BRANDON — Opponents beware. Those who line up across from Seffner Christian's Ryne Stromsnes this season might want to think twice about crossing the Crusaders' lineman. After all, the junior guard had quite a summer vacation.
Stromsnes 1, Alligator 0.
The story began in a remote area of Loyce E. Harpe Park in Mulberry. Stromsnes and his friend, Daniel Butler, were headed deep into the woods to do some mountain biking. As the pair pulled up in their truck to unload the bikes, a shirtless man in blue jeans approached the vehicle.
"He walked up to the window and asked if we had a knife," Stromsnes recalled. "He said a gator had just killed his dog and he wanted to go get it."
A knife? Stromsnes told Matthew Pope they didn't have one and that probably should have been the end of the already strange story.
"He asked me if I'd watch him," Stromsnes said. "Just in case something happened."
So a random stranger, who had just asked for a knife to exact revenge on a gator, now wanted the two boys to spot him along the shoreline while he tried to "take care of the gator" barehanded?
"Yep, pretty much," Stromsnes said. "He really wanted to get that gator."
The three walked down to the canal bank, and Pope dove in without pause. Stromsnes and Butler waited along the shoreline, but Pope had trouble locating the 8-foot gator.
"Then we saw him and he was using his other dog on the shore to lure him toward the bank," Stromsnes said.
What happened next was predictable. Pope tried to grab the gator, it wiggled free, whipped him with its tail and clamped down on his arm, taking him under. He disappeared for several seconds and Stromsnes, who had already told Pope he would be there in case something happened, was faced with a decision.
"(Pope) went under and the gator started to death roll," Stromsnes said. "We could see his tail flipping around. Three or four times."
So he jumped in. Stromsnes circled the gator and grabbed its tail while the animal still had Pope's arm in its mouth. Butler then joined in and went to grab the gator by its belly. When he touched its side, the gator released Pope and swam off.
"The gator was pretty darn close to taking his arm off," Stromsnes said.
But Pope was far from out of the woods. His arm was mangled. Bone and tissue were exposed. The three were nowhere near medical attention.
"His arm was just dangling and all torn up," Stromsnes said. "It looked like a movie. I used his belt as a tourniquet and just kept tapping on him to make sure he stayed awake."
The boys called 911 and after "about 15 minutes or so" the ambulance finally arrived. Stromsnes has not heard from the man since the July incident.
Stromsnes' coaches and teammates have been predictably poking fun since the beginning of fall practice — but they are aware things might not have turned out so well.
"We all call him Gator Boy and all that," assistant coach Travis Puleo said. "He's crazy, man. But he saved that guy's life. He's lucky Ryne is as brave as he is."