Column: Anticipated matchup of Hector vs. Ivie is finally here

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Thu. November 29, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

Robinson's Bruce HectorPasco's Joey Ivie

TAMPA — They will meet at some point Friday.

They will crash into each other, helmet to shoulder pad, shoulder pad to chest.

The earth may not move — or it might — but the play will, either straight into the collision or speedily around it, like a car navigating an avalanche.

Which way it goes will depend on who gets the best of the matchup, which might be the biggest and most important of Robinson High School’s huge playoff showdown against Pasco.

More than which quarterback will throw for the most yards or which running back will get into the end zone more often, this Class 5A region final may come down to the clash between a pair of burly behemoths.

Robinson’s Bruce Hector is ready.

He knows Pasco’s Joey Ivie will be waiting.

• • •

They have texted back and forth this week, and exchanged a few friendly tweets as well.

Hector and Ivie met two summers ago, on a bus headed for college campuses across the south. As part of Ricky Sailor’s Unsigned Preps tour for promising recruits, they became fast friends.

Neither was being recruited hard at the time, but they talked for hours — about high school, football, girls and family.

“Life,” Ivie said.

Then they blew up. Interest peaked, offers flowed in. Last summer, their second year touring, they talked about the choices they had and what schools they liked most. Ivie chose Florida; Hector chose USF.

And they talked about Friday’s game.

How cool would it be if we met in the playoffs, Hector would say.

Pretty cool, Ivie would respond.

They continued to talk about it all season.

Now the game’s here.

“I’ve just really been looking forward to it,” Hector said. “Thinking about it is actually exciting.”

• • •

Hector and Ivie have crossed paths before.

Before transferring to Robinson prior to his junior season, Hector was a promising lineman at Gulf, which played in the same district as Pasco.

He started as a sophomore. He is the only Knight that has actually been on the field with Pasco.

“They just beat us down. Sometimes I think back to how they beat me down so hard,” said Hector, referring to a 45-13 defeat in 2010.

“I’d like to get payback for that.”

That was a few inches and 50 pounds ago for both players.

And there was basketball.

Ivie was a 6-4, 230-pound center, and Hector was a 6-1, 225-pound forward.

With some skills, Hector adds, that he still displays after football season. He had 16 points and 19 rebounds in a game against Chamberlain last year. But his size is deceiving. His Twitter handle — @BigBabyRondo — isn’t just for show, you know.

“They let me bring the ball up the court when I got a rebound,” Hector said. “They do now at Robinson, too.”

Hector averaged seven points as a sophomore at Gulf. But he doesn’t remember the skinnier Ivie.

“I remember him,” Ivie said. “But I had long hair.”

Friday, both players plan to leave a lasting impression.

• • •

Hector, now 6-2, 270, left Gulf because of his mother’s job, and at the time was angry about it. Now, he laughs about it. While Gulf went 0-10 this fall, Hector has been an integral part of one of the best runs in school history, winning 20 games and losing just four.

And he has developed into one of Tampa Bay’s best linemen, regardless of what side of the ball you want to put him.

He plays guard on offense 100 percent of the time and tackle on defense around 60 percent.

“If I had my druthers,” said Knights coach Mike DePue, “it’d be the other way around.”

USF agrees, recruiting Hector as a defensive tackle.

But in Robinson’s read-option offense, which relies heavily on the guards’ ability to pull, Hector is too perfect a fit.

He is, above all, nimble, which he credits to his basketball background.

“He’s fantastic,” Robinson offensive line coach Shawn Taylor said. “He has size, speed, strength  …but the feet. It’s all about the feet.”

It’s the first thing college recruiters ask when they come to watch the Knights practice. They are almost always impressed.

Taylor said before Robinson faced Plant, the Panther coaches told him No. 60 (Hector) was the best player they had seen on film all season, and the one who concerned them most.

For a team that played the country’s No. 2 team, John Curtis, and playoff teams like Hillsborough and Armwood, it was high praise.

Hector is part of a new generation of linemen, once valued more for their size but now deeply treasured for their athleticism and ability to move.

“The days of being a jug butt and just moving people forward are gone,” Taylor said.

You can say all these same things about Ivie, who at 6-4 and 270 is remarkably agile, allowing him to line up at fullback and tight end as well.

The similarities will be on full display Friday.

“Since we’re playing both ways, it should be interesting,” Ivie said. “We’re going to cross faces a couple of times during the night. It’s going to be a war. He’s still a friend, but not during the game.”

They will meet at some point Friday.

They will crash into each other, helmet to shoulder pad, shoulder pad to chest.

The earth may not move — or it might.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.

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