Nona was 7-3 last season (counting bowl game), falling an inch away from winning the district title that was thwarted by a controversial Bishop Moore goal-line stand.
This season, Lake Nona moves into Class 7A and has been placed into seven-team District 6, which is all Osceola schools with the exception of Lake Nona. Only two of those schools had winning records in 2012 – Osceola, a state semifinalist at 13-1, and Gateway (7-4, counting bowl game).
Sousa won’t be Israel’s only target. Of the top five Lake Nona receivers last season, four were underclassmen and two of them are stars-in-the-making with Marc Aristide (6-0, 180), who caught 57 balls for seven touchdowns, and 6-foot-2, 185-pound Deondre Farrier (36 catches, 3 TDs).
Paradiso likes to throw the ball, but the quarterback-coaching specialist also unearthed a running back prospect in Andre Hale, a freshman last season. Hall ran for 730 yards on just 95 carries (7.68 yards-per-carry average) and so Nona is a bit more than a one-dimensional air attack.
When the Lions do throw it, they throw it well. Israel threw for 3,685 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, his sophomore year. He completed 69 percent of his passes (249-of-360) and had just eight interceptions.
“Tucker is amazing. He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” said Sousa. “He’s just a little kid out there, but he’s growing every day and he helps me grow every day … we just help each other.”
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.