TRINITY — The long, blond locks and headband that kept his flowing mane out of his eyes, making him look 12 years old, is gone.
The mane, in fact, is gone.
And he is taller. Bigger. Smarter. Better.
Stevie Weatherford is all growed up.
It took Mitchell 36 heroic, hard-earned, gut-testing admirable plays to score twice in the fourth quarter to take a lead on the Gators.
And each time the Mustangs went ahead, it took Weatherford three plays to put them back behind.
This is how it was supposed to be, all along.
This is how we all imagined it, isn't it?
69 yards to go.
A 13th straight playoff berth on the line.
Land O'Lakes 21, Mitchell 17.
"This feels really, really good," Weatherford said. "I can't even talk right now. I'm just happy for the seniors. Winning for them was bigger than anything."
Grown-up words from a kid who left those seniors in the offseason, for Tampa Catholic, in an unfathomable move that shook the football romanticism right out of some people.
Where the Weatherford family starts — brothers Will (Class of '98), Sam ('01), Drew ('04) and Joe ('06) all starred here — and Land O'Lakes begins is anybody's guess.
But one of them leaving for greener pastures?
Right before Matt Kitchie was hired, the prodigal son returned.
"It still felt like it was my team," he said.
And it is.
"He reminds me so much of Adrian McPherson when I coached at (Bradenton) Southeast; he's special," said first-year coach Kitchie, who in a feat usually reserved for offensive linemen, ran out to the field to pick up his quarterback and carry him back to the sideline after Weatherford's first touchdown pass, a third-down 78-yard strike to Will Irwin, gave Land O'Lakes a 14-10 lead with 8:44 remaining.
The play before that, Weatherford had to scramble for a yard on a busted running play.
And the play before that, the Gators were stuffed for a loss.
"I wanted to try and establish the running game, because in the playoffs we'll need it to win," Kitchie said. "But after that, I called timeout went out there and said, 'That's enough, let's we do what we do best. It's time to chuck it.' "
So Weatherford chucked it.
When Mitchell answered, he chucked it again, first scrambling out of a certain sack and finding Alex Robinson 45 yards downfield.
Next play: 24 yards to Irwin again, 1:45 remaining, touchdown.
"This has to be my best moment ever," he said, and well, duh: he was 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
"Nervous? Maybe a little," he said.
He still has that boyish smile, and he flashed it as he trotted away, right into another hug.
Stevie Weatherford is all grown up.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com