Gibbs kicked off its summer 7-on-7 schedule Saturday in impressive fashion at the 7on7U Florida Shootout at Otis Andrews Complex in Plant City/
The Gladiators dropped their only game in untimely fashion, but left coach Antonio Knox pleased with the performance.
Despite missing a handful of key players, including top defensive back Albert Laskett, Gibbs was 4-0 in pool play and entered single-elimination bracket play as a No. 1 seed before dropping its first game to eventual runnerup Jefferson by two points.
The Gladiators had beaten Jefferson in pool play, as well as Plant City, Lakeland Kathleen and Robinson, but the rematch came down to a last-second play at the goal line, Knox said.
"Overall I was very impressed,'' Knox said. "When we were challenged, we came back and answered. I think we earned some respect. Teams that didn't know about us found out real quick.''
Knox said his starting quarterback, Patrick Jones, maintained his hold on the job he won in the spring, but Emmanuel Stewart stepped in and had an excellent day throwing passes, too.
"Jones is, coming out of spring, the guy that will be leading us at quarterback,'' Knox said, "but Emmanuel got the hot hand. He was really impressive. He had some great decision making. So Stewart got a little more work.''
Stewart, who is still looking for his first college offer, was also top notch on defense locking down opposing wide receivers, and out of the backfield caught balls and showed no ill effects from a torn ACL suffered last fall.
Knox said Stewart, who is expecting to be a 1,000-yard running back for the Gladiators, has been like a man possessed this offseason, calling and texting him every day. "He wants me to push him,'' Knox said. "He is a kid who is very, very hungry, and we're going to feed him.''
Dixie Hollins hasn't been a regular participant in 7-on-7 tournaments recently, but the Rebels posted victories over Tampa Freedom and an all-star squad called Next Level in Plant City.
But Shannon Brooks, the Rebels' offensive coordinator, wasn't so much looking for wins as hoping to build a winning attitude for the fall.
"What I wanted to do was give our kids more chances to compete,'' he said. "We put them in competitive scenarios in practice, but it's not the same. There's nothing like going against someone else to get the juices going. You can't replicate that competitive aspect.''
Brooks was most interested in the performance of his two quarterbacks: Drew Boylson and rising sophomore Tyrie Adams, whom Brooks said looks like he has grown 3 inches since the spring game.
Both had their moments Saturday, though neither was able to gain a foothold on the starting position, a battle that has been waged since the beginning of spring practice.
"They are dead even,'' Brooks said. "One week we're thinking one way, and the next week were thinking the other day. We'll need the entire summer to figure this out.''
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Eagles lineman impresses out west
East Lake offensive lineman Mason Cole went to the West Coast for camps over the weekend and came back with offers from Stanford and Southern California.
Cole, a junior, is one of the area's most recruited linemen and now has offers from more than 15 Division I schools, including Florida, Florida State, Michigan and Ohio State.
"There are not that many of the big schools left that have yet to offer," coach Bob Hudson said of Cole. "Probably Alabama, LSU and Oregon to name a few. And there's interest from some of them, as well."
Staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.