TAMPA — Many of the people in the room at the Columbia Restaurant on Monday night had some kind of relationship with the late Bill Minahan, be it as a member of his family, a former coworker or a past player.
The reason they all congregated in the first place was to honor six students who would never have the opportunity to meet the longtime Hillsborough County coach. They were six students her husband would have been proud to know, Martha Minahan said.
“He took extraordinary people and made them do extraordinary things,” she said.
On Monday night, the sixth annual awards dinner recognized six athletes — three tackle football players and three flag football players — who were nominated not just for their talent on the field, but for their triumphs off of it.
Steinbrenner running back Deon Silas and Leto’s Anaily Mendoza were selected from the group of finalists for the top prize — a trophy for their school’s trophy case and a $1,000 check. Finalists for the awards included Chamberlain defensive lineman James Ash, Wharton linebacker Edwouens Marcelin, Steinbrenner flag football quarterback Jacqueline Figueredo and Robinson flag football wide receiver Emily Kemp, all of whom received $500.
During the 90-minute banquet, people who knew Minahan well swapped stories about the 38-year veteran coach who played football at the University of Tampa before leading Jesuit to a state championship in 1968. Minahan died in 2013 at the age of 84, nearly 28 years after receiving a kidney transplant.
“I’m grateful and I’m thankful for this award,” said Silas, who rushed for 985 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Warriors last season. “I learned about Bill last month, and I heard he was a great man, on and off the field.”
As far as Steinbrenner coach Andres Perez-Reinaldo is concerned, the same can be said for Silas.
The junior lost his older brother four years ago and grew up in a rough environment in Memphis, Tenn., before he moved to Tampa as a freshman to live with an aunt and uncle. Since then Silas has brought his grades up and received offers to play college football.
Mendoza, Monday night’s other big winner, was recognized, in part, for giving back, having put in more than 100 hours of community service cleaning up roads around Leto High while excelling in a sport she picked up fast.
“(Flag football) is my first sport. I didn’t know anything, but my coach taught me from the very beginning,” said Mendoza, who plans to go to college this fall to study nursing. “I love that I’m able to have a relationship with my team and have fun. I’m able to feel that adrenaline the moment that first play starts.”
Every year, the Bill Minahan Award Committee votes for the winner in each category, looking for things like perseverance, loyalty and hard work, Martha Minahan said, all traits her husband was known for possessing.
Perhaps no one in the room Monday knew that more than Leonard George, Jesuit alumnus and running back from Minahan’s 1968 state championship football team.
George, who would go on to become the first African-American player to receive a football scholarship at the University of Florida, was, for a time, the only African-American player on Jesuit’s team. On the way home from an away game one season, Minahan took a bus full of hungry football players to a restaurant for a post-game meal. The owner agreed to feed everyone but George.
“We took off,” George recalled.
It’s the kind of thing about Minahan that’s stuck with him all these years: a goodness that transcends the game of football.
“I think if he was here, he would be so proud, just like he was proud of us for winning that championship,” George said, “to see that these people are basically carrying on his legacy.”