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Gibbs kicked off its summer 7-on-7 schedule Saturday in impressive fashion at the 7on7U Florida Shootout at Otis Andrews Complex in Plant City, dropping its only game in untimely fashion but leaving coach Antonio Knox pleased with the performance.
Despite missing a handful of key players, including top defensive back Albert Laskett, Gibbs was 4-0 in pool play and entered single-elimination bracket play as a No. 1 seed, but dropped its first game to eventual runnerup Jefferson by two points.
The Gladiators had beaten Jefferson in pool play, as well as Plant CIty, Lakeland Kathleen and Robinson, but the rematch came down to a last-second play at the goal line, Knox said. Still, he left pleased with what he saw from his young team.
"Overall I was very impressed,'' Knox said. "When we were challenged, we came back and answered. I think we earned some respect. Teams that didn't know about us found out real quick.''
Knox said his starting quarterback, Patrick Jones, continued to hold onto the job he won in the spring, but Emmanuel Stewart stepped in and had an excellent day throwing passes, too.
"Jones is, coming out of spring, the guy that will be leading us at quarterback,'' Knox said, "but Emmanuel got the hot hand. He was really impressive. He had some great decision making. So Stewart got a little more work.''
Stewart, who is still looking for his first offer, was also top-notch on defense locking down opposing wide receivers, and out of the backfield caught balls and showed no ill effects from a torn ACL suffered last fall.
Knox said Stewart, who is expecting to be a 1,000-yard running back next season for the Gladiators, has been like a man possessed this offseason, calling and texting him every day. "He wants me to push him,'' Knox said."He is a kid who is very very hungry, and we're going to feed him.''
Knox said linebacker Maurice Hall also stood out, along with Zacari Gibbons (who turned in the run of the day against Robinson), speedy wide receiver Xavier Kirnes and defender Kendrick Battle.
The Gladiators are registered for two more tournaments this summer: the BCP/BHSN 9 Route tourney, and the USF Sling-N-Shoot.