TAMPA, Fla. — Not even a day of celebration can wipe away the stoic look from Daquon Green‘s face.
Green is not one to talk or show his emotions. This moment, however, is an exception.
With his family, friends and coaches packed into the library at Tampa Bay Tech High School, Green is officially selected to the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game by American Family Insurance.
“Daquon Green, congratulations on achieving your dream,” the speaker says as he hands the 4-star wide receiver his jersey.
As Green puts it on and takes the podium, he can’t resist smiling and his serious demeanor disappears.
“I’m happy,” Green says. “This really was all a dream.”
Realizing his dream
Green enrolled at Florida last month and is one of the highest-rated offensive players in the Gators’ 2017 class. Unlike many recruits, football was not always the goal for Green.
In fact, he’s lucky he can even play sports.
At 2 years old, a car backed into Green outside of his aunt’s driveway and he had to be rushed to the hospital. He suffered a back injury and lost his ability to walk for several months.
“He had to start back crawling,” says his mother, Sheri Cromartie. “He could not do anything but sit on the floor. Before the incident, this boy was running everywhere. He had to teach himself how to walk again. It was scary, but it made him tough.”
Even tough enough for football, but not America’s version of the sport. Green’s first love was actually soccer, and he played for five years.
“He was a goalie,” says Green’s father, Amanzo Evans. “I guess he always had hands.”
Green didn’t get exposed to football until later in his childhood and wasn’t an active kid to begin with. His injury as a toddler made him a bit of a homebody.
“I wasn’t the type to come out of the house like that,” Green says. “I’d be inside playing video games with my older brother or riding around on the bike. That and soccer.”
Football wasn’t even the second option for Green. His father went to sign him up for baseball at age 11, but the deadline had passed. Green joined a youth football league instead.
“I just did it because it was something to do,” Green says. “I tried out and made the team. As they say, the rest is history.”
His little league team received tickets every year to the Under Armour All-America Game, which used to be held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Green’s football ambitions bloomed there.
One of his coaches was the older brother of Alvin Bailey, a star player in the Tampa area who won a 2011 state championship at Armwood High School (which was later stripped) and played wide receiver for the Gators from 2013-15.
As an eighth grader, Green had a front-row seat when Bailey played in the 2013 Under Armour All-America Game.
“That really opened my eyes,” Green says. “This was somebody I knew and he was in this big all-star game about to go play for Florida. That’s when it kind of became my dream. It made me take football serious when I got to high school.”
Florida’s family feel
Despite a late start to football, the recruiting process began early for Green.
Former South Florida coach Willie Taggart, now at Oregon, offered the rising sophomore his first scholarship offer after watching him compete at USF’s Saturday Night Live camp in the summer of 2014.
Recruiting was still foreign to his mother at the time.
“They told us he got the offer and his mom goes, ‘What does that mean? Do we have to pay for it?’ She had no idea,” Green’s father says with a laugh. “I knew he would get the offer. My reaction was, ‘One down.’”
Like Taggart, Gators defensive line coach Chris Rumph offered Green the first time he watched him play during the spring evaluation period in 2015. After Florida did so, Auburn, Georgia, Ohio State, North Carolina and Tennessee followed suit that same month.
Green held 17 total offers by the end of May, but quickly grew tired of the process. So I n late July, he ended it with his commitment to Florida at Friday Night Lights.
“The offers were exciting at the time, but it got aggravating,” Green says. “Coaches would text me throughout school and they would get mad when I didn’t respond. My phone would be in my pocket just vibrating the whole time. Plus, Florida was my dream school.”
Green told SEC Country he got “bad vibes” from coaches at Miami and Ohio State during his recruitment. In a separate interview, Green’s mother shared similar sentiments.
“The Ohio State and Miami coaches, it got to the point where they were harassing my son,” Cromartie says. “They jumped all over him for committing to Florida. It got to the point where I had to tell them to stop texting his phone.
“With Florida, it was more of a family feel than business. Everybody else wouldn’t call and send mail on a regular basis. Florida would FaceTime us to see how his grades were. When they say Gators take care of Gators, they mean it.”
That includes their recruitment of Green, too. UF coach Jim McElwain, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, defensive line coach Chris Rumph and wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon II all continued to pursue Green aggressively despite his pledge. McElwain impressed Green’s father the most.
“Once Daquon committed, Florida coaches told us, ‘We’re still going through the whole process. We’re going to keep recruiting you as hard as we recruit everybody else that we want to come to our school.’ Everything they said, they did,” Evans says.
“When we went to Friday Night Lights, Coach McElwain told us he was almost done building an indoor practice facility. The next year, Friday Night Lights was in that facility. He basically guaranteed they were going to Atlanta. They’ve been twice. He told us they were going to fix Florida’s offense. What do you think happens next?”
North Carolina and Tennessee never stopped chasing Green, but he stayed loyal to the Gators and didn’t take trips to other programs. His official visit to Florida on Jan. 20 served as confirmation for his unwavering commitment.
“It was amazing,” Green says. “When I was with my family, we were with everybody else’s family and the coaches. Then we would hang out at night with the players and recruits. It was just the experience of a lifetime. I liked everything about UF — the people, the town, the campus, the facilities. It was more than I expected, honestly.”
Green’s parents and his grandmother, Juanita Green, joined him on the visit. McElwain’s wife, Karen, provided Cromartie and her mother with the highlight of their trip — and perhaps the scare of their lives.
“Coach McElwain’s wife took me, my mom and a few of the coaches’ wives out on the golf cart. There were six of us,” Cromarite says. “We rode into the wilderness in the middle of the night. She took the trail to go feed horses.
“But instead of going back to the house — once you get so far you can’t see any lights — she took another way and got lost in the middle of the woods. When I say woods, I mean woods. There’s no lights, no nothing and they were having a ball on that golf cart. I was just trying to keep from falling off the back.”
Green’s grandmother chimes in, “It was pitch black dark out there! I’m glad she knew where she was going because I sure didn’t.”
Fortunately for Green’s family, he won’t be hard to find in Gainesville. The two-hour drive from Tampa was another positive for Florida.
Green was leaning toward Ohio State at one point, but the distance from home presented a problem.
“I wanted to be right down the street,” Green says. “I wasn’t trying to stay far away from Tampa. I do all this for my city and my family, so I wanted them to be able to come to my games.”
For Green’s parents and grandmother, watching Daquon play still makes their day. They’ll be in The Swamp cheering him on this fall, just as they’ve been since his little league days.
“Daquon is the only person I’ll sit in the hot sun for,” his grandmother says. “When he played on those youth football fields, there wasn’t a tree in sight! But, he loved the game and we supported his passion.
“If they were playing and something happening that made them stop the game — injury, weather delay — he would cry. He was so upset because he wanted to play. He just had to be out there. Now look at him.”
The significance of Green’s signing goes beyond the Gators adding another All-American recruit to their roster. McElwain and his assistants have made a concerted effort to improve Florida’s recruiting results in Tampa, one of the state’s hotbeds for talent.
With Green, 4-star defensive end Zachary Carter and 4-star running back Malik Davis on board for 2017, UF signed three Tampa recruits in a class for the first time since 2006.
“I feel like we can be the difference in winning an SEC title,” Green says. “That’s what Tampa players bring to the table. All of us want the same thing. All of us are going for championships and the NFL.
“Tampa is a city but it’s not huge, so you’re always competing against the best players in the area. You got over 50 high schools and most of them have Division I players. That’s why the 813 [area code] is so talented.”
In addition to Bailey, Green also admired area receivers Nelson Agholor (Southern Cal) and Deon Cain (Clemson) as an up-and-coming player. He wanted to be like them in high school, and his dream is now a reality.
“It blows my mind,” Green says, “but I’m also not surprised. Getting to this point wasn’t hard for me because I was dedicated to it. It was my only way out and that’s what I put my mind to. That still keeps me going.”