TAMPA — His commute to Freedom High runs along a rural two-lane stretch of State Road 52, continues south on Interstate 75 and culminates at the congestion of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in New Tampa.
On a typical day for Tyler Guy, the trip in his silver GMC Sierra pickup takes about 30 minutes from his Dade City house. By contrast, Zephyrhills High, where Guy spent his first three years of high school, is 10 minutes tops.
"(Zephyrhills) is where all my friends were," Guy said. "I mean, I had no plan on moving."
But for the sake of his football future, Guy felt he had no choice. Last spring, a new Bulldogs coach staff had implemented a triple-option offense woefully ill-suited for a 6-foot-6 pocket passer such as Guy. By spring's end, he had been banished to the offensive line. As a result, one of the most recognizable faces in the ZHS hallways — a freshman class president, student council rep, three-sport standout — hopped in his truck and hit the road.
At the end of that I-75 exit ramp, he found redemption.
Tonight at Countryside, Guy starts in his first playoff game behind center, fresh off the best regular season of his career. In nine games (one was canceled by bad weather), he has completed more than 60 percent of his passes for a career-high 1,481 yards with 10 touchdowns and only five interceptions. What's more, he has displayed a mobility (51 carries, 303 yards) practically never seen at Zephyrhills.
And the Bulldogs? Jerrell Cogmon, the coach who employed the triple-option and switched Guy to the O-line after the spring game, was dismissed before ever coaching a regular-season contest following an investigation into recruiting allegations. With a pair of interim head coaches, Zephyrhills finished 2-8.
"It reassures me that I made the right choice to leave," Guy said Wednesday before practice.
"But to be honest, I don't think (Zephyrhills) would've made the playoffs if I had been up there. I definitely think I made the right choice. All the coaches are good, we've got a pretty decent team. We needed that eighth win though; 8-2 sounds a lot better than 7-2."
Debate, if you will, about whether school choice was implemented to allow kids to move for athletic reasons. For Guy, this was akin to a musical prodigy moving to a school with a better band program or an honor student switching to an International Baccalaureate school.
He wanted to further his dream of earning a football scholarship. At Zephyrhills, that dream seemed all but dashed.
Guy had thrown two interceptions in the Bulldogs' spring-ending intrasquad game while his younger brother, Jacob, had thrown for 127 yards and two touchdowns. A few days later, according to Guy, he and the rest of the Bulldogs were finishing a team meeting when Cogmon began writing an offensive depth chart on a white board. Jacob's name was atop the quarterback depth chart. Tyler's was written in at tight end.
Tyler said Cogmon never discussed such a position move with him before the meeting. "I was about to go, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's going on here?' " he recalled. "I mean, of course I wasn't happy a triple-option guy came in, but I was doing everything he asked me. … I wouldn't say I was a world beater but I was improving every day."
Cogmon told the Times shortly thereafter that he felt Jacob, who transferred to Pasco when his brother left the school, was a better fit for his offense, adding none of the college scouts to whom he had spoken projected Tyler as a quarterback.
"Everyone's coming in and taking a look at him," Cogmon said, "but he's not getting any offers."
Interest has increased, if only slightly. Guy said he has received overtures from Division I Ohio University and I-AA Charleston Southern. A dual-enrollment student who takes two courses at Pasco-Hernando Community College, he owns a 3.96 GPA and is set to graduate in January.
On the field, he has made significant strides, especially with his feet. After spending the previous two years running for his life, as he described it, he is protected by a line that averages 268 pounds. He also gets daily one-on-one tutelage from quarterbacks coach John Cartiglia.
"If you're running for your life for two years, you're not going to work on your mechanics," Cartiglia said. "You're just trying to survive."
Today, Guy's feet are finally planted, in a two-story school tucked away in Tampa Palms.
"Now," he said, "this is my school."