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Bucs lineman has been there before

The sight of 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kevin Deaton taking the mound for Merritt Island today might be a little intimidating for Gonzalez Tate.

But historians will tell you this isn't the first time a linemen ticketed for the University of Florida pitched in the final four.

A 265-pound senior named Brad Culpepper pitched for Tallahassee Leon in 1987. Yep, the same Brad Culpepper who now makes his living as a defensive tackle for the Buccaneers. In fact, Culpepper pitched in three state tournaments, twice for Leon, in 1987 and 1985, and once for Tallahassee Maclay as an eighth-grader in 1983.

"I was better at baseball than I was at football. I really was," said Culpepper, who played youth baseball with Tallahassee natives and current major-leaguers Reggie Jefferson and Dean Palmer.

"Nobody knows it, but I've got a lot of baseball records at Leon High, a lot of pitching records."

Culpepper won more than 30 games as a varsity pitcher, but one of his most memorable performances was a loss to Leesburg in the 1985 state semifinal. A day after his 16th birthday, he struck out 12, walked two and allowed only five hits against the Yellow Jackets. He had a one-hitter through six innings.

But Leesburg's Jac Gelb struck out 16, and the game went into extra innings tied at 1. Culpepper threw 137 pitches before losing when Leesburg scored the winning run on a suicide squeeze in the 10th.

The question lingers: If baseball was Culpepper's best sport, why didn't he pursue a major league career?

"I'm a football guy. I wasn't chopped liver in football, you know," said Culpepper, who was a two-time all-state selection in football.

"Baseball is more junior college or, if you get drafted, going through the minor leagues. In football, I had major colleges recruiting me, and I was a bit enamored by that."

_ ERNEST HOOPER

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