Florida is a hotbed of college football recruiting.
Along with California and Texas, it annually produces the most blue chip high school recruits in the nation.
So how did Coastal Carolina, which is entering its second season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, get both the reigning Florida Mr. Football and a holder of several Sunshine State receiving records in the same class?
Quarterback Bryce Carpenter and wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh were teammates at Venice High last year, and essentially came to CCU as a package following their record-setting senior seasons last year.
Coastal offensive coordinator and associate head coach Jamey Chadwell said CCU was interested in Carpenter during his junior year and knew of Heiligh, and after visiting Venice High during spring practices in May 2017 they began recruiting him as well. Both players accepted scholarship offers before the 2017 season.
“We were recruiting them and they blew up,” Chadwell said. “Jaivon ended up having an unbelievable game versus IMG Academy, and everybody started recruiting him. . . . They went on a state championship run and they stuck to their word, saying they wanted to play together. There were a lot of people that came in on them late, but they stuck to it and we’re thankful they did.”
Carpenter completed 191 of 315 passes for 3,053 yards and 42 touchdowns while adding 273 rushes for 1,274 yards and 22 TDs last year and was named Mr. Football. Heiligh set Florida state single-season records with 131 receptions, 2,359 receiving yards and 32 receiving TDs as a senior and holds the state record for career receptions with 252.
Heiligh led the state in 2017 by 54 receptions, 496 yards and 10 receiving TDs.
“They obviously still have a ways to go, but their connection is pretty special,” Chadwell said.
Despite their production, each player has perceived shortcomings. Carpenter, at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, was just a two-star recruit out of five stars by 247Sports.com, while Heiligh, at 6-2 and 195, was a three-star recruit.
“Bryce is maybe an inch or so short,” Chadwell said. “The knock on Jaivon was how fast is he? He’s not that fast so some of the Power Fives were like, ‘eh.’ But if you watch the video they make plays, and most importantly they’re good character people. They work hard, they love football, they’re good teammates.
“So we were fortunate to hold onto them. There were some people who came late but they stuck to their word and I think they have a great future here if they continue to work like they have been.”
Both played in the season-opening 49-15 loss at South Carolina. As senior Kilton Anderson’s backup, Carpenter completed two of five pass attempts and both were to Heiligh for 21 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown pass to account for CCU’s only TD of the game Heiligh also plays special teams on kickoff and punt teams.
“They’re going to play, we just have to try to figure out how to put them in positions to be productive but also not put too much on them. That’s the big challenge as a coach,” Chadwell said. “The hardest thing for freshmen is college is so much different than high school as far as the grind, the preparation. So most freshmen usually hit a wall about [games] four or five or six, and they don’t know how to push themselves through it. I think when we get to that wall, are they mentally tough enough to push through it? That’s going to be the challenge.”
Heiligh said he took four other official visits, and also received a late offer from Iowa of the Big Ten and Ohio of the MAC, and a lot of interest from Iowa State of the Big 12 and other schools. “We knew where we wanted to go by the time that came, so it was really just getting here,” said Heiligh, who credits his hands as his best attribute and continues to work on developing speed and route-running. “This is a great place for us. It’s not too big, it’s not too small.”
Both players signed during the new early signing period in December. “When I got here it was kind of just like the coaches and everybody was really welcoming like, ‘This is what it’s like,’ and they were straight down to earth saying ‘If you work hard you’re going to get to play, if you don’t work hard you’re going to sit,’ ” Heiligh said. “That’s really what it is everywhere, but they were really just down to earth people.
“. . . And that really did help the situation a lot that Bryce was coming here, and I knew what he does. Everything leading up to it was really nice and this was the place to go.”
Carpenter had other late offers from schools including Navy, Air Force, Army, Western Michigan, Ohio, Ball State, Miami (Ohio), Toledo and Akron, but his only visit was to Coastal.
He enrolled early at CCU in January and took some first-team snaps in Chadwell’s spread option offense in spring practices.
“I felt they really believed in me here, and I was committed here and I felt good about it, I liked the situation, I liked what they were building here,” Carpenter said. “So the other schools coming in late, I kind of told them I was already committed so I wasn’t too interested.”
Venice High head football coach John Peacock believes Coastal’s coaches will gain more of an appreciation for his two former players over time, as some of their traits of competitiveness, will to win and relentlessness, and “how they attack everything, the workouts, just everything,” are revealed.
“I always felt Coastal got a great deal and I was never real sure that they realized what caliber of player they received when they got both of those kids,” Peacock said. “They’re freshmen there and starting new, but by the time they’re seniors I think they’re going to add to the culture there and make it an even better place. . . . I think they’re going to do great things.”
Building a bond
They were first adversaries, playing against each other in middle school basketball and Pop Warner football games beginning around 10 years old, when Carpenter lived in Sarasota. Heiligh’s team apparently had the upper hand on the gridiron. “He learned to come to Venice to win,” Heiligh said.
Carpenter played on the Venice varsity as a freshman and Heiligh was a call-up from the freshman team late in the season.
They began working out together the summer before their sophomore year and also began extra practice sessions together that continued throughout high school.
“We’d go out and I’d run routes, and we’d just think about situations and I’d tell him this is where this is at, and he’d tell me how the fronts are and stuff like that, just how fast I need to be and when I need to get in and out of my cuts,” Heiligh said. “It’s just timing. We knew what each other was doing basically the whole game.
“It really started our sophomore year and really our senior year it kind of all fell into place and picked up more because we started doing it more and more and more.”
If you think the video game career and senior season statistics were put up against a bunch of patsies, you’d be mistaken.
Venice played in Florida’s Class 7A – the second highest classification in the state that many consider the state’s most competitive class – and faced one of the tougher schedules in the country while going 14-1 and winning the school’s second state title and first since 2000.
Venice ended a 19-game postseason win streak and run of three consecutive state championships by St. Thomas Aquinas with a 27-20 semifinals win, in which Carpenter gained 140 yards and scored two touchdowns on a whopping 42 carries and also threw a TD pass to Heiligh.
In a 37-24 win over Bartram Trail of St. John’s in the title game, Carpenter ran for 214 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries and passed for 180 yards, and Heiligh had eight catches for 159 yards.
“He’s gone against the best DBs in the country and we were still able to do our thing,” Carpenter said.
Heiligh was second in Class 7A Player of the Year voting to Carpenter, who accounted for nearly 10,500 yards rushing and passing and 137 touchdowns in his high school career, and Heiligh had a hand in a lot of that.
“I would know where he would be every route,” Carpenter said. “We did a lot of stuff to get him one on one, and then when I knew he was one on one I knew I was going to him because I felt like no one could cover him.”
Carpenter is still learning the CCU offense behind Anderson, who completed 11 of 13 passes for 91 yards Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, and Heiligh recognizes Coastal has a talented receiving corps including senior Malcolm Williams, junior Ky’Jon Tyler and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Miller, so he will have to both complement them and compete against them for playing time this season.
But the duo’s connection should have four years at Coastal to again flourish.
Florida’s Mr. Football
Notable past winners of the Florida Dairy Farmers Mr. Football Award, which is selected via a vote of a statewide panel of high school football coaches and media representatives.
1994 — Daunte Culpepper
1996 — Travis Henry
1998 — Anquan Boldin
2005 — Tim Tebow
2007 — Jacory Harris
2012 — Derrick Henry
2013 — Dalvin Cook
2017 — Bryce Carpenter