Friday, June 22, 2018
Hometeam

A ‘force of good’s’ prophesy comes true for FSU’s Jessica Warren

Jessica Warren emerged from the dogpile in the infield, her face beaming, her name forever etched in Florida State softball history.

The former Alonso High School standout had just put the finishing touches on a brilliant college career, earning most valuable player honors after leading the Seminoles to their first national title.

But even in triumph, Warren's thoughts turned to the one person missing: Sherman Johnson.

Warren struggled to hold back the flood of memories from Nov. 26. That was when Johnson, her mentor, died after a four-year battle with lung cancer.

"This season, this title, was dedicated to Sherman," Warren said.

When Johnson was admitted to the hospital during the week of Thanksgiving, Warren flew home to be with her former high school assistant and youth travel ball coach.

Days before Johnson died, he told Warren big things were going to happen this season.

Warren could not imagine just how memorable it would be.

As a senior, she led FSU in just about every offensive category, including batting average (.470), home runs (21) and RBIs (70). She finished her career as the school and ACC leader in home runs (82) and RBIs (273).

Her biggest moments came on the biggest stage. Warren hit homers in three straight games to avoid being eliminated by LSU in super regionals. She made a full-extension diving catch in the opening game of the championship series against Washington, an acrobatic play that was the top highlight on SportsCenter.

Warren became a fan favorite, not just because of the plays she made in the field. At the NCAA's urging, Warren wrote an open letter to softball, thanking the sport for all it has given her.

As Warren wrote, she could not stop thinking about the man who inspired her to play.

Growing up, Warren was devoted to baseball. Her introduction to softball started by accident. She filled in for a softball player who was injured in a Little League game.

The umpire for that game was Johnson.

He convinced Warren to play for his travel team. Warren split her time between the two sports until she was in eighth grade.

At Alonso, Warren had an impressive resume. But it was not enough to get the attention of college coaches.

Enter Johnson. He made a call to FSU's Lonni Alameda, convincing the coach to take a look at Warren.

Johnson drove Warren to one of the Seminoles' clinics. In a 20-pitch audition, Warren made enough of an impression to get a scholarship, the only one she got from a Division I-A school.

But the bond was about more than softball.

Johnson helped Warren navigate a difficult home life. At one point, Warren lived with 11 family members. He also showed her how to adjust her attitude.

"Sherman really became a tremendous force of good in her life," said Jim Wetzel, who became close friends with Johnson after the two coached together on the travel ball circuit.

Warren also became friends with Wetzel and his daughters, Amanda and Megan. To ease the financial strain on her mother, Warren often stayed with the Wetzels.

"It took a village to raise Jessica," Wetzel said. "We were kind of her safety net. Sherman was the one who had the master plan, though."

Warren still looks to Johnson for guidance.

In the College World Series, FSU trailed UCLA 1-0 in the sixth inning.

"I just started looking toward the sky and asking Sherman to show me some kind of sign that would help us pull through," Warren said.

Moments later, former Gaither High standout Elizabeth Mason hit a three-run homer that proved to be the difference in keeping the Seminoles' season alive.

In the hospital, Johnson told Warren that whenever a butterfly appeared in a room, it would be a reminder of him. In the championship series, Warren was about to head on to the field when she spotted a butterfly on a chair.

"It was hard not to cry," she said. "It has been just such a roller coaster of emotions."

After the World Series was over, after the interviews were done, Warren met the Wetzels.

They all embraced.

In that exchange was merely everything important, every truth about caring and loss and letting go.

"Jessie broke down," Wetzel said. "We all broke down. It was very touching. We all just remembered how Sherman has touched all of us."

Comments
Kevin Knox brushes off crowd reaction to take center stage

Kevin Knox brushes off crowd reaction to take center stage

New York Knicks fans are a boisterous bunch. They voice their displeasure at just about everything. Four years ago, the fans booed the team's first-round selection of Kristaps Porzingis, who became an all-star this past season.So it was widely assume...
Published: 06/22/18
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls basketball team

Hillsborough Player of the year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonWhy we picked her: Henderson is the type of player opponents know they have to stop. That has proven easier said than done. The Knights went 22-3 and that record would be much worse with...
Published: 06/22/18
Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

More than a year ago, Kevin Knox stepped across the stage at the Straz Center to receive his high school diploma.On Thursday, the former Tampa Catholic star was on basketball's biggest stage as he fulfilled his lifelong goal of making the NBA.Knox wa...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-North Suncoast girls basketball team

North Suncoast Player of the Year: India Lewis, Sr., FivayFirst teamG Jayde Doucette, Sr., River RidgeG Reagan Huden, Sr., SpringsteadF Andrea Wallace, Sr., SunlakeG/F Ices Utegg, So., River RidgeF/C Seytia Hill, Jr., Weeki WacheeSecond teamG Lyndsey...
Published: 06/21/18
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonFirst teamG Brylee Bartram, Jr., Seffner ChristianG Jacquelyn LeVay, Sr., AlonsoF/G Tarriyonna Gary, So., Carrollwood DayF Tiasia McMillan, So., Carrollwood DayC Kendal Cheesman, Fr., PlantSecond tea...
Published: 06/20/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox poised to become Tampa Bay’s highest NBA draft pick

Kevin Knox Sr. was watching the NFL draft 24 years ago when the phone rang. Buffalo coach Marv Levy was on the other line."Marv said they were taking me," said Knox Sr., a standout receiver at FSU.Soon after, Knox Sr. saw his name scroll across ESPN'...
Published: 06/20/18
Tough questions are mere child’s play for Kevin Knox

Tough questions are mere child’s play for Kevin Knox

Growing up, Kevin Knox II watched videos or listened to motivational tapes during car rides to and from school so he could learn how to expand upon answers in interviews.That was all by design.His father, Kevin Knox Sr., knew about the spotlight as a...
Published: 06/20/18
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Pinellas County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: November Morton, Sr., CountrysideFirst teamG Paris Williams, Sr., LakewoodG Summer Quigley, Jr., East LakeF Toi Smith, Sr., LakewoodF/G Carrie Lee, Sr., ClearwaterC Macey Zeh-Arndt, So., LakewoodSecond teamG Misha O'Neal, Sr., Cou...
Published: 06/20/18
Big Ten reaps recruiting bounty in Tampa Bay

Big Ten reaps recruiting bounty in Tampa Bay

Largo High defensive back Solomon Brown had plenty of college options with offers from 20 Division I-A schools. Still, the three-star recruit did not need to go through a prolonged process to figure out where he wanted to go.Two weeks ago, Brown comm...
Published: 06/19/18
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Hillsborough player of the year: F Eric Ugarte, Sr., Plant CityThe numbers: Ugarte scored 21 goals and added 11 assists to lead the Raiders to their first state title in soccer. He scored 71 goals in his career.Something about Eric: The skilled ...
Published: 06/19/18