I’m still kind of in awe from that game. It was probably one of the best high school football games I’ve ever attended in my short career as a high school football reporter.
Nick Lutz kicked a game winning field goal to push the Lake Gibson Braves past the Armwood Hawks as time expired in the second round of the 6A playoffs last season. It was the first time in four years that some team other Miami Central and Plant took them down.
Then came that one-point win over Ocala Vanguard. Navarre came, bit more of a blowout. Then there was a 14-6 defensive battle against Miami Carol City that didn’t go in Lake Gibson’s favor. Maybe it was the Rick Ross factor. I’m still not certain.
I have a picture on my phone of the trophy presentation for the state runner-up Braves from that day at Camping World Stadium. The looks on their faces almost look haunting. At least Noah Johnson was still smiling.
December 11, 2016 began the new chapter for the Lake Gibson squad. Renewal was in the air, it was still the holiday season. Time for a new mission (or really one of old): get back to the state championship game.
And this time, win the thing.
But yet, there’s some difficult things going on at Lake Gibson. Kevaris Thomas transferred to Lakeland to go play with the crosstown rival Dreadnaughts under Bill Castle. There’s some rumbling going on over at Lake Gibson, other guys transferring, things of that nature.
Why would you transfer from a team that just went to a state title game, and (was supposed to) return a whole bunch of the guys that got you there?
I spoke with Zach Teter about the whole thing – a big hulking offensive lineman at 6’5”, 280 lbs., a guy who came in towering over juniors and seniors as a freshman. I saw him at the Summer E7 Training Camp, really liked his stuff. Good upside, and he looked as though he would become a quality guy for the Braves. He was the second string right tackle in 2016.
The Lake Gibson offensive line has been traditionally, a very solid, good unit. Chandler Pierce made sure of it. Jarrett Whitehead is making sure that it continues. Teter, just like all the rest, is happy to carry on the tradition. “It’s a great thing to be a part of this offensive line that a lot of people thought was underrated. We’re going to prove ourselves,” Teter said.
Wait – underrated? Who said that? Pierce won the OL MVP award at the Spring E7TC and Xecutives last summer; Whitehead followed it up with a OL MVP at Ignite a few weeks ago. If that’s considered underrated, then I guess Scottie Pippen is the G.O.A.T., not Michael Jordan.
“It’s just the youth of the guys that made people think we wouldn’t be as good.”
Makes more sense when its put that way.
I’m not entirely sure that just the offensive line was underrated, but possibly the whole team was underrated. A first-year HC in Doug DeMyer, first-year starting QB, new faces along the defensive front, a 21-0 loss to Lakeland in the Kickoff Classic, a lot of people may not have taken them seriously at first glance.
Armwood might not have even.
The loss to Carol City still is fresh in their minds, even after a two month removal from the game in O-Town. The Braves aren’t overconfident because they got to the title game, if anything, they’re right back on the trail to that. “The loss really inspired us, we envision getting back to that game, it’s major motivation for us. The chemistry right now is good between all of us, especially that O-Line group,” Teter said. “Coach Underwood has been great helping us out.”
Zach Underwood is the offensive line coach for Lake Gibson. He played his college ball at Samford, getting limited time, but the experience has helped him become a coach that Teter really respects and likes.
“He’s great on the field, but off the field, he always wants to make time to talk to us about anything we want to talk about. He’s always trying to make bonds with the guys,” Teter said. “My size is my curse, because most of the time, the lowest man wins on the line of scrimmage. Coach Underwood is always helping me to stay low and fight against what God gave me.”
Teter’s job isn’t done. Yeah, he’s 6’5”, however, he’s still not a starter. He’ll get the chance to fight for a spot during the spring, and his first test will be against the Manatee Hurricanes in a spring game that looks very promising. We’ll get to see a lot of interesting things about the Braves in this upcoming season.
One of those interesting things will be when Thomas will get to see his old teammates again – we’re promised a Lake Gibson-Lakeland rivalry game that was a long time coming in the regular season.
“Kevaris was a leader for the team, the spot that he held is important, but now we’ve got a lot of guys going for that spot,” Teter said.
There’s still a lot of talent and commitment from these remaining Braves, Teter is excited for the freshmen and a few incoming transfers that are looking good early in the weight room. Travell Jones will be back for Lake Gibson, and Teter will try to help pave the way for his third-consecutive 1,000-yard season. With Lakeland’s AJ Davis off to Pittsburgh and Bartow’s Tim Jordan off to Tennessee, Jones becomes the premier back in Polk County.
That’s a start on the trek back to the playoffs.
Focus on making the playoffs first, focus on getting out of the district: Auburndale will compete, Sebring looks locked and loaded with Brian Lane and Roger Yarde leading the charge, and expect better seasons out of Lake Wales and Lake Region in 2017. Things could get intriguing with the playoff changes.
Even so, a rematch with Armwood may be on the docket. “Armwood is a great rivalry game. Hopefully we can do what we did this season and go out on top if we see them again,” Teter said.
By the way, Lake Gibson does have the reigning 6A Coach of the Year in DeMyer, announced by the Florida Dairy Farmers last month. That’s a pretty solid lineup, even without a couple of big names.
“The mantra is the same as 2016. It’s not about me, it’s about we.”