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He played football at the University of Kentucky and during his 20-year high school coaching career had three players that eventually went on to play in the NFL, so Bob Jones knows a quality football player when he sees one.
He says four-star Florida defensive end Denzel Ware, the first verbal commitment in UK’s 2014 recruiting class, has all the physical tools to not only play in the Southeastern Conference, but eventually in the NFL.
“On the field, there is no doubt about his talent. He is physically gifted. He is strong, fast and very agile. He is one of those kind of guys who is very intense on the field and a kid who will have the opportunity to go to the next level,” said Jones, the principal at Crestview (Fla.) High School. “He is as good as the three players I coached who went to the NFL. He is a legit four-star player with size, speed and strength. I think UK is looking at him as an outside linebacker, and he can play that spot.”
For the last three years, Ware played at Crestview for coach Kevin Pettis. His mother lived in Opp, Ala., but she gave legal guardianship to her son to one of the Crestview coaches when her son was in middle school. Pettis left in late January to take a job at Sebastian River High School in Indian River, Fla., and in mid-February Ware stunned everyone at Crestview by withdrawing to transfer back to Opp, Ala.
Ware left Crestview the day before the start of the district basketball tourney — he was the starting center — and his team lost its first game.
“I wish Denzel the very best at Opp, but he left a bitter taste in some mouths here with the way he left,” Jones said. “Denzel is a fine young man. I have known him since sixth grade. He was at middle school and then I was principal there. He is a good young man.
“He has had a struggle with his home life. The last couple of years he has been living with one of our coaches and his (the coach’s) family had legal guardianship. What happened two weeks ago when he went back to his mother was uncharacteristic of him, especially the way he just left the basketball team. That was completely out of character. Everybody here liked him. He was easy-going, quite, not loud and boastful. At the middle school, everybody just adopted him. He’s that type of kid.”
Randy Dickson, sports editor of the Crestview News Bulletin, calls Ware a “tremendous talent” with unlimited potential. He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, Clemson, Ohio State, Texas, USC and more.
“He is a big, long kid who will get taller. He is a legit 220 (pounds). He runs well and has good feet,” Dickson said. “He is not afraid of contact and will hit. He is the total package. He is big and fast now and will probably fill out to 250 or 260 in college.
“He always seemed like a good kid to me. He always had a big smile on his face. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt for leaving right after his coach did, but you just wonder what did happen. There are a lot of rumors about why he left, but in Florida if a coach leaves the rules say you can’t follow him to another school and play for a year.”
Jones said he thought Ware “was joking about withdrawing” when he got the call he was in the high school guidance office preparing to transfer.
“The coach and family he was living with had no idea this was coming,” Jones said. “He is the kind of guy you want to see succeed. I hope it works out and he has a great senior year and continues with his commitment to UK. Academically, he has struggled a bit and my biggest concern is he’s moving away from a community that was here to offer him support to get tutors, keep his grades up and make sure he got his ACT score to be a Division I qualifier. Hopefully he will do okay because he really is a great kid.”