Our eighth annual countdown of the top 100 football players in Tampa Bay — consisting of athletes who attend a public or private school in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando counties. Past performances — spanning the fall, spring and summer — and promise of big things to come are all taken into consideration.
91. Nicholas Syms, Pinellas Park
Position: Defensive line
Height/weight: 5-11, 272
Syms had 10 sacks last season to lead the Patriots. Pinellas Park coach Kenny Crawford thinks he may be one of the most underrated linemen in the county.
His father, Neil, used to be a chef at the Bayou Club in Largo. He said his dad can cook just about anything, especially steak. “When he makes it he knows to give me the biggest one and then I’ll eat half of his.” As a defensive lineman who wants to gain weight, having a chef for a dad is not the worst thing. What’s the favorite thing his dad makes? “I would call it a S’mores pizza. It’s basically a chocolate chip cookie with marshmallows on top and this golden brown crust. Really good.”
Facts and figures
Most high school students either like math or English. Syms said he likes both. “I think of math like football. It’s got all these angles you have to figure out. And with English, I really like reading books. I wouldn’t say I’m a bookworm, but I do like to read. I like Hawthorne the most.”
His first position as a high school football player was as a center on junior varsity. It didn’t take him long to figure out that position wasn’t quite the right fit. “I wasn’t feeling it. I’ve got a little bit of hitting in me. So every day after practice I would go home and practice in my backyard. I would tackle one of those punching dummies that bounce back. I’d do it until I was called in for dinner. I still do that.”
Give him a chance
Syms has an offer from Warner University in Lake Wales. His hope is to play Division I-A football, so this season is his last chance to impress college coaches. “Every coach has told me that if I was just 6-1 they would recruit me. I’m like, ‘Just try it now and see how it goes.’”
92. Dedric Hall, Nature Coast
Height/weight: 5-10, 170
Hall is a versatile player who will also be the emergency third-string quarterback. He was used mostly at receiver on offense and caught 20 passes to lead the team. On defense he had an interception and six pass breakups.
His nickname is “Hollywood.” He got it while in middle school and it stuck.
Hall was an only child until three years ago, when his baby brother was born. He said he is still getting used to having another sibling around the house. “He’s kind of a pain sometimes, but he’s all right.”
Always on the go
He keeps himself very busy, not only in the summer, but through the school year. He plays on both the varsity football and basketball teams. On a typical summer day, he’ll work out with the football team, then practice or play in tournaments with his summer basketball team. He said football is his main sport. While he will play on both sides of the ball, he does favor one position over the other. “I like them pretty much the same but if I had to pick one I would probably say defense. “I think I like the contact.”
93. Tristan Kistler, Seffner Christian
Height/weight: 5-10, 200
A member of the varsity since his freshman year, Kistler is now captain of the defense. He was by far the team’s leading tackler with 133 as a junior. He said he has tried to bulk up in the offseason and is now at 200 pounds for the first time in his life.
Brains and brawn
Kistler has always done well in the classroom, and he doesn’t care who knows it. It’s right there on his Twitter page. He has a 4.0 grade-point average, a 1290 on his SAT and a 30 on his ACT. Take note, college coaches. “My parents have always stressed academics over athletics and I’m glad they did. If I wanted to be on the football field then I had to do it in the classroom.” He said he would like to study engineering in college and focus on either civil, mechanical or aerospace engineering.
The next step
With his good grades, Kistler has more options than most student-athletes. He realizes that he may be undersized, but he spent two weeks in June going to camps to prove he can play. He attended camps at Mercer, Georgia Southern, LaGrange and West Georgia in early June. Later in the month he went to Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, Princeton and Columbia. “My top goal right now is to play Ivy League ball. But I’m completely open to any school right now. I’m looking for the best fit for me.’’
Help from big brother
When he was a freshman, his older brother, Griffin, was a senior linebacker. He had to go up against him and his fellow seniors and learned how to play the hard way. Griffin is still in town and still a big inspiration. “I didn’t touch the playing field that much (as a freshman). But I was on scout defense and I was going against our first team offense. I’d get knocked down a lot and it kind of wakes you up. I think ultimately that’s what made me realize that I could do this. (Griffin) is a still a huge encouragement for me. He’s still around and comes to every game he can make and he and my dad go over game film with me."
94. Giancarlo Margarejo, Clearwater Central Catholic
Position: Defensive back
Height/weight: 6-0, 175
A Class 3A second-team, all-state selection, Margarejo finished with 56 tackles and a team-leading four interceptions last season. He is the only returner on defense that picked off a pass in 2018.
Margarejo said he puts in as much work in the classroom as he does in the weight room and on the field. He has a 3.26 unweighted grade point average and is taking the SAT in August. “I try to find as much time as I can, and I make sure that I have every piece of information that will be on a test,” he said. Margarejo also spends about 1-2 hours a day — six days per week —working out.
The one thing Margarejo said he values most is family. His older brother, Giovani, a former football player and track runner at CCC, is his biggest role model. “Ever since I can remember he’s always been pushing me to be the best, and he’s always making sure I’m okay and makes sure that our family has everything we need,” Margarejo said of his older brother, who attended St. Petersburg College and is now a valet manager.
Keeping the faith
Margarejo grew up in the Catholic church. He does not attend frequently but said his faith is still strong. Before games, Margarejo says a Hail Mary and has a one-on-one conversation with God.
College options open
Margarejo is trying to drum up college interest by attending camps at Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, Mercer and USF this summer.
95. Deon Silas, Steinbrenner
Position: Running back
Height/weight: 5-8, 170
Silas moved with his mom and sister from Memphis to Tampa two years ago partly to escape a tough inner-city type environment. Silas made friends fast, especially with his football teammates. Last year as a junior, Silas rushed 121 times for 499 yards and eight touchdowns.
The No. 8
Silas has a tattoo of a pool 8-ball under his right biceps muscle, a reminder of the tragic death of his brother, Melvin, who three years ago in Memphis was shot eight times and died eight days after his birthday just before Deon went into the eighth grade. “I had to do something to remember (Melvin).”
During the C-section operation for the birth of Silas, his mother began losing blood to the point doctors believed she might lose her life. In a desperate move, doctors took blood from baby Silas and gave it to his mom — and both survived. “That’s why my family calls me the Chosen One.”
Holding it tight
Silas remembers a particular play from last year against Sarasota Riverview where he broke free for what would have been a tying touchdown, only to have the ball knocked loose. The Warriors went on to lose 14-7. “I should have switched hands. After that fumble I cried for six straight hours. … But I definitely learned from that. Most definitely.” Silas has not fumbled since then. In his defense, teammate Aidan Bitter said Silas shouldn’t be so hard on himself because there was no one on the team who could have broken free on the play the way Silas did.
96. David Wright, Tampa Bay Tech
Height/weight: 5-10, 190
Wright earned the starting job last season as a sophomore, taking over for Michael Penix, who is now at Indiana. Wright threw for more than 1,200 yards in his debut season.
He was attracted to Tampa Bay Tech because of its welding program. He said he has done several welding projects at the school in his first two years and hopes to become a welder once his football days are behind him. “My brother was in it and when I went to high school that’s what I was looking for. That’s what I want to do when I get out of school.”
Wright said he wasn’t sure he would earn the starting job at the beginning of last season. When he finally did, he admitted the first few games were a bit difficult as a sophomore. “I was a little bit nervous at first but it got better.”
He doesn’t have many hobbies, except for maybe playing video games or going to the beach occasionally on his down time. But one thing he never skips in the dog days of summer is picking up a football. “I make sure I throw every day. We have all of our receivers coming back this season so we should be pretty good.”
97. Connor Lenczden, Wiregrass Ranch
Position: Offensive tackle
Height/weight: 6-7, 275
A three-year starter up front for Wiregrass Ranch, Lenczden will anchor an offensive line that will start five seniors, something Lenczden believes will be a recipe for success and a surefire way to build on the Bulls’ 7-4 finish last year.
A different kind of baller
Lenczden used to play travel basketball, taking advantage of his height at center. But after his freshman year in high school, he quit to focus his time on football.
As for hidden talents, Lenczden said he can pogo stick with the best of ’em, a trick he discovered as a kid when his neighbor had one lying around. “I can do it without hands, with one foot. Crazy things for a pogo stick, I guess.”
Lenczden said he began playing football at the age of 7, mostly at his father’s urging. As he got older, though, he grew to love the game. For the most part, Lenczden said, he’s always been on the line. “It really turned into me enjoying the game and enjoying hitting people.”
Lenczden said he has gotten an offer to play college football at the University of West Florida, a Division II team that played its first season just a few years ago. He has also been in contact with coaches at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “The coach told me it’s a club team and they’re trying to make it into a (NCAA sport). They want me to come help and be a part of the team.
98. Tony Bartalo, Gaither
Height/weight: 6-1, 200
Bartalo appears poised for a great senior season, especially after throwing for 1,613 yards as a junior. Expect him to run a little more this season after carrying it only 47 times for 126 yards last season.
Bartalo’s dad, Steve, was a running back for Colorado State and the Tampa Bay Bucs in the late 1980s. At Colorado State, Bartalo, nicknamed the “Battering Ram," set school records for career yards (4,813), career attempts (1,211), single-season attempts (362) and single-game attempts (47). In 1986, he led the NCAA in rushing attempts (362), rushing touchdowns (19) and plays from scrimmage (402).
Bartalo's brother, junior Nick, is a starting linebacker for the Cowboys.
Bartalo played basketball for much of his life before taking the last few years off to concentrate on football. This year, however, Bartalo plans to play basketball, either at guard or maybe some small forward.
Stronger and faster
He may be the quarterback but Bartalo is one of the strongest overall Cowboys, benching 255 pounds, squatting 400, power cleaning 265 and dead lifting 435.
99. Haden Carlson, Steinbrenner
Height/weight: 6-3, 195
Heading into his third-year as the Warriors’ starting quarterback, Carlson, who has committed to FIU, is bigger, stronger and more prepared than ever for an outstanding senior year. It also doesn’t hurt that Steinbrenner has dramatically improved up and down its entire roster.
Carlson played soccer pretty much full-time for eight years of his early life and he says playing “futbol" definitely helped him transition full-time to football, especially when it came to footwork. “Having good footwork is so important for a quarterback. No doubt soccer skills helped make me a better quarterback.”
Seeing the field
Carlson believes playing as a soccer center-midfielder has also helped him see passing lanes better as a quarterback. Carlson said seeing passing lanes in soccer becomes second nature, a skill that has helped him make better decisions and become more accurate under center.
No pressure from dad
Carlson’s dad, Jeff, played quarterback for the Tampa Bay Bucs and the New England Patriots in the early 1990s, but Jeff never pushed his son to play football. “I always hoped he would play quarterback but no, I never pushed,” said the elder Carlson, who gives private quarterbacking lessons to local athletes. “There is a lot of pressure to being a quarterback and it’s something that you have to want to do."
100. Cade Richards, Clearwater Central Catholic
Position: Offensive line
Height/weight: 6-5, 250
One of the anchors on a veteran line, Richards opened holes — and kept opposing rushers at bay — to help CCC average 36 points a game last season. His play in the trenches earned him second-team, all-state honors in Class 3A.
One of Richards’ favorite activities is scuba diving. His mother, Stephania Bolden Richards, is a marine biologist who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Cade learned how to scuba dive four years ago when he was in eighth grade. He has been on excursions to the Bahamas and other islands in the Carribbean. His most memorable trip was to Bonaire, off the coast of Venezuela.
The great outdoors
Richards also loves hiking and hunting. He has gone to Alaska for hiking trips and hunts for elk in Tennessee with his relatives.
Richards is a member of the National Honor Society. He has a 3.8 weighted grade-point average with a rigorous workload that includes three honors and two advanced placement classes. “I also play basketball so it is tough balancing academics and athletics. I get most of my homework done during school or before practice or a game.”
Times correspondents Kelly Parsons and Scott Purks contributed to this report.