LAKELAND — When he was growing up, Latrell Jean remembers watching his cousin Jamar Taylor play running back for Lakeland, and when he got to middle school he wanted to be a running back.

"That didn't work out so good," he said.

Instead, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Jean has played mostly on the defensive line but has no regrets about not being a running back. Jean has emerged as one of top recruits in the county and enters his senior year as one of the leaders on what is expected to be a strong defense for the Dreadnaughts.

Jean became known to colleges early in his career. He got his first letter from South Carolina at the end of his sophomore season.

“That surprised me,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting it. It was surreal. It was crazy. I wasn’t expecting it at the time. I was expecting it maybe at the beginning of my junior year.”

The interest served as motivation for Jean.

“It made me work harder,” he said. “A lot of the guys get offers and slack off, but it made me work harder and get better because they see something in me, so I don’t want to disappoint.”

Jean was always eager to learn from whoever could help him. Along with his position coach, C.J. Johnson, he credits former teammates Matt Kramer and J'quan Lawrence with helping him develop as a defensive lineman.

"They helped me get my stance better," he said. "They taught me how to be the player I didn’t know how to be. I didn’t really know how to be this player. They really helped me master my technique too."

Jean had a solid junior season, finishing with 46 total tackles, second among the defensive lineman, and was second on the team with 18.5 tackles for loss.

"He's got a good motor on him and good energy," Lakeland coach Bill Castle said. "He plays hard. He's tough. He's strong. He runs good for his size."

Jean is playing inside at defensive tackle to team with Trey Huntly in the middle of the Lakeland defense, but he can also play outside at defensive end.

"Both those guys have been spokesmen for our defense, team leaders, not trying to cut corners and getting everybody to give great effort," Castle said. "Those two right there definitely work hard."

Playing football in college will be a dream come true for Jean. It was his first love ever since he began playing when he was 4 years old, but he also likes playing other sports.

Jean also has played basketball and ran track, and next spring, after the urging of former teammate Robert Madden, he'll be going out for lacrosse.

"It keeps me in shape," Jean said about playing other sports. "It keeps me occupied. It gives me something to do. And schools (colleges) like that you do more than one sport because is shows your competitiveness. I'm competitive. I don't like to lose. I like to compete."

Jean, however, is all but ready to play college football. He just has to pick his school and graduate as he already is academically qualified, he said.

“Just knowing I’m qualified to go to school, it takes a lot of pressure of me because some guys are great athletes, but they’re not qualified.,” Jean said. "They really get stressed out (about getting qualified).”

Jean's offers include South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, Purdue, Syracuse and Florida Atlantic. He said he doesn't know where he's going to commit.

“It's fun, but it gets stressful,” he said. “But you enjoy the process.”