Anthony “Shug” Rhynes is charging toward the finish line, knees up and down, arms churning, cleats banging away on the rubber track — bap, bap, bap — with nothing in front of him.
It’s just Rhynes and the clock.
Just like always.
Saturday morning, Rhynes took his ACT one more time, hopeful the results will qualify him for college.
He will graduate from Middleton High School this spring, which one time may have been enough.
Now, after a big football season and a county track championship running the 100 meters, he is dreaming bigger.
“Gotta get that score,” he says.
In normal circumstances, the combination of 1,200 receiving yards and a 100-meter time in the 10-second range would likely equate to a college scholarship offer.
But Rhynes is still recovering from his first three years of high school, a troubled path that led him from Middleton to Hillsborough to Jefferson to an alternative school in north Tampa back to Middleton.
“Sometimes, I wish I would have been on my game since my freshman year, but I was playing around,” Rhynes said. “I could have done all this (football and track) already, but that schoolwork. I was always behind on something. But right now I’m on my game.”
In his only full season of high school football last fall, Rhynes was an undiscovered star wide receiver for Middleton. He posted eye-popping numbers — more than 1,200 yards receiving and 32 yards a catch — to earn all-county and all-state honors.
“I kinda surprised myself,” said Rhynes, a 6-foot, 200-pounder whose only previous action was a few games at Jefferson. “Coach, he told me, he said you’re gonna be the best. And in my head, I was like he’s just BS-ing me.”
But his second game, when he caught three passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns against Freedom, convinced him otherwise.
“That’s when I was like, ‘Coach, you’re right.’ ”
The big numbers came; the colleges didn’t. But Rhynes continued to work, on the field and in the classroom, where he says Middleton’s block scheduling gave him more time to catch up while learning.
“This year, I definitely was worried,” said his mother, Nothela Walker. “I’m just glad he got this year to play to show what he has to offer. I just hope he gets into college and does something with himself.”
After football signing day came and went in February, Rhynes decided to try track for the first time.
He stunned everyone by running his first race in 10.71 seconds, winning at the West Coast Relays.
“I didn’t even know what that means, a 10.7; I didn’t even know that was fast,” Rhynes said.
It was. And he has run faster.
“I recruited him during football season,” Middleton track coach Derrick Rackards said. “I saw the aggressiveness, the swiftness and how he ran. Football wise, we didn’t know he was going to be that good. But we knew he’d be fast on the track.”
At the conference qualifier, he ran a 10.66. At the conference championships, he ran a 10.68. Rhynes, 18, has his sights set on the district meet this week, with thoughts of a state championship swirling around in his head.
He spends an hour studying before track practice and says he is often there until the lights are turned out at Middleton.
His dual-sport heroics could soon draw in some interested schools.
Colleges like Murray State, Ball State and others have expressed tepid interest — waiting on Rhynes to produce a passing test score. Junior colleges have talked to him, though he doesn’t want to settle for that just yet.
His grade-point average is a 2.3, and he says it will be even higher when the next set of grades comes out.
“The light has clicked on,” Rackards said. “With his changed mindset, and the work he has put in, I think a lot of coaches will want to be taking a second look.”
With a fresh start, Rackards says the sky can be the limit for Rhynes.
Keep charging, the coach tells him. Get those knees up and down, keep those arms churning.
The clock is running.
Bap, bap, bap.
“We just wanna see him through the finish line,” Rackards said.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.
When/where: noon Wednesday; Wharton High
Teams: Alonso, Freedom, Sickles, Steinbrenner, Wharton, Wiregrass Ranch.
Athletes to watch: This should be one of the toughest districts around on the girls side, featuring the top three finishers from the county championships in Steinbrenner, Wharton and Freedom. Taylor Hotchkiss (Steinbrenner), Aria Tate and Daneesha Davidson (Wharton) and Anel Smith (Freedom) will duel in what should be highly-competitive hurdles races, while Wildcat Bryanna Rivers tries to continue her season-long dominance in the 800 and 1,600, and Jasmine Robinson will be favored in the 400. Sickles’ James Zentmeyer and Paris Williams (3,200) and Kevin Merrill (100, 200), Alonso jumpers Lynette Robertson (long and triple), Mitch Pienais (high) and Brandon Robinson (long, triple) are others to watch, as well as the Wiregrass Ranch girls distance runners.
When/where: 1 p.m. Thursday; Spoto High
Teams: Bloomingdale, Durant, East Bay, Newsome, Plant, Plant City, Riverview, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Bay Tech
Athletes to watch: Behind wins by Todd Jackson (400) and David Kornitzer (pole vault), Newsome won the county championship and has the numbers to advance a good many to regionals. East Bay should challenge with county 200-meter and triple jump champ James Hambrick, and Plant boasts top miler Jack Guyton. Bloomingdale’s 800-meter duo of Matt Butler and Kevin Heron are two of the best around. On the girls side, Panthers Bailey Sullivan and Anna Montgomery should dominate the longer distances, and Rachel Goding is favored in the pole vault. Others expected to score big points include Strawberry Crest long and triple jumpers Terra Brooks and Chauncey Thomas, and Riverview hurdlers Sean Manhertz and Maia Carter.
When/where: 11 a.m. Thursday; Sarasota Booker
Teams: Countryside, East Lake, Bradenton Manatee, North Port, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, Sarasota Riverview, Seminole, St. Petersburg
Athletes to watch: Countryside’s boys have a strong group of distance runners, led by Andrew Llewellyn, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and anchored the first-place 4x800 relay at the conference meet. It is unlikely Llewellyn will try to duplicate that distance quadruple. Instead he’ll concentrate on the 1,600 and 4x800. Teammate Robert Davis is the favorite to win the 400. Pinellas Park’s 4x100 relay team won at the conference meet and is good enough to be a state qualifier. East Lake’s girls also have the distance runners to win a team title for the second straight year. The Siegel sisters, Sabrina (1,600) and Julie (3,200) are the top two runners for the Eagles. Palm Harbor University’s Sara Karuli has been dominant in the shot put and discus. Countryside’s Mary Margaret Mason is one of the favorites in the pole vault.
When/where: noon Wednesday; Lecanto High
Teams: Belleview, Citrus, Fivay, Land O’Lakes, Lecanto, Mitchell, River Ridge, Springstead, Sunlake, Zephyrhills
Athletes to watch: Springstead’s Bobby Harris is the defending state champion in the high jump and consistently clears 6 feet, 8 inches in the event. Land O’Lakes has a strong contingent of boys distance runners, led by Tyler Stahl, a champion in the 1,600 and runnerup in the 3,200 at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet. Zephyrhills’ Jordan Roberts is the district’s top boys sprinter with wins in the 100 and 400 at the SAC meet. On the girls side, the Bulldogs’ 4x100 relay has ranked among the best in Class 3A all season. Kara Young, who runs a leg on that 4x100 team, also is one of the favorites in the 100 and 400. Mitchell’s Emily Kerns, who won the 800, 1,600, and 3,200 at the SAC meet, is the premier girls distance runner in the district. Land O’Lakes’ Hallie Grimes should advance in the 200 and 400. Springstead’s Wilena Little, an FIU recruit, won the 100, 200, 400 and long jump at the Hernando County Track Championships.
When/where: 1 p.m. Wednesday; Leto High
Teams: Armwood, Blake, Brandon, Chamberlain, Gaither, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Lennard, Leto, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto
Athletes to watch: Spoto’s Janae Caldwell heads up a stellar field and is coming off county championships in the 200 and 400, the latter of which she could win at state. She’ll get a test in the 200 from Middleton’s Deja Rodgers, who was second at the county meet, but the champ in the 100. Hillsborough will rely on the strength of its field competitors, like girls Chloe Jones (shot put), Jada Roberts and Faith Brown (triple jump) and boys standout Dwayne Lawson, the reigning county high jump champ. Lindsay Shealy (1600), Aaron Covington (high jump) and Jordan Green (hurdlers) are part of a strong Armwood team, while Gaither boasts hurdler Samson Moore and thrower Brad Smith, two county champs. Middleton’s Anthony “Shug” Rhynes and Jefferson’s Deiondre Porter will duel in the 100 and 200.
When/where: 10 a.m. Wednesday; Clearwater High
Teams: Boca Ciega, Braden River, Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Lakewood Ranch, Largo, Northeast, Osceola, Palmetto, Sarasota, Tarpon Springs, Venice
Athletes to watch: Osceola, the favorite to win the girls team title, is led by Jeanna Cube and Jen Kistemaker. Cube was the conference champion in the high jump and the runnerup in the 100 and 300 hurdles. Kistemaker is Pinellas County’s top pole vaulter with wins at just about every major meet. Other girls athletes who could do well include Largo’s Daisha Brown (long and triple jumps), Clearwater’s Erin Avers (800) and Boca Ciega’s Jacoya Byrd (300 hurdles). The top boys athlete is Osceola’s Carson Waters, a state title contender in the pole vault who has won the event at all but one meet this season. Largo’s Raheem Harvey, a football star, was a conference champion in the 400.
John C. Cotey and Bob Putnam, Times staff writers