When we signed off last season with Sanford Seminole athlete Jelarius "EA" Watkins, he was still limping around the football field, hobbled by an MCL tear that caused him to miss four games.
He was sitting No. 11 in the Sentinel's 2013 Central Florida Super60 and it seemed the sky was the limit for one of the better athlete's in the state. Then he got hurt.
He was also in and out of Coach Rob Vite's dog house a bit last season, remnants, perhaps, of a season gone awry, littered with injuries from the very first game, and it kept tumbling downhill from there. The M*A*S*H list was long and included: Watkins (MCL), Alex Jones (broken leg), Solomon Hardy (broken ankle), Ronnie Moore (torn gluteus maximus), as the top injuries in a list that was far longer than just those four players.
Watkins is just looking forward now, however. The 3-7 record is in the rearview mirror. Coach Vite's first season is history. They vow it will be better this year.
It can't really get any worse.
It will likely all start with Watkins, whose talent and successful rehab was obvious this past weekend at the IMG Madden 7on7 Southeast Regional Tournament in Bradenton.
Watkins, whose game-winning catch against the Florida Fire on Sunday saved Central Florida's Top Recruits Now squad from elimination and sparked some momentum that led the squad to two more wins before they finally bowed out in the losers' bracket championship game 28-9 to Team Tampa.
The third-place finish by CF Top Recruits Now matched a 7on7 best for a Central Florida all-star team, equalling the third-place showing Central Florida's Big Timers, with Dee Hart, Hassan Clinton-Dix, Nick Patti, Serderius Bryant and more, accomplished in the Badger Sport Elite 7on7 tourney two years ago.
Watkins would be an easy selection as the CF Top Recruits Now MVP for the weekend, if there was such an award. Quarterback Asiantii Woulard of Winter Park also would have earned some votes.
Together the pair teamed up for 12 TD passes over the 10 games the team had to play since it had to fight its way back through the losers' bracket.
"I ain't gonna lie ... it was hurting out there," Watkins said of his knee. "I was cramping a little bit too, but I fought through it and played to the best of my ability ... did what I could do, try to make plays."
He made so many plays that he might even have Broadway calling.
Watkins said he liked playing catch with Woulard. And the opposing teams surely figured they were seeing Watkins at his best, and not just 80-percent healthy.
"I don't want to brag, but ...," and the words just trailed off. He didn't have to describe it to those who witnessed. Watkins is out to make some noise in 2012.
"I felt real good about myself and the team," Watkins said. "For us to just be meeting each other we clicked real good. We kinda formed a bond. [Woulard] is a pretty good quarterback and we connected a little bit and made some plays."
Watkins was making so many plays on offense, that the Florida Fire players were even arguing with a coach on the sidelines about why they couldn't stop the man who has an "E" tattooed on one bicep and an "A" tattooed on the other.
"This is my everything, football," Watkins said. "I just go out there and do what I can and try to make plays."
Making plays is in the genes. Ti'on Greene of Lake Brantley shares the same father as Watkins. Greene, who is headed to Cincinnati, was last year's Central Florida Offensive Player of the Year.
Watkins has no college offers so far, but with performances like this past weekend, he's sure to be hearing from colleges soon.
His play even caused a little movement in the Central Florida Super60. He's getting closer to where he was at the beginning of last season, and right now he's sitting at No. 12.
"I feel like I'm getting a little exposure, but I think I can do better," Watkins said. "I have a lot to work on, so I'm just going to work hard."