Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Middleton sprinter aims for another important score

Anthony "Shug" Rhynes is charging toward the finish line, knees up and down, arms churning, cleats banging away on the rubber track — bap, bap, bap — with nothing in front of him.

It's just Rhynes and the clock.

Just like always.

Saturday morning, Rhynes took his ACT one more time, hopeful the results will qualify him for college.

He will graduate from Middleton High School this spring, which one time might have been enough.

Now, after a big football season and a county track champion­ship running the 100 meters, he is dreaming bigger.

"Gotta get that score," he says.

In normal circumstances, the combination of 1,200 receiving yards and a 100-meter time in the 10-second range would likely equate to a college scholarship offer.

But Rhynes is still recovering from his first three years of high school, a troubled path that led him from Middleton to Hillsborough to Jefferson to an alternative school in North Tampa back to Middleton.

"Sometimes, I wish I would have been on my game since my freshman year, but I was playing around," Rhynes said. "I could have done all this (football and track) already, but that schoolwork. I was always behind on something. But right now I'm on my game."

In his only full season of high school football last fall, Rhynes was an undiscovered star wide receiver for Middleton. He posted eye-popping numbers — more than 1,200 yards receiving and 32 yards a catch — to earn all-county and all-state honors.

"I kind of surprised myself," said Rhynes, a 6-foot, 200-pounder whose only previous action was a few games at Jefferson. "Coach, he told me, he said you're gonna be the best. And in my head, I was like he's just BS-ing me."

But his second game, when he caught three passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns against Freedom, convinced him otherwise. "That's when I was like, 'Coach, you're right.' "

The big numbers came; the colleges didn't. But Rhynes continued to work, on the field and in the classroom, where he says Middleton's block scheduling gave him more time to catch up while learning.

"This year, I definitely was worried," said his mother, Nothela Walker. "I'm just glad he got this year to play to show what he has to offer. I just hope he gets into college and does something with himself."

After football signing day came and went in February, Rhynes decided to try track for the first time.

He stunned everyone by running his first race in 10.71 seconds, winning at the West Coast Relays.

"I didn't even know what that means, a 10.7; I didn't even know that was fast," Rhynes said.

It was. And he has run faster.

"I recruited him during football season," Middleton track coach Derrick Rackards said. "I saw the aggressiveness, the swiftness and how he ran. Football wise, we didn't know he was going to be that good. But we knew he'd be fast on the track."

At the conference qualifier, he ran a 10.66. At the conference championships, he ran a 10.68. Rhynes, 18, has his sights set on the district meet this week, with thoughts of a state championship swirling around in his head.

He spends an hour studying before track practice and says he is often there until the lights are turned out at Middleton.

His dual-sport heroics could soon draw in some interested schools.

Colleges like Murray State, Ball State and others have expressed tepid interest — waiting on Rhynes to produce a passing test score. Junior colleges have talked to him, though he doesn't want to settle for that just yet.

His grade-point average is a 2.3, and he says it will be even higher when the next set of grades comes out.

"The light has clicked on," Rackards said. "With his changed mindset, and the work he has put in, I think a lot of coaches will want to be taking a second look."

With a fresh start, Rackards says the sky can be the limit for Rhynes.

Keep charging, the coach tells him. Get those knees up and down, keep those arms churning.

The clock is running.

Bap, bap, bap.

"We just wanna see him through the finish line," Rackards said.

John C. Cotey can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.

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