Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. HomeTeam

Quick ascension from fundamentals to titles for Sumner

Less than two years after the program started with no seniors, the Stingrays won a championship in their first season of district play.
Sumner running back-linebacker Keoni Denny, right, is a Division I-A prospect.
Sumner running back-linebacker Keoni Denny, right, is a Division I-A prospect. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]
Published Oct. 28

RIVERVIEW — The football stadium at Sumner High is a sight to see. It’s a silver, kelly green and dark blue (the school calls it ”Victory Blue”) bowl with an artificial-turf field, brand-new banners stripped along the fences and flags waving from the stadium tops.

When you enter, a banner reads, “Welcome to The Tank,” the nickname for the home of the Stingrays.

On Friday nights, The Tank is packed and raucous, with sounds of the marching band blasting through the surrounding neighborhood — a sudden tidal wave of excitement in the school’s second year of existence.

And, already, there has been a lot to cheer about.

Last Friday night, Sumner did something no other Hillsborough County football team is believed to have accomplished: It won a title in its first season playing a district schedule.

The victory, 14-10 over previously undefeated Braden River, sealed a 5-0 record in Class 6A, District 12 and pushed Sumner’s overall record to 7-2.

It’s nothing short of remarkable, considering that coach Alonzo Ashwood started the program with no seniors in the middle of a pandemic less than two years ago.

“In our first days together (in the summer of 2020 outdoor workouts) I asked the kids, ‘How many of you have ever played in a varsity game?’” Ashwood said. “No one raised their hand.”

In the school's second year of existence, Sumner head football coach Alonzo Ashwood led the Stingrays to the Class 6A, District 12 title.
In the school's second year of existence, Sumner head football coach Alonzo Ashwood led the Stingrays to the Class 6A, District 12 title. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

That’s why Ashwood told his assistants they would start by teaching individual fundamentals instead of going into scrimmages and schemes.

“We were teaching things like, ‘This is how you get into a stance.’ and ‘this is how you take on a block,’ and ‘this is how you communicate with your linemen,’ and ‘this is your footwork,’” Ashwood said. “We had no choice but to build from the basics.”

In between, more than 100 players separated into groups and spaced out on fields in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, lifted weights, jumped through calisthenics and ran.

“The coaches had to bring weights, 45-pounders and 25-pounders, because we had no weights,” Ashwood said. “But we got the work in. We did the best we could.”

Just before the 2020 season, Sumner’s schedule was adjusted to include five varsity games and two against junior varsity teams. First-year schools usually play an all-JV schedule, but the pandemic led to scheduling adjustments for many schools. 

The Stingrays didn’t blink. After only a few weeks of preseason practice on schemes, Sumner finished the year 7-1.

“Then when we started (the 2021) season, I heard some people saying last year was a fluke,” Ashwood said. “Well, it sure doesn’t look like it was.”

Sumner quarterback Greg Smith III has led the Stingrays to a 7-2 overall record.
Sumner quarterback Greg Smith III has led the Stingrays to a 7-2 overall record. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

This year, with the help of two Carrollwood Day School transfers, sophomore quarterback Greg Smith III and running back Kylen Webb, the Stingrays stepped it up yet another notch.

Smith, in particular, has shown steady improvement, the sum of his efforts displayed in the victory at Braden River, where he threw for 178 yards and rushed for another 85.

“That was the best game he’s ever played in his life,” Ashwood said. “It’s exciting to think of what else might come.”

But Smith is but one piece of a growing roster that, combined with the junior varsity (which finished this season 5-1), now numbers more than 150.

The defense — led by defensive coordinator George Selvie (formerly of USF and six NFL teams) and including Division I-A linebacker prospect Keoni Denny — has no shortage of talent, which also bodes well for the future.

Sumner’s defense, noted for its swarming style, has given up an average of just 12 points per game.

“We feel confident about everything we’re doing,” Denny said. “It’s exciting to be a part of what’s happening here.”