TAMPA -- Alonso senior C.J. Bennett was told he was going to the Hillsborough County school district building Thursday morning because he was nominated for a quarterback award.
He stepped into a packed auditorium wearing a shirt and tie and a slight look of confusion, and as other awards were handed out to the top senior student-athletes in the other fall sports and only one massive trophy remained, the Ravens signalcaller realized he had been duped.
Moments later, Bennett was awarded the 71st annual Guy Toph Award, Hillsborough County high schools’ equivalent to the Heisman, given to the county’s top senior football player.
He became just the second player from Alonso to win the award, which is selected by a vote of county coaches. Former Ravens running back John Forbes won in 2003.
“It was a great honor and it was really unexpected,” Bennett said. “I really didn’t know about the history or the academic part or how the voted went, but when I was told it’s chosen by the coaches in the county, that makes it more special. It says I’ve got respect from the teams I’ve played. That’s probably one of the best parts about it.”
The 5-foot-11 Bennett, who remains uncommitted, threw for 2,385 yards and 27 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions as a senior, totalling 6,017 yards and 60 touchdown passes in his high school career. The Ravens made the region tournament both times, and advanced to the region semis this season.
Plant guard Andre Mondor, who anchored a Panthers offensive line that won back-to-back state titles, won the Jimbo Kynes Outstanding Lineman Award, given to the county’s top offensive or defensive lineman, on his 18th birthday.
“I had no clue, so I guess it’s a surprise birthday gift,” Mondor said.
The 320-pound Mondor, who has offers from Division I-AA Liberty as well as Albany and Stony Brook and sports a 4.51 GPA, didn’t play football until his freshman year.
“I was around 6-foot and about 280,” Mondor said. “I had always been too big to play (youth leagues), so to win this my senior season is definitely surreal.”
Another surprised winner was Plant volleyball player Ali McCurdy, who won the Kirkwood Family Volleyball Award. As the team’s libero, McCurdy, a Duke signee who owns a 5.35 GPA, was critical to the Panthers’ four straight state titles.
“It’s a great ending,” McCurdy said.
Chamberlain's Mark Parrish, second at last season's Class 4A state cross country meet and one of the top two in his class with a 6.32 GPA, won the Ben Walker Award as the county's top senior male runner.
King's Hilary White, an IB student who owns a 5.75 GPA, won the girls Ben Walker Award. White, a regional qualfier the past four years, led King to its first state meet since 1975. She scored a perfect 800 on her SAT verbal, and as a member of the school’s IB program, the Ruskin resident drove 45 minutes to school every day.
“I don’t require a lot of sleep, maybe one or 1 ½ hours a night,” White joked. “I just try to manage my time the best I can. I go for a run every night and I try to get the most out of it every time.”
Wharton’s Jordan Rees, a Louisville recruit who placed second in the 3A state meet in the 50 free, and Newsome’s Kati Kyle, who has the 2A best state seeded time in the 100 back, won the Jessie Helfrich Hicks Award for the county’s top senior male and female swimmer, respectively.
Riverview golfer Ian McConnell, a Liberty signee, three-time district champ who owns a 3.71 GPA, won the Casey Most Valuable Male Golfer Award and King’s Kelsey Gibson, a state qualifier and district champ, received the girls version of the award.
The Plant's girls cross country team was honored for having the highest GPA of all local fall sports teams (3.838). The Plant football team (3.191), boys cross country (3.560) and girls golf (3.525) also won team GPA awards, as did the Riverview volleyball team (3.626) and boys golf team (3.494) and the Newsome boys swimming team (3.446).