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Tampa Bay QB Challenge: Clearwater's Bryant on top

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Sun. April 19, 2015 | Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam

Tampa Bay QB Challenge: Clearwater's Bryant on top

TAMPA — Two years ago, Clearwater High’s Garrison Bryant finished third in the Tampa Bay Quarterback Challenge, losing top honors by just a few points.

The rising senior was participating in the event for the last time Sunday. He distanced himself from the other seven quarterbacks in the finals by putting on a gunslinging exhibition. Bryant was the only one to hit every target, and capped off his winning performance by launching a lengthy pass into a basket. 

“This title is something I’ve wanted for a while,” Bryant said. “I’ve been expecting it for the past three years. I didn’t have the best day last year, and (Sunday) I had a feeling that I was going to get it.

“I felt like I had it throughout the day. I struggled during warmups, but I think as the competition started I was lights out. I took what the coaches said as a confidence builder and threw my best in the late rounds.”

The event, organized by the Kaleo Quarterback Academy and DeBartolo Sports and Events, was held at the University of Tampa and had 108 quarterbacks competing. 

Bryant, who works with Kaleo in the offseason, was among the more experienced quarterbacks in the competition.

“Garrison’s performance in the gauntlet (the final drill) won it all,” Kaleo said. “He got a point on every target, which is, to be quite honest, something I expect from him. He’s one of my students, and I put him through so many drills that finally this year got out of his nerves and was locked in. He had been saying to me since this time last year, ‘I’m going to win it.’”

Even the trophy seemed made for Bryant to win. Unbeknownst to Kaleo, the trophy he purchased was a statue of a quarterback with the No. 4 written on the back, the same worn by Bryant with the Tornadoes.

Bryant said the trophy will give his team — and his recruiting process — some momentum going into the spring. 

All that was halted last season when Bryant broke his collarbone in the third game. He finished with 694 yards passing and four touchdowns. 

“Hopefully this will carry over and we can showcase the skills as an offense and defense and just show the hard work we’ve put in the past three to four years to build this program,” Bryant said. “And to show where we’ve come. It could be something special.”

Bryant does not have an offer yet, but he said UCF, Duke, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Ohio, USF, Syracuse and Wake Forest are all expected to watch him at practice this spring. 

“I think the injury hurt and screwed my recruiting process up a bit,” Bryant said. “I’ll be camping a lot this summer. I think the schools coming are all great. They’re just addressing to see how I’ve come back from the injury and if I can throw it like I did last year when they came down.” 

A NEW EXPERIENCE: While many of the quarterbacks competing in the challenge were repeat participants, Lennard freshman Devin Black said Sunday was the first time he’d ever performed drills like that. 

But for a first-timer, Black more the held his own.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound rising sophomore competed well enough in the preliminary events to be named one of the challenge’s eight finalists, joining other area high school quarterbacks like Plant’s Kyle Trina, Wesley Chapel’s Austin Sessums, Durant’s Carlton Potter and Bryant. 

Black, who first learned about the challenge on Facebook, said he especially worked on getting the ball out of his hands quicker during Sunday’s drills. The toughest part, Black said, was the throwing drill, in which Kaleo shouted out a math equation, and the quarterback on the run would have to solve it to decide which target — one, two or three — to hit with a pass.

“That was the first drill I’ve done,” said Black, who passed for 1,872 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Longhorns last season. “When they told me the math problem I had to figure it out. And if you didn’t know you guessed and hope you got it right.”

Kaleo said he had only seen Black’s film online before the challenge, but compared his style to Chris Oladokun, the USF commit who transferred from Alonso to Sickles two weeks ago. Kaleo trains many of the quarterbacks who competed Sunday, including three of the finalists, but said he enjoyed getting the chance to watch Black in action for the first time.

“I really tried to get him to come out because everyone’s been telling me ‘You have to take a look at this kid,’” Kaleo said. “I think he’d be good to get into a training situations, because I think he has a chance to be a special quarterback in the area for sure.”

PROVING HIS WORTH: Last season, Wesley Chapel quarterback Sessums had a breakthrough performance, throwing for 902 yards and setting a school record with 11 touchdown passes for a program that has traditionally relied on the run.

This offseason has been particularly rough for the Wildcats with several players transferring to other schools. Sessums, a rising junior, is working with Kaleo for the first time in the offseason.

“I came out here and competed and did well,” Sessums said. “I showed out last year. It’s been tough in the offseason, we’ve lost about 15 guys to other schools. I’m just just trying to lift as much as I can and get up to about 180 pounds this season. My goal is to throw for 20 touchdowns.” 

YOUNG GUN: The challenge featured quarterbacks from classes 2016 through 2019, with two from each class making the final round. Durant freshman Potter may have been one of the younger athletes to make the finals, but it didn’t stop him from standing out.

Potter, who played JV for the Cougars last season, came in second place in the competition behind Bryant.

Potter, who trains with DeBartolo Sports, said he enjoyed competing against other top quarterbacks and said he thinks he excelled especially in throwing on the run. 

And Potter hopes to continue competing this spring.

The rising sophomore expects to not only make the varsity squad, but have a shot at the starting job. Last season the Cougars were led by senior Erick Davis, who threw for 656 yards and six touchdowns while running for 833 yards and 12 more scores.

“There’s a senior (quarterback) this year, but I definitely think I can compete for it,” Potter said of  the starting job. “I’m excited to go out and compete and put pads back on.”

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