By: J. Daniel Pearson
For Positively Osceola
The opportunity to play “Big-Time” college football came to fruition for four Osceola High School players as Ja’Keem Jackson, Derrick Leblanc, John Walker and Bo Mascoe all signed scholarship football papers on Wednesday afternoon to play at “Power 5” schools next year.
“There’s no questioning about the on-field credentials of any of these athletes, they all had great seasons and great careers at Osceola,” coach Eric Pinellas said. “But that is only part of the reason that these guys are special. They are also great students, great classmates and great role models. You never had to worry about them being where they were supposed to be in the classroom, on the practice field and or during games. Moving on to the next level is the culmination of a lot of hard work these players have put in.”
Walker and Leblanc have anchored the Kowboys defensive line that was one of the toughest in the state to run against for the last three years. Both saw significant action as freshmen but have been in the starting lineup since their sophomore seasons.
Walker signs with Gus Malzahn and will play at UCF; while Leblanc inks with the Oklahoma Sooners.
Walker, 6-4, 300, finishes his Osceola career with 254 total tackles, 40 quarterback sacks, and 57 additional tackles-for-loss. He also batted down six passes and added four fumble recoveries. He was incredibly consistent, recording 16, 17, and 16 tackles-for-losses in his final three seasons.
He committed to UCF early in the process, but was recruited hard by Florida down the stretch as the Gators tried to “flip” his commitment. “The attention was awesome and it’s always nice to be wanted, but at the end of the day, UCF is where I wanted to be,” Walker said. “During my visits I really developed a strong bond with the players and coaches and I just knew it was the right destination for me.”
Walker has already enrolled in school and is practicing with the team as they are getting ready for the Dec. 28 Military Bowl game against Duke – although he will not be eligible to play in it.
Like Walker, Leblanc (6-5, 275) is a four-year letter winner and three-year starter. He finished his Osceola career with 136 tackles, 32 tackles-for-loss, 28 quarterback sacks and eight pass defenses. He leaves for Oklahoma on Friday as an early enrollee and will also practice with the Sooners as they prepare to face Florida State on Dec. 29 at the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando.
“Coach V (Head Coach Brent Venables) was really the deciding factor for me in picking Oklahoma,” Leblanc, who was offered by almost every major program, said. “My goal is to go to Oklahoma, work hard and get on the field my freshman year.”
Despite playing his entire career on the defensive line, Leblanc noted that coaches have not ruled out playing him on the offensive line. “They told me playing on the O-line may be my best chance to get on the field early and that’s my goal,” Leblanc added. “But whether it is offense or defense, I go will play where they want me to play.”
Jackson has been a two-way player for the Kowboys since breaking into the starting lineup. A three-year starter at wide receiver, he caught 67 passes for 1133 yards and 11 touchdowns; while making 59 tackles with seven pass defenses and 8 interceptions as a two-year starter at defensive back.
A Florida signee, Jackson said the Gators recruited him as a defensive back but added that he could see action at wide receiver and will be looked at on both punt and kickoff returns. “Both my family and I been Florida fan since I was young and it’s where I always wanted to go to school,” Jackson said. “The campus feels like home and where I felt I needed to be.”
Mascoe has been a standout in the Osceola defensive backfield for three years.
He contributed 121 total tackles with 12 interceptions and 28 pass defenses. His tremendous athleticism resulted in Osceola inserting him as a wide receiver later in his senior season and he responded with 12 catches for 268 yards and four touchdowns. The 3-star recruit thanked God and his family for their support. “Through God, all is possible and he’s the reason that I am where I am today,” Mascoe said. “I really want to thank my family and my coaches for the all the support they provided the last three years.”
All four players are early enrollees and three of them (Jackson, Leblanc, Walker) have one more high school game to play as they will participate in the Under Armour All-America all-star game Jan. 3 in Orlando.
In the last four years, and despite playing one of the toughest schedules in the state, Osceola has gone 38-12, made a state championship (2020), state semifinal (2022) and won two regional and three district titles (no districts during Covid season). “They legacy these four guys have established is impressive and certainly we will miss all of them,” Pinellas added. “Three deep runs into the playoffs, four Power Five signees, and three guys selected for the Under Armour All-America game. We have four great players and four great people with bright futures in front of them.”