TAMPA — Ronnie Cottrell freed himself from a pair of beaming parents, eluded reporters holding microphones and cut a beeline toward one of the forlorn Robinson Knights standing near the end zone Friday.
The Tallahassee Godby head coach swiftly sidled up to the player he was looking for, running back Martin Ruiz.
“Keep your head up,” Cottrell told Ruiz. “You’re going to college to play.”
Cottrell, referred to in some circles as the “architect of the Florida State dynasty,” knows a college football recruit when he sees one.
In the 1990s, Cottrell brought some of the nation’s most talented players to Tallahassee: Derrick Brooks, Marvin Jones and William Floyd. Today, Cottrell is coaching at least a half-dozen college prospects, including senior running back and Kentucky commit Khalid Davis.
But Cottrell said he saw something special in Ruiz, who rushed for 56 yards and caught a pass for 20 more.
“He’s just a tremendous player,” Cottrell said. “He’s one of the best RBs I’ve ever seen at this level.
“He makes yards when there’s no yards. He was the difference in the first half.”
Ruiz, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior who finished the season with nearly 1,600 yards of offense and 17 touchdowns, received his first college offer this week, to Youngstown (Ohio) State.
Robinson coach Mike DePue said he expects more offers in the following weeks.
“That’s my job now,” said DePue, who coached his final game Friday.
Crossing enemy lines: For the first time in recent memory, Armwood coach Sean Callahan and Plant head coach Robert Weiner and a handful of Panthers assistants took in the view from the Robinson sideline during a game.
“Some folks in this section don’t seem to like me here,” said Weiner, gesturing toward the black-clad crowd in the stands.
It took an unusual set of circumstances to bring Callahan, Weiner and other coaches from his staff to Jack Peters Stadium, home stadium of their south Tampa archrival.
First, Armwood and Plant had to already be out of the playoffs — an uncommon occurrence in recent years. Second, Robinson still had to be alive in the postseason. Third, well, they needed an invitation.
The coaches were there mostly to support DePue, realizing it might be the last game of his head coaching career. Callahan even wore a black sweatshirt and white shorts, a show of solidarity with the Knights.
“I’m happy for” DePue, Callahan said.
“Our competition has made us great friends,” Weiner said.
Favorite target: Zain Gilmore didn’t throw a pass until Robinson’s 14th offensive play. And it was intercepted.
But once he got into a groove, Gilmore started hooking up with an unlikely target: senior placekicker Cody Hodgens.
Hodgens finished with three receptions for 79 yards, including a 36-yarder and a 27-yarder on a pair of scoring drives. He also kicked two field goals in the 24-20 loss.
“I wish I could do this all over again,” said Hodgens, who was choked up after the game. “I love all these guys so much.”