Despite losing three out of four heading into the playoffs, optimism is abound for Columbia football, a group led by three USF-committed seniors. Quarterback Jordan Smith, wide receiver Marquez Bell, and edge rusher Le’Vontae Camiel look forward to joining Charlie Strong’s program in Tampa, though a state title is clearly their current priority.
The bond among these three is very tight and palpable, so playing together in college excites all three. However, each considers their respective football futures central to their commitments.
Jordan Smith is a self-described dual-threat quarterback, who models his game after Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. Says Smith, “I look at areas where those guys make mistakes and need work and I do the same with my own game.”
Wow. Jordan Smith (@kingjrow21) threads the needle and finds Andrew Myers in the end zone for a 15-yard Columbia score. 7-0 Tigers. @ESPNGainesville @TigerTownCHS @sports_CHSLC @ThePrepZone pic.twitter.com/ITb9WCialw
— Jake Lehman (@Jake_lehman_) October 18, 2019
Smith points to USF as a place where he sees himself blossoming as a dual-threat at the college level, given the opportunity to play at an AAC school who runs a spread offense. Albeit some struggles on the offensive side for the Bulls this season, Smith’s relationship with USF offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell has been close throughout the recruiting process. Says Smith of Bell, “the guy’s known for putting up points. He’s been on me since last year at Valdosta State. He actually offered us at Valdosta, and then he moved to USF and that pretty much made my decision.”
Like any good quarterback, Smith credits much of his success and billing as the No. 23 dual-threat QB to his favorite target, Marquez Bell. Smith and Bell have connected for well over 2000 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns over the last three seasons, and hope to find similar success at the college level. Smith points to former Oklahoma Sooners Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown as a duo whom he and Bell both think they can resemble at the next level.
Bell, who hovers around 160 pounds, cites Marquise “Hollywood” Brown as someone who inspires his own game. “I like him because he’s little so he’s not really all that physical. He’s just really quick, fast, so he gets missing. And that’s what I do.” Bell’s size, or lack thereof, certainly hasn’t held him back at the high school level, and he wants to bring his superior athleticism to a program that will utilize it.
Marquez Bell (@Mbell_TheGoat) with a 40-yard touchdown reception, rebounding from an end-zone drop on their last drive. Now 21-19 Madison County as the 2-pt attempt was no good. @ESPNGainesville pic.twitter.com/cpUKXcYVSX
— Jake Lehman (@Jake_lehman_) October 5, 2019
Despite holding offers from big-name programs like Penn State and Texas A&M, Bell says, “I don’t want to get to a school and sit and redshirt. I kind of look at things like the depth chart and where I’d fit in when I get there and things like that. USF stood out to me, you know as far as other big schools like Penn State, I’m kind of small. I’m not that big, so you know it would be kind of hard to play right away. At USF they need speed which I know I can do right away.”
While the passing game is key to Columbia’s success, the defense is key to its postseason chances, and its 6’1, 200 lb leader knows this. Le’Vontae Camiel describes himself as a “hybrid player who can come off the edge,” and models his game after pass-rushing megastars Von Miller and Khalil Mack.
This massive hit and forced fumble by USF commit Le’Vontae Camiel (@LevontaejCamiel) sealed a hard-fought win for his unbeaten Tigers. Final: Columbia 32, Madison County 21. @ESPNGainesville pic.twitter.com/3eHFJinMWA
— Jake Lehman (@Jake_lehman_) October 5, 2019
Camiel knows the type of impact he can have as a “3rd down kind of guy,” at the next level, despite many programs telling him that he’s undersized to play the position in college. Camiel is excited to develop into a star off the edge for USF, saying, “I just like how I fit in their defensive system. You know, other colleges were looking at me as a WILL linebacker, but USF gave me the opportunity to play the position I feel is natural and to follow my QB and receiver. I just really enjoyed talking with their staff and their defense will be tremendous in the following years.”
Charlie Strong’s extensive background in defense is appealing to Camiel, and the two have already grown close. “It works out well with him,” explains Camiel. “He’s a real genuine dude, we sat down and had a couple talks. We text all the time. I like how he runs his defense.”
Camiel is a cerebral guy, and it shows on the field and in the classroom for the Columbia senior. Thus, his life after football has been a big factor throughout his entire recruiting process. “I want to be an OBGYN,” explains Camiel. He says that USF stood out to him because of its nursing program, which he plans to complete while starring on the field. “I talked about it with Coach Bell, and I think I’ll probably major in nursing, and then eventually come back to achieve my ultimate goal of being an OBGYN.”
Recruitment Done Deal?
While all three say that the recruitment process has not officially shut down, it is clear that they love USF’s staff and are mainly focused on a successful finish to their final season in Lake City. Jordan Smith says that he would be open to talking to other college coaches after the season is over, though he is “perfectly committed right now,” and a state championship is the focus.
Bell agrees, as he and Smith regularly discuss the future. He says, “I’m chilling right now,” from a recruiting standpoint, and he maintains that other potential visits take a back seat to the task at hand. Camiel is additionally locked in but wants to make the most of the recruiting process. “I was born in Florida and of course I want to play in Florida for my family to see me, but I’m probably going to see Middle Tennessee, Marshall, check out some of those schools. And I think Rutgers, you know they’re a Big 10 school who shows interest.”
The time is near and the mission’s clear. Columbia will hit the road to take on Ponte Vedra Friday, as the No. 6 seed in region 1 of class 6A. On their motivation to make a state title run, Jordan Smith says, “Before every game, our coach gives a speech, I give a little speech, one of these guys gives a little speech, and we go out there and do all we can. Put our life on the line, put everything out on the line for those who can’t because I know they wanna be out there with us playing, winning, having fun, laughing, smiling, competing.” Camiel says, “it gets cold around this time of year – playoff time – but you know we get hot.”