TAMPA — If his helmet didn’t safeguard a valedictorian’s brain, Chamberlain junior Neil MacInnes’ football duties wouldn’t be confined to kicking.
They might not be confined to anything. Coach Joe Severino has said he’d love him at tight end or split end. MacInnes thinks his burst and physical upside (6-4, 195 pounds) would serve him well at defensive end. Then again, he played a mean corner in middle school.
But it’s all moot. Neither MacInnes’ schedule nor his parents will allow it.
“I don’t want head injuries,” Alisa MacInnes said.
As a result, the cerebellum is safe; it’s only the athletic recognition that has taken a minor hit. The kid who might have been known as Chamberlain’s best all-around football player must settle for being possibly the best athlete you’ve never heard of.
“He’s a freak of nature,” said girls track coach Kelly Champion-Smith, who also assists with the boys.
A three-sport honors student, MacInnes literally leapt into the local consciousness at Thursday’s Class 4A, District 6 meet. Darting from event to event at times, he won the long and triple jumps, prevailed in the discus and ran the third leg on the Chiefs’ runnerup 4x100-meter relay team.
It was only a partial display of his versatility. At other points this season, MacInnes also has tried the shot put (ninth at the county meet), high jump and 200 meters.
“If we could put him in all five field events we would,” Champion-Smith said. “He’s also asked us about pole vaulting, but we haven’t let him do it.”
Though few doubt he could. Several Chiefs coaches say MacInnes would excel at any sport he put his adroit mind to. Among them is Champion-Smith, who first noticed him in soccer, his favorite pursuit.
“On throw-ins, the kid would throw the ball almost to the other yard line across the field,” said Champion-Smith, who was coaching Chamberlain’s girls at the time.
“I’m like, ‘Look at this kid’s arm. We’ve got to get that kid out for throwing.’ …I also told Coach Severino about his leg, and I’m thinking, ‘If he’s got a leg he can triple jump.’ ”
MacInnes went out for track last spring and joined the football team shortly thereafter. He averaged nearly 39 yards a punt, pinning six inside the 20, and had six touchbacks on 22 kickoffs. On Monday, Severino reaffirmed that MacInnes possessed the talent to do even more.
He just didn’t possess the time.
One of the few punters whose GPA (5.936) exceeds his hang time, MacInnes is a bona fide contender to become the second valedictorian in his family, joining brother Andrew (CHS class of 2009). He’s taking six advanced-placement classes this year, not counting honors physics.
“I don’t know exactly what my schedule’s going to be next year,” he said, “but right now I’m first in my class, so I’m really working on academics more than athletics because it’s really important to me to be …a student-athlete and not an athlete-student.”
Or more specifically, student-Eagle Scout-community volunteer-athlete.
For his recent scout project, MacInnes installed parking bumpers, crape myrtles and jasmine on a vacant parcel of land next to his Carrollwood church. This past summer — twice a week, two hours a day — he did laundry, made beds and cleaned floors at the local Ronald McDonald House.
Whether he’ll clean up at Wednesday’s Region 2 meet is uncertain. MacInnes’ best bet for a state berth is likely in the triple jump, where he notched a 44-foot effort at districts. Then it’s on to spring football, where he’s certain to keep his legs in the game — and his head out of it.
“I know (Severino) really wants me to play another position,” MacInnes said. “But if I really want to focus on kicking and try to get a scholarship for that, then I need to stick to that, I think.”
4A-2 at Leto
When: Wednesday, 1 p.m.
Local teams involved: Alonso, Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Plant, Wharton
At stake: Top four finishers in each event advance to state meet, May 7 in Winter Park
3A-3 at Punta Gorda Charlotte
When: Thursday, noon
Local teams: Armwood, Blake, Durant, East Bay, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Leto, Plant City, Sickles, Spoto
At stake: Top four finishers in each event advance to state meet, May 6 in Winter Park