When pondering a name for their yet-to-be-born son in Ogden, Utah, in the summer of 1992, Jerome and Kimberly Gage wanted something distinctive, perhaps a bit unique. They liked Kevin, but that didn't possess the zing they sought. Tevin did. Voila. "His mom kind of wanted him to have his own identity," Jerome Gage said. Today, he does, and the reasons go beyond the name or date (Sept. 11) on his birth certificate. Tevin Jerome Gage could be named John J. Doe and it wouldn't change the fact this Bloomingdale senior is a sleek, striking, singular presence in local high school soccer. Quite simply, there's no missing the 5-foot-9 dynamo in dreadlocks accented by a white headband.
"He'll make defenders fall down," Bulls second-year coach Troy Smith said.
If you're trying to pinpoint the reason for Bloomingdale's ascension to the county's upper tier this season, forget it. From center/midfielder Paul Snyder's stabilizing force to the ranginess of 6-foot-3 junior goalkeeper Austin Spagnola to the way balls shoot off Matt Firestine's right leg as if they were spring-activated, explanations abound.
But the prolific catalyst has been Gage, who enters this week's Class 6A, District 8 tournament as arguably the area's hottest player. In five games at last week's Wharton Invitational, which the Bulls (14-1-3) won, Gage scored 10 goals to give him 23 for the season.
"He'll pull two defenders with him all the time, and a lot of the time he'll still score," said Smith, who installed a 4-4-2 formation this year so Firestine (10 goals, eight assists) could move up top and complement Gage. "I mean, he's that good on the ball. He's not a power shooter, he's not a long-range shooter, but anything close he's going to finish his chances."
Gage does it with speed and deft footwork honed through years of club competition at various levels. He won an age-group state title with the under-13 Tampa Knights (now RSL Florida), and these days he makes the daunting commute from east Hillsborough to Pinellas County for periodic training with the Clearwater Chargers.
"I guess my style is more like, I'll go at them, do my moves and get closer to the box," Gage said. "Matt, once he gets his opening he takes his shot, more like a true forward I guess you could say."
Combine those complementary offensive elements with a stronger midfield and a defense no longer bending, and the result is a team starting to forge a clear identity.
Much like its top playmaker.
"Just hard-working guys, they jell together," Smith said. "Last year we had six ties, and in all six ties we gave up the lead late. I think they've matured, and I think they're coming together this year."
6A-8 at Bloomingdale
Tuesday: Alonso (4) vs. Brandon (5), 7 p.m.; Wednesday: Plant (2) vs. Wharton (3), 6; Bloomingdale (1) vs. Alonso/Brandon winner, 8; Friday: final, 7
5A-9 at King
Monday: Sickles (2) vs. Chamberlain (7), 7; Tuesday: Freedom (4) vs. Leto (5), 6; King (3) vs. Hillsborough (6), 8; Wednesday: Sickles/Chamberlain winner vs. King/Hillsborough winner, 6; Gaither (1) vs. Freedom/Leto winner, 8; Friday: final, 7
5A-8 at Plant City
Tuesday: Riverview (3) vs. East Bay (6), 4; Durant (2) vs. Armwood (7), 6; Newsome (4) vs. Tampa Bay Tech (5), 8; Wednesday: Riverview/East Bay winner vs. Durant/Armwood winner, 6; Plant City (1) vs. Newsome/TBT winner, 8; Friday: final, 7
4A-9 at Lennard
Monday: Jefferson (4) vs. Strawberry Crest (5), 6; Jesuit (1) vs. Middleton (8), 8; Tuesday: Steinbrenner (2) vs. Blake (7), 6; Robinson (3) vs. Lennard (6), 8; Wednesday: Jesuit/Middleton winner vs. Jefferson/Strawberry Crest winner, 6; Steinbrenner/Blake winner vs. Robinson/Lennard winner, 8; Friday: final, 7
3A-10 at Berkeley Prep
Wednesday: Clearwater Central Catholic (2) vs. Tampa Catholic (3), 5; Berkeley Prep (1) vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (4), 7; Friday: final, 7
2A-10 at Shorecrest
Monday: Sarasota Out of Door (2) vs. Keswick Christian (7), 5; Bradenton St. Stephen's (1) vs. Cambridge Christian (8), 7; Tuesday: Bradenton Christian (4) vs. Northside Christian (5), 5; Shorecrest (3) vs. Admiral Farragut (6), 7; Wednesday: Shorecrest/Admiral Farragut winner vs. Out of Door/Keswick winner, 5; St. Stephen's/Cambridge winner vs. Bradenton Christian/Northside winner, 7; Friday: final, 7
Monday: Carrollwood Day (6) at Indian Rocks Christian (3), 6; Hernando Christian (7) at Bishop McLaughlin (2), 6; Calvary Christian (5) at Academy at the Lakes (4), 6; Tuesday: Carrollwood Day/IRC winner vs. Hernando Christian/Bishop McLaughlin winner, at Tampa Prep, 5; Calvary Christian/AATL winner at Tampa Prep (1), 7; Friday: final, at Tampa Prep, 7
2A-8 at Winter Haven All Saints' Academy
Monday: Winter Garden Foundation (4) vs. Leesburg First Academy (5), 5; Seffner Christian (3) vs. All Saints' Academy (6), 7; Tuesday: Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic (2) vs. Seffner/ASA winner, 5; Lakeland Christian (1) vs. Foundation/First Academy winner, 7; Friday: final, 7