Before this season, DeShawn Smith had put up modest rushing numbers with 2,282 career yards, including 1,498 last season.
Those statistics were not enough to suggest that he would even reach 2,000 yards in his senior campaign at Nature Coast.
But Smith defied logic. The 5-foot-8, 185-pound dynamo left everyone in disbelief as he raced past defenders and into the record books with breakaway runs.
To get an idea of just how rapidly Smith was able to pile up yards, consider that he topped last year's rushing total by the sixth game of the season. By Week 9 he had already gained more yards than in his previous three seasons combined.
There were 200-, 300- and 400-yard games. And touchdowns galore. Smith ended up leading the nation with 3,715 yards and 60 touchdowns on the ground. His 66 touchdowns rank third-best all-time nationally in a single season.
Along with the yards and the touchdowns came a lot of wins. Nature Coast, led by its electrifying back, finished undefeated in the regular season for the first time and won its first two playoff games in program history before losing to Green Cove Springs Clay in the Class 5A region finals.
Smith's performance was so good this season that Parade magazine has him listed as one of the top 10 players in the nation regardless of position, and he is a strong candidate to become the national player of the year.
About the only thing Smith was unable to achieve was a big-time offer from a college. He has one from Marshall, as well as some Division I-AA schools. He is waiting on the results of his SAT score and said he likely will sign after national signing day.
"This was a mind-blowing season," Smith said. "It means a lot because nobody thought I would have this type of season. I planned on having it inside my head. I just worked in silence and all those years of training added up for me in the end."
NORTH SUNCOAST OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
RB DeShawn Smith, Sr., Nature Coast
BEST GAME: During a record-breaking season in which 200- and 300-yard games were the norm, Smith said his performance in the Class 5A region semifinal against River Ridge stood out the most. Smith rushed for a season-best 444 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground in a 42-33 win to keep the Sharks' undefeated season intact.
Final stats: Smith put up numbers that are hard to fathom. He led the nation in rushing yards (3,715) and rushing touchdowns (60). His 66 touchdowns overall rank as the third best all-time nationally in a single season.
Best moment: Nature Coast had been to the playoffs before. But the Sharks were winless in three previous postseason appearances. That changed in the region quarterfinals when Nature Coast beat Zephyrhills 42-13. Smith did his part, rushing for 332 yards and scoring five of the team's six touchdowns. Smith said it was memorable not only because it was the program's first playoff win but because it came against the team that knocked the Sharks out of the hunt last year in a district tiebreaker.
Did you know? Smith said he has to wear the same pair of socks he picks out at the beginning of each season for the entire year.
What's next: Smith played his final high school game last week in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association all-star game. He has a handful of offers from schools such as Charleston Southern, Eastern Kentucky, Florida A&M, Marshall and Western Illinois.
Quotable: "Honestly I told everyone that I wanted to reach 2,000 yards this season. But I had it in my mind that I could get 3,000 and told just a handful of friends that I could get there. It happened. It's crazy."
TAMPA BAY DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Cory Cotnoir, Sr., Plant City
When the 2015 Plant City season began, it did so with a new coach at the helm. Greg Meyer was promoted from defensive coordinator to replace Wayne Ward in March, and from the start, linebacker Cory Cotnoir said, the rest of the Raiders rallied behind him.
"Everyone bought into the program. We all believed we could actually do something," Cotnoir said. "He motivates us so much, and you can tell he wants to be out there, and it helps get us fired up."
Though it lost its first game of the season to Armwood, Plant City was a defensive juggernaut the rest of the way, holding opponents to an average of just 12.9 points per game.
Cotnoir was a big reason why.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound linebacker led all Hillsborough County defenders with 150 tackles, and he also had a knack for sacking quarterbacks. He recorded three of his eight sacks in Plant City's region semifinal victory against Tampa Bay Tech, the first time the Raiders made it past that round.
"The thing that separates him is the focus and the attention to detail. When he's on the field, he's dialed in. There's no distraction," Meyer said. "Some guys, after a big play, will jump up and down and those kind of things. … Cory controls all that. He stays locked in pretty much the whole time.
"I think that focus is what allows him to find himself in the right position to make a good play."
Cotnoir, who has lived in Plant City his entire life, said he was proud to be just one part of a Plant City defense that succeeded based on a complete-team effort. And though the Raiders fell before making it to the state final four, Cotnoir said his Raiders accomplished just what they set out to at the beginning of the season: doing something special.
"Now going into town and everything — because Plant City's so small — everyone knows you," Cotnoir said. "We made history, really."
Best game: Though Cotnoir had at least 15 tackles in four different games, his best may have been in the Raiders' region semifinal victory against Tampa Bay Tech. Cotnoir recorded 10 tackles and sacked the quarterback three times as Plant City won its first ever second-round game.
Final stats: Cotnoir led Plant City and Hillsborough County in tackles with 150, and he recorded eight of his team's 57 total sacks, two fumble recoveries, a forced fumble and an interception.
Best moment: The Plant City-Durant matchup is usually one to watch, and this year it was no different. The Raiders scored 14 points in the fourth quarter to take the 21-16 victory. "It's our biggest rival, and it was a close game until the fourth quarter," said Cotnoir, who had 15 tackles against the Cougars. "It came down to the line, and we pulled through."
Did you know? While Cotnoir excels on the football field, he also lends a hand on the baseball team, for which he plays leftfield. Last season Cotnoir hit .184 with four RBIs and a run scored.
What's next: Less than a week ago, Cotnoir received news that he had been given a preferred walk-on spot at Florida Atlantic University, a school he visited during the summer with teammate Steven Ogletree. "(Coach Greg Meyer) texted me just to tell me congrats," Cotnoir said of the moment he found out. "It's kind of been my dream school. I've always wanted to go there."
Quotable: "We all grew up playing for the Plant City Dolphins, so we all grew up playing together. Pretty much my brother plays next to me, Steven Ogletree. We're best friends. He's got an offer from FAU so hopefully we'll be able to play college together." — on what made the Plant City defense so strong
HILLSBOROUGH OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
RB Malik Davis, Jr., Jesuit
Best game: Davis averaged 195 rushing yards per game, but against Tampa Catholic — which Jesuit beat for the 16th straight time, 35-20 — he was at his absolute best, rushing for a program-record 357 yards and three touchdowns. "It felt good because I had my whole family there, and of course a lot of alumni and everybody from Jesuit," Davis said.
Final stats: Davis finished the season with 2,337 yards and 28 touchdowns, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. With one year left at Jesuit, he's already the Tigers' all-time leading rusher, beating out former Georgia Tech running back Will Glover, who set the record in 1998. Additionally, Davis, who has 4,556 career yards, is just 1,026 yards from surpassing Ray Ray McCloud III as Hillsborough County's all-time leading rusher.
Best moment: Although he helped Jesuit achieve its first undefeated regular season in five years, to Davis, the most memorable moment was the state semifinal, in which the Tigers fell 28-14 to Orlando Bishop Moore. "Even though we lost … it was challenging, and a lot of people stood up," he said. "We never gave up, and we fought through the whole game."
Did you know? Outside of football, Davis said one of his favorite pastimes is eating. And though he said he likes to eat a multitude of things, there's one restaurant in particular where he can often be found. "I love Red Lobster. I go a lot, probably three times a month," Davis said. "I love the shrimp trio. It comes with shrimp, pasta, baked potato and Caesar salad."
What's next: With one season left, Davis has yet to decide where he'll be playing at the next level, but has gotten lots of interest from schools. He plans to start taking visits soon. "I'm just weighing my options right now until I go up and see it and get a feel for the schools."
Quotable: "It felt great. Even though we didn't win, it was an accomplishment because it hasn't been done. A team never went 13-0 in Jesuit history." — Davis on the Tigers' 13-1 overall record
NORTH SUNCOAST DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
DB Jake Berg, Jr., River Ridge
Best game: In the season opener against rival Mitchell, Berg was all over the field, registering 14 tackles (four for loss), a sack and a forced fumble in a defensive slugfest the Royal Knights pulled out for a last-second 10-7 victory.
Final stats: After playing linebacker as a sophomore in 2014, Berg was moved to defensive back. He still played close to the line of scrimmage to stuff the opposing team's rushing attack. He led the team with 123 tackles, his second straight season of posting at least 100 tackles. He also had three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal.
Best moment: In that season opener, Berg came on a blitz and was able to tackle Mitchell quarterback Larry Dalla Betta by the ankles on a play that set the tone for the game — and the season. "That's just the one play that sticks out the most," Berg said. "He never saw it coming."
Did you know? Berg played baseball for the past 10 years but he is giving up the sport to spend the spring in the weight room to try to bulk up for his senior season.
What's next: Berg wants to play in college. So far, there are no offers, but he hopes that changes with another strong showing in spring football. "I just want to play somewhere," he said.
Quotable: "This season was definitely awesome. We made the playoffs again. We were one play from an undefeated regular season. I was able to make more tackles this year than I did the year before. I can't really look at anything bad."
PINELLAS OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
QB DJ Johnson, Sr., Gibbs
Best game: The dual-threat quarterback left defenders wobbly all season. He saved his best moves for a pivotal Class 5A, District 9 game against Lakewood in which he threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for two more scores in a 56-36 rout. He added a 70-yard punt return for good measure.
Final stats: A whirling dervish at quarterback, Johnson was the ultimate escape artist, wiggling his way out of numerous jams on breathtaking runs and highlight-reel passes. His style was molded after Michael Vick and he uses his legs because at 5 feet 8 he has trouble seeing over much taller defensive linemen. He threw for 2,466 yards and 27 touchdowns, and was just as dangerous as a runner with 898 yards and 13 more scores.
Best moment: The win against Lakewood was big in many ways. Not only was it the first time Gibbs had knocked off its biggest nemesis in six years, but it also clinched the Gladiators' first district title in eight years. "We beat them pretty good," Johnson said.
Did you know? How does Johnson get his source of energy to pull off his assortment of moves? "Syrup," he said. Johnson puts syrup on everything, even hamburgers. "It doesn't matter what brand it is," he said. "All syrup is good. It's delicious."
What's next: Johnson's days of playing quarterback are over. He will become a slot receiver in college and is deciding between Prairie View, Coffeyville and Fort Hays State. He will likely make his decision on Jan. 10, his 19th birthday.
Quotable: "I've never been to the playoffs before in my high school career. To get there was memorable. It was a big stage for us. Without my line and team and coaches and support from family, I wouldn't be able to do what I did this season. I wanted to win in the playoffs, but overall I'm happy."
PINELLAS DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
DL Logan Miller, Sr., Clearwater CC
Best game: Statistically speaking, Miller's best game came against DeSoto County when he registered 11 tackles and two sacks. But his best performance came against two-time defending state finalist Delray Beach American Heritage when he had nine tackles and a sack in a 31-24 loss in the Class 3A state semifinals.
Final stats: With a talented — but thin — roster, the Marauders asked a lot from their starters. Some played out of position. Others were asked to help at multiple positions. Miller did both. Normally an edge rusher, Miller moved inside to lead a unit that did not have much experience. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder obliged, battling against bigger bodies in the trenches. Still, he was among the most productive linemen in the area with 94 tackles and seven sacks. "If Logan stayed on the outside, he probably would have had 15 sacks," coach John Davis said.
Best moment: On a team that was gutted by graduation, Miller helped the Marauders go undefeated in the regular season for the first time, set a school record for most wins in a season (12) and advance to the state semifinals for the fourth straight season. "The last game of the regular season, when the clock struck zero and we got our first undefeated regular season for Coach Davis was a big moment for all of us. It was kind of a relief that we did it and made history as a team," Miller said.
Did you know? Miller is an avid fisherman who heads to the Gulf of Mexico as much as possible for snook and occasionally sharks. He goes fishing as many as eight times a week during the offseason and went on Saturday nights during the season.
What's next: Miller has opportunities to play at Stetson, Southeastern and Warner. He is still waiting to improve his grades and test score to see if something else falls into place.
Quotable: "So many people said it was going to be a rebuilding season, that we were not going to have a good season, we wouldn't make a run to the playoffs. We went out there and proved everyone wrong. … We won so many games and had a great season compared to what people thought we would do."
COACH OF THE YEAR
Bob Dare, Cambridge Christian: Before this season, Cambridge Christian had never even made the playoffs, let alone won a district championship. But in 2015, the Lancers did both for the first time, and they didn't stop there. Though working with a young team, Dare coached the Lancers to an undefeated regular season, and they went all the way to the Class 2A state championship game before falling 61-16 to Jacksonville University Christian. Dare is now 46-27 all-time at Cambridge Christian.
QB Darrian McNeal, Jr., Armwood: Threw for 1,697 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading the 6A state runnerup Hawks in rushing with 1,238 yards and 21 more scores.
RB Chris Schwarz, Sr., River Ridge: Became Pasco County's all-time leading rusher with 5,365 yards. He carried 366 times in 12 games as a senior and gained 2,482 yards and 26 touchdowns.
RB Antwione Sims, Jr., Zephyrhills: Another outstanding North Suncoast back who eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing. Sims carried 164 times for 2,093 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per carry. He scored 24 rushing TDs and also had 234 yards receiving.
RB Devan Barrett, Jr., Tampa Catholic: One of many offensive weapons for the Crusaders, finishing with 1,891 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged more than 10 yards per carry.
RB De'Vonta Smith, Jr., Central: Gained 2,193 yards on 272 carries and scored 19 touchdowns. Central had only 20 rushing touchdowns all season. Smith even played some at quarterback.
OL Felipe Fernandez, Sr., Plant: 6-foot-5, 300-pound USF commit was the only returning starter on an offensive line that allowed the Panthers to rush for 2,521 yards and pass for 1,795 more.
OL Jacquez Lilite, Jr., Armwood: With Lilite's help, the Hawks had their best rushing attack since 2007, averaging 223 yards per contest on the ground.
OL Julian Santos, Sr., East Lake: Duke commit anchored a revamped offensive line and led the Eagles to their seventh straight playoff appearance as a district runnerup.
OL Dillan Gibbons, Jr., Northside Christian: Notre Dame commit was part of stellar line that paved the way for the Mustangs to reach the playoffs for a second straight season.
OL Grayson Stover, Sr., Hudson: At 6 feet 6, 309 pounds, Stover did not let many defenders into the backfield. He has interest from schools like Maryland, Indiana, Vanderbilt and Virginia.
WR Nate Craig-Myers, Sr., Tampa Catholic: Led Hillsborough County in receiving, totalling 1,018 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also chipped in 14 tackles and six interceptions on defense.
WR Matt Landers, Jr., Admiral Farragut: At 6 feet 4, Landers was tough for any defensive back to deal with. He caught 34 passes for 1,038 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. He averaged 94.4 yards receiving per game.
WR Kee Whetzel, Sr., Countryside: A playmaker on both sides of the ball, Whetzel had 1,078 yards receiving and set a school record with 12 touchdown receptions for the district champion Cougars.
ATH CJ Cotman, Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic: Four-star recruit showed off his versatility with 1,566 all-purpose yards and accounted for 18 touchdowns to help the Marauders reach the Class 3A state semifinals for a fourth straight season.
KR Benji Wright, Sr., Largo: One of the state's leading returners, Wright averaged 32 yards per kickoff return and 38 yards per punt return.
K Alex Alhomsi, Jr., King: Alhomsi was a perfect 12-for-12 on point-after attempts, and he made 7-of-10 field goals with his longest 50 yards. He also averaged nearly 42 yards per punt.
QB Trent Chmelik, Sr., Countryside
RB Markese Hargrove, Sr., Plant City
RB Glass Wilson, Sr., Ridgewood
RB Karmi Mackey, Jr., Seffner Christian
RB Mychael Hamilton, So., Mitchell
OL Cass Cole, Sr., Nature Coast
OL Adam Samee, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
OL Jake Moore, Jr., Jesuit
OL Mike Hamilton, Sr., Tampa Catholic
OL Trevon Lincoln, Sr., Central
WR Darius Corbett, Jr., Tampa Catholic
WR TJ Chase, Sr., Plant City
WR Daquon Green, Jr., Tampa Bay Tech
ATH Erin Collins, Jr., Armwood
KR Trevor Laurent, Sr., Armwood
K Tyler Grimes, Sr., River Ridge
DL Zack Quilty, Sr., Jesuit: Had 96 tackles for the Tigers, including 15 for loss, and racked up a team-high 13 sacks for a loss of 96 yards.
DL Cameron Miller, Sr., Sickles: Finished fourth in the state with 22 sacks, an average of nearly 2½ per game. He also chipped in a fumble recovery and a team-high 79 tackles.
DL Jabreel Stephens, Jr., Jefferson: The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder totaled 88 tackles, 19 for loss, and five sacks. In addition, he had two interceptions, five defended passes and a forced fumble.
LB Kyheem Campbell, Sr., Armwood: Led Armwood defensively, totaling 134 tackles, 14 for loss, and 10 sacks for a loss of 39 yards. He also had four forced fumbles.
LB Steven Ogletree, Jr., Plant City: Had 138 tackles, 10 for loss, and nine of the Raiders' 57 team sacks. He also chipped in two forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned 96 yards for a touchdown.
LB Braden Gilby, So., Jesuit: Led the Tigers defensively, recording 128 tackles, 14 for loss, and eight sacks. He also had four defended passes, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
LB Joe Ryan, Sr., Plant: Ryan, who is headed to West Point, had a team-high 123 tackles, 48 for loss. He also had nine sacks and two forced fumbles.
DB Mekhi Lapointe, Jr., Armwood: First-year varsity player led the state with 10 interceptions, and he had 130 return yards. He also had 53 total tackles.
DB Alex Kostogiannes, Jr., River Ridge: Solid tackler, with 54 in 12 games, but he was even better at creating turnovers. He led the Royal Knights with seven interceptions and had three fumble recoveries.
DB Zamari Maxwell, Jr., Pinellas Park: Ball hawk finished with seven interceptions and returned two for touchdowns.
DB Yancy Jenkins, Sr., Brandon: In addition to returning punts and kickoffs, Jenkins was a hawk, pulling in seven interceptions and a fumble recovery while recording 62 tackles.
UTIL Jackie Tucker, Sr., Zephyrhills: Versatile playmaker had 73 tackles and two interceptions. He also had 477 yards receiving and nine touchdowns on offense.
PR Felix Dixon, Sr., Countryside: North Dakota State commit had the ability to come up with big returns, including one score on a punt. He also can wreak havoc by blocking kicks.
P Stephen Yaffe, Sr., Plant: Averaged 41 yards per punt and had four inside the 20-yard line. He also was 23-of-24 on PATs and 6-of-10 on field goals with a long of 38 yards.
DL Javaris Sanders, Sr., Largo
DL Jordon Scott, Jr., Pinellas Park
DL Demetrius Powell, Jr., Blake
LB Jake Hansen, Sr., East Lake
LB Max Kligman, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic
LB Dorien Gooch, So., Tampa Catholic
LB Matthew Robinson, Jr., Nature Coast
DB Craig Watts, Sr., Admiral Farragut
DB Tammarrion Faison, Jr., Plant City
DB Derrick Powell Jr., So., Cambridge Christian
DB Mayson Atkinson, Sr., Jesuit
UTIL KJ Sails, Sr., East Bay
PR Tyrese Spain, Jr., Jefferson
P Brad Orth, Sr., Anclote
Admiral Farragut: Dontell Green. Anclote: Taino Arocho, Braxton Johnson. Armwood: Kevin Richardson, Brian Snead, John Waliga. Brandon: Dakota Trice, Ryan Sass. Blake: Isaiah Rodgers. Boca Ciega: Saiquan Jones, Sam Thompson. Cambridge Christian: Andrew Cunningham. Central: Deandre Hannah, Emanuel Scott. Clearwater: Jaquez Byrd, Garet Chisholm, Zach Hauschild, Jacquez Jones, Adarius Lemons. Clearwater Central Catholic: Amari Burney, John Chiaramonte, Deandre Fitzhenley, Tyler McDonald, Jervon Newton, Jerquan Newton, Jakob Parks. Countryside: Thomas Roman, Wyatt Panaccione. Dixie Hollins: Pro Wells. East Lake: Kyle Howarth. Fivay: Zach Burgarella, Dylan Hartley. Gaither: Decalon Brooks. Gibbs: Jermaine Ivery, Qu'travein Landers, Marquez Walls. Hernando: Christian Dowdell, Bruce Warren. Hillsborough: Michael Hampton. Hudson: Nate Munson, Spencer Shoun, Billy Werner. Jefferson: Jamarcus Harris, Mondreas Lofton, Jackie Moore. Jesuit: Nick Battle, Maddux Corish. Keswick Christian: Asher Thompson. Lakewood: Adrian Adams, Jimmy Faulks. Land O'Lakes: Tommy Farmer, Dylan Hohenthaner, Rashawn Kindell, Justin Kren, Darryus Lowe. Largo: Dakarai Allen, Brandon Drayton, Taj Taylor. Lennard: Jahryn Bailey, Deshawn Barnes, Jalen Harrison. Mitchell: Larry Dalla Betta, Dominic Fiumara, Kyle Galullo, JJ Lewis, Danny Riffe, Adam Rogers, Devontay Taylor. Nature Coast: Hunter Rhineberger, Cameron Syblis. Northeast: Shaquan Johnson. Northside Christian: Demetrius Jackson Jr., Tyler Knight. Osceola: Maverick Abulone, Chad Brittain, Robert Mitchell, Travis Wateska. Pasco: Jamal Mention, Jayvaughn Myers. Pinellas Park: Nate Demint, Dale Foster, Austin Lumsden, Alonzo McCray. Plant: Scoop Bradshaw, Julius Jackson, Tykese Keaton-Baldwin, Michael Murphy, Bo Peek, Whop Philyor. Plant City: Jamal Savage. Ridgewood: Austin Dearsman. River Ridge: Patrick Cook, Brandon Lempfert, Sean White. St. Petersburg: Darius Miller, Liam Keane. Seminole: Brandon Walton. Steinbrenner: Jayquese Dantley, Patrick Lukert, Noah Ruggles. Sunlake: Cris Galdos, Justin Hall, Spencer Jarvis, Joe Russum, Nick Valdes, Derek Walters. Tampa Catholic: Austin Sessums. Tarpon Springs: George Karavokiros, Justin Oliver-Kendrick. Weeki Wachee: Devon Dupuis, Shawn O'Gorman. Wiregrass Ranch: Ryan Scamardo. Zephyrhills: Tre'un Everett, Austin Larkin, Kevin Lee. Zephyrhills Christian: Issac Johnson, Jeremiah Waters.