Andy Warrener | Special to the Times
Palm Harbor University gets a key tournament win as the postseason approaches.
As wrestling season turns the corner into the final run through counties and the state series, this weekend was most teams' last chance to get key matches in before it's do-or-die time.
Palm Harbor University did just that by hosting the Logan Kushner Memorial, a round-robin dual. The ’Canes got a good look at North Port, a team they share a district with and topped them 325.5-322.5 to win the tournament.
"It was important these last couple weeks to wrestle North Port," PHU coach Brad Sakevich said. "We've had some gritty wins this year; we're young but whether it's tournaments or duals, they're not always pretty but we find a way to get it done."
Individual champions for the ’Canes were: Gabe Naranjo (106, 10-0), Joe Capone (126, 9-0), Gavin Mitchiner (138, 10-0) and Matt Westbay (285, 9-0). The swing matches happened at 138 and 285 as Mitchiner pinned North Port's Cody Henson and Westbay pinned Schavallis Petterson in the last second of the first period.
"We lose either of those matches it could go either way," Sakevich said.
Chris Fragale topped Michael Bush of Sarasota 8-6 at the meet. Bush is ranked fourth at 106 by the Florida Wrestling Room and fifth by Scout.com. …Full Story
Each week, our HomeTeam staffers nominate male and female Hot Shot athletes from each of the counties we cover. Then we turn the voting over to readers. These nominations span Saturday, Jan. 30 through Friday, Feb. 5. Read up on all of our nominees then vote until noon Monday.
Chelsie Hall, basketball, Seffner Christian: The junior guard had 38 points and eight steals to help lead Seffner Christian to a 62-47 victory against Indian Rocks Christian in the region quarterfinals. Hall averages more than 20 points and five steals per game.
Tre-Shon Jenkins, basketball, Spoto: Jenkins scored a season-high 27 points in Spoto’s 59-31 win over Lake Wales in the region quarterfinals. It was the school’s first region tournament win. Jenkins made five three 3-pointers.
Alexis Ross, basketball, Keswick Christian: The senior forward had a team-high 22 points and scored the winning basket in the final of the Crusaders’ 44-42 victory over Donahue in the region quarterfinals.
Taylor Polasky, basketball, Calvary Christian: The sophomore scored a team-high 19 in the Warriors’ 77-22 win over Bishop McLaughlin the region quarterfinals. …Full Story
Kelly Parsons | Times
Markese Hargrove has received a full academic scholarship from USF.
Plant City running back Markese Hargrove was getting restless.
The 1,000-yard rusher and Guy Toph Award winner had just a few college offers, all from smaller schools, as the 2015 football season continued to progress. Meanwhile, he was leading Plant City to its best season in school history, rushing for 1,731 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“We were both getting restless,” Hargrove’s mother, Kenyatta Shaw, said.
But at the last minute, the hometown team started calling.
Hargrove, who boasts a 4.8 weighted grade-point average, had done enough in the classroom to earn a full academic scholarship to the University of South Florida. So when then-defensive coordinator Tom Allen began reaching out to Plant City coach Greg Meyer, it was an easy process from there to secure Hargrove a spot as a preferred walk-on.
“They loved him. It was one of those situations where they thought they were stealing him, because with his situation of having a full academic scholarship and already being admitted,” Meyer said. “With a lot of walk-ons, those are variables that tend to trip that up later on in the process.” …Full Story
Kelly Parsons | Times
KJ Sails initially tried to fool folks into thinking he had picked Cincinnati before going with North Carolina.
Three-star cornerback KJ Sails marched into East Bay’s media center Wednesday sporting a flat-billed Cincinnati hat, cocked to the side, and his usual wide grin. But even though he was representing the Bearcats at the start of the Indians’ signing day ceremony, it didn’t take long into the festivities for Sails to admit that he was destined to be a Tar Heel all along.
When it was his turn, Sails thanked the crowd in front of him before whipping out a UNC hat from underneath the table. He signed moments later, alongside teammates Gaej Walker (Western Kentucky) and Trey Fullwood (Coffeyville Community College).
“I feel like you’ve got to have fun with it,” Sails said about his prank.
Sails was a three-year starter at East Bay, racking up more than 1,200 all-purpose yards as a senior and recording 21 tackles on defense.
But the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder didn’t start his high school career on top.
“When I met KJ, he was a 135-pound freshman,” coach Frank LaRosa said. “He walked into the weight room and he was what KJ is, definitely not short of confidence and he talked a lot.” …Full Story
LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
Sickles quarterback Chris Oladokun embraces father Henry Oladokun after committing to USF.
TAMPA — No matter who he put under center last spring, nothing had seemed to work for Sickles quarterbacks coach Jason Silbert.
Frustrated, the longtime Gryphons assistant was almost ready to throw his hands up. But then an answer came one day in the form of a transfer from down the road at Alonso.
It was Chris Oladokun.
"I was working with a bunch of punch-buggies," Silbert told a packed audience inside the school's auditorium Wednesday afternoon.
"Then, one day I walked in the room, and it was like a sports car showed up."
Oladokun hopes to have that same effect at USF, too. …Full Story
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Scoop Bradshaw was one of several Plant players who signed at the Tampa Bay Bucs' home Wednesday.
The high school football season was still going on when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reached out to coaches in Hillsborough County, offering them the opportunity to hold their signing day ceremonies at One Buc Place. The plan was for there to be 90-minute slots throughout the day for various teams to use the facilities and auditorium for their presentations.
But when all was said and done, Plant’s Robert Weiner was the only coach to take the Bucs up on their offer.
“I don’t know that they realized exactly what they were getting into with us in particular because of the number of people that we have and how we like to do it … I just knew right away that, ‘Hey we’re interested, can we work out the specifics later on?” Weiner recalled. “We knew it would be a great opportunity.”
The ceremony was held in the main auditorium, the same place new Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter was introduced just weeks ago, and afterwards there was a reception on the back patio overlooking the practice fields.
For Weiner, the experience was a nice change of pace to the Panthers’ normal signing day festivities on the school’s campus and a good motivator for his college-bound athletes. …Full Story
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Plant High School's Micheal Murphy announces that he will attend Columbia University.
Plant linebacker Michael Murphy started hanging around Panther football when he was just 7 years old, helping coach Robert Weiner with odd jobs around the field on practice and game days.
“I was the kid who, during halftime, when /coach was giving his speech, I would run outside, look at the scoreboard, run back in and tell Coach how much time he had left,” Michael said. “He’d look down at me and say, ‘How much time we got, Murph?’ ‘Little Murph,’ at that time.”
On Wednesday, “Little Murphy,” as Weiner used to know him, signed his letter of intent to play college football at Columbia University. For Weiner, the moment was a long time coming.
Weiner met Michael’s father, Jeff Murphy, when they were second-graders at St. Mary’s in South Tampa. They were doubles partners in tennis and went on to become best friends at Jesuit High School, where they both graduated in 1983.
Weiner was at the hospital when Michael was born in 1997. And ever since, Weiner said, Murphy’s been a source of joy for everybody around him, particularly his teammates. …Full Story
Scott Purks | Special to the Times
Wharton's Tre Dukes pulls on his University of South Florida cap, just before he announces during Wednesday's national signing day ceremony that he has chosen to play football for the Bulls.
TAMPA — The choice of colleges for Wharton's Tre Dukes came down to friends and family.
Dukes' offers included USF (right up the road from his current home), North Carolina State (the area from which he moved two years ago) or Marshall (where family connections were slim).
"I really wanted to play close to home," Dukes said. "Who wouldn't want to play for the team in their own city?"
That's why Dukes (6-foot-4, 202 pounds) said during Wednesday's national signing day ceremony, that he chose the Bulls.
Dukes is projected to play receiver or possibly tight end, positions he also played for Wharton, which Dukes help lead to a 8-2 record in 2015.
Other signees at Wharton's ceremony included: Natalie Ferrin, soccer, Georgia Gwinnet College in Georgia; Destinee Elmore, softball, Ava Maria University in Naples; Casey Grotz, soccer, University of North Florida; Taylor Hubbard, soccer, University of Alabama; Jordan Vitale, soccer, Gardner Webb.Full Story
Andy Warrener | Special to the Times
Devontay Taylor is all smiles with his family after signing with Florida International.
The Mitchell High cafeteria hosted a couple of firsts on signing day. Coach Andy Schmitz said it was the first time three football players signed on the same day and the Mustangs had their first Division I-A signee under him.
"You can tell how special this day is not just by how many people are here but who is here; college coaches, alumni, current students," Schmitz said. "Today we get to congratulate these kids for the work that no one sees them do."
Schmitz said the trio is an example to younger players coming up through the program. The aforementioned D-I signee was Devontay Taylor, who inked his LOI to play at Florida International University.
"The location was key and how I felt about visiting the school were factors in the decision," Taylor said of FIU. "There was also the opportunity to play right away."
Taylor enjoyed the prospect of making the team as a freshman and staying in his home state. He also was happy to be signing with two of his teammates that he came up with.
"It felt grea;, some of them we've been on the same team since eighth grade (at Seven Springs Middle School)," Taylor said. …Full Story
BOB PUTNAM | Times
Logan Miller, left, and Kevin Harris get ready to sign at CCC's ceremony.
For the past three years, Clearwater Central Catholic’s Logan Miller sat in the school’s auditorium on national signing day, watching teammates turn their oral commitments into binding ones with colleges.
On Wednesday, it was Miller’s turn.
The defensive lineman had a hard time containing his excitement.
“I didn’t sleep much,” Miller said. “I was up at 4:30 a.m. I faxed my letter of intent by 7:30 a.m.”
Miller, who signed with Western Illinois, was one of four athletes present for the ceremony. The others were linebacker John Chiaramonte (Air Force) and two soccer standouts, Kevin Harris (Spartanburg Methodist College) and Abby Harkin (Assumption).
CCC offensive lineman Adam Samee signed with Richmond but was unable to attend.
“It was just a mixture of nervousness and excitement because I’ve working the last four years for this,” Miller said. “This is probably the most stressful thing I’ve been through, deciding on a college. Days like this make everything worth it knowing everything you did for the last four years paid off.
“A lot of the kids I played with the last four years are sitting here in the crowd. But John and I had the opportunity to sign. It’s something special.” …Full Story
Brendan Fitterer | Times
Pasco High's Jayvaughn Myers, right, hugs his brother, Tampa Catholic's Nate Craig-Myers, left, after they both chose Auburn.
DADE CITY — The celebratory cake had already been placed on the table in front of him. But Jayvaughn Myers couldn’t quite fit the orange and blue Auburn cap over his hair to make his decision official.
From behind, a familiar face bent down to lend the Pasco standout help adjusting his velcro. His brother, Nate Craig-Myers, had his back.
Consider it the start of a dream family reunion.
A little more than two hours after Craig-Myers signed with the Tigers on Wednesday at Tampa Catholic, Myers followed suit, choosing Auburn over North Carolina.
“I think we’re going to be unstoppable on the field together,” said Myers, who is rated the 30th-best cornerback in the nation by 247Sports.
“It’s the best fit for us to go to Auburn.”
Still, even if there was no doubt about saying yes to teaming up with his brother for the first time since Craig-Myers transferred from Pasco to Tampa Catholic after their sophomore year, deciding where was admittedly difficult.
A few more visits and some bonding time with the staff, however, was all it took for Myers to be sold. …Full Story
Derek J. LaRiviere | Special to the Times
River Ridge's Chris Schwarz on West Florida: âI wanted to replicate my high school career as much as possible.â
NEW PORT RICHEY – The most dominant running back in Pasco County history officially knows where he will be going to college this fall.
River Ridge standout Chris Schwarz signed with the University of West Florida on Wednesday afternoon.
A 5-foot-10, 200-pound bruiser in the backfield, Schwarz broke the county record for rushing yards in a single season when he scampered for 2,689 yards and 27 touchdowns in his junior campaign. He backed up that effort with 2,482 yards and 26 touchdowns this past season.
Before his prep career was over, he held numerous area records, including the county mark for career rushing yardage (5,375).
Excelling in the classroom as well as on the gridiron, Schwarz drew interest from different schools over the past two years, but he settled on West Florida because of the similar feel he got at the campus compared to River Ridge.
“I wanted to replicate my high school career as much as possible,” Schwarz said. “When I went up to (Pensacola), the fit was so right. I got a great feeling from the coaching staff, and I knew that’s where I wanted to spend the next four years.” …Full Story
JIM DAMASKE | Times
Largo players put pen to paper on Wednesday.
Largo defensive back Brandon Drayton had 21 offers from several big-time schools, including Louisville, Miami and Nebraska.
But he ended up signing with Indiana, a school that has become a destination for former Packer standouts.
Adarius Rayner, who played for the Packers from 2008-09, made 20 starts during his career as a defensive lineman with the Hoosiers. Defensive back Jonathan Crawford and quarterback Donavan Hale, both 2015 Largo graduates, were freshmen at Indiana this past season.
“I’m happy, excited. Having those guys up there helped out a lot,” Drayton said. “They wanted me to come up there. They seemed to enjoy it, especially with all of us coming from the same high school.
In December, Drayton committed to Nebraska, then backed off that pledge a week later. He took his official visit to Indiana on Dec. 4 before committing Jan. 27.
“I liked the school, the coaches and the academics,” Drayton said. “Being able to be play with guys from high school was a big factor, but not the only one.” …Full Story
Rodney Page | Times
Brandon Walton, a Florida Atlantic commit, became focused on football when he realized it could be his college future.
When Seminole coach Chris Miller first saw Brandon Walton as a sophomore, he never thought he would watch him sign a college scholarship. Not only did Walton sign on Wednesday, but he signed with Division I-A Florida Atlantic.
“When I first met him he was a teddy bear," Miller said. “But by the end of his sophomore year it just kind of clicked and he became a weight room fanatic. He’s gotten better and better. He’s a big lineman, but he’s also an athlete. He can move. I really think he can play in the pros someday."
The last Seminole football player to sign a Division I-A scholarship was D’Qwell Jackson in 2001. Jackson played at Maryland and is now in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts.
Walton, who is 6 feet 4, 300 pounds, admits he was a little soft as a sophomore. But in his final two years of high school he decided to take the sport seriously as a way to get into college.
“I heard some coaches say that I could become a college football player and once I heard that I knew it was time to turn it up," Walton said. “It really clicked from there. And then I started to get some attention last spring so I worked even harder." …Full Story
ZACK WITTMAN | Times
Armwood football players Tyler Scott, Justin Manning, Dedarallo Blue, Trevor Laurent, Kevin Richardson and Mike Brown.
SEFFNER — Mike Brown stood in front of his family, friends and coaches Wednesday morning looking sharp in a red tartan vest, matching bow tie and black slacks.
This time last year, Brown would have had a hard time getting in that outfit.
“I was sloppy, a mess,” he said. “All fat and nasty.”
But all that changed last year as Brown shed nearly 90 pounds from January to August. The Armwood offensive lineman was rewarded Wednesday, becoming one of six Hawks to sign national letters of intent when he inked with Southeast Missouri State.
“I had to get all new pants, but it was worth it,” Brown said of his weight loss. “The coaches up there brought me in and said they’d make it feel as close to Florida as they could.”
Brown played center his junior season around 380 and coach Sean Callahan said the weight was too much for Brown’s frame.
“He really was just flopping around out there,” he said. “We needed him to be able to move.”
Callahan approached Brown after the season about losing the weight but the veteran coach was also concerned about something other than football — the rising senior’s well-being. …Full Story