Igniting the Fire: Some observations from Saturday

Isaac Tanner, Freedom, LB, 2013

Success is defined and/or determined by many different factors, but if you had to apply even the most fickle and cynical standards to the 2012 edition of the Ignite you would still be hard-pressed to walk away feeling slighted. Then again, you could say I’m slightly biased. I realize that to some it may seem like I’m being a cheerleader waving my BCP pom-poms in the air leading a session of two-bits-four-bits, but if you weren’t there to see what I saw then you should simply find the shutdown button on your little desktop and go away. Forever. Especially if you’re one of those that complain that there’s a lack of exposure or well-run activities in the Tampa Bay Area for players to get seen.

There have been numerous position breakdowns, questions, comments, concerns, etc. regarding Saturday; now’s the time for me to try and to put the bow on top of the beautifully wrapped present that was presented to us in the form of the athletes that came and worked their asses off in the frigid temps out at Larry Sanders under the lights.

Although the first 2.5 hours of my day were spent on the radio along with our friends at 1010AM and the Sportsmob, I did get to see the main attraction (for me anyways) take place. You can have your bench press, your 40 times, your shuttles, your verticals…all of that. I’ll take the part of the night where we get to see who is the very definition of internally motivated versus going-through-the-motions and quite frankly wasting space. Give me the 1v1’s that occurred on both fields. Give me players that were seemingly lined-up and taking every snap (especially the QB’s/WR’s/DB’s) because they were there to do what these skill positions do whether padded or not….and that’s make plays.

You can call me whatever you want, but to paraphrase one of my favorite human beings ever to exist Sir Winston Churchill, I’ve never suffered from indigestion eating my own words. I REALLY like what I saw from the guys representing Hillsborough County from Strawberry Crest, East Bay, Alonso, Blake and Bloomingdale. Before you Pinellas folks hit me with “HOLD ON PLAYA!” let me just say that the Lakewood’s, East Lake’s, CCC’s, and Countryside’s of the world are going to get the love per usual this summer and fall. Especially come 7-v-7 time. They’ll get their moments for sure.

The one position that excites me the most is the future of QB’s in BOTH counties. My word. It’s damn-near impossible to foresee what’s going to happen, but it sure was fun to walk away knowing that ANY matchup in 8A-6 (Plant, Bloomingdale, Wharton and Alonso) is going to feature some of the best QB’s in the region. The battle between the 3 QB’s I saw for Plant alone would be worthy of a pay-per-view scrap in the octagon.

There’s of course Chase Litton out at Wharton, but I really thought Kyle Ploucher showed some moxie along with a young man who is like the untapped oil reserve in A.N.W.R. of Hillsborough County by the name of Cody Crouse out of Bloomingdale. In fact, I’m on record as saying the Bloomingdale v Chamberlain game I worked opening week was STILL one of my Top 3 games. Oh yeah, Brandon Hawkins out of Alonso isn’t exactly chopped liver either folks.

This doesn’t include guys that I saw in-person during the season like Alex McGough at Gaither, or Vidal Woodruff at Robinson or Nate Mills at Sickles who all have shown what they can do under live fire as well. These young men along with Brandon’s Rayquan Johnson had me feeling like no matter where I’m at this season there’s going to be action. Saturday’s event is exactly why it’s impossible to hide the enthusiasm and deny the existence of legitimate ballers from all over the region from Hernando County all the way down. There were kids from Sarasota County and even Immokalee trying to get in where they could fit in.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that kids like Zach Benjamin from Tampa Catholic, Karel Hamilton at Strawberry Crest along with Leto’s Andre Simpson in addition to Alonso’s Ish Witter will all be visited frequently in the coming months (and years in some cases) by a litany of college coaches.  On the Pinellas side, you can permanently add Tyree Graves from Pinellas Park, Napoleon Maxwell and Toddrick Macon from Admiral Farragut, Troy Olmo from CCC, along with BOTH of the Griffin Twins from Lakewood and last-but-not-least Caleb McCullough of Boca Ciega as kids with momentum headed into spring ball.

The incumbent Pinellas QB’s like Lakewood’s Tracy Johnson and East Lake’s Pete DiNovo were as steady as they come and when you throw CCC’s Blake Gomez into the mix along with Osceola’s Andrew Matyk, and Palm Harbor University’s Tyler Kaminski it’s going to be a party this summer watching them make their progression into the fall. Of course everything changes when August comes around when the cracking of helmets and pads fills the air, but until then I can’t wait to hem and haw over players in shirts and shorts.

Looking at the teams themselves and having a general idea of what’s coming back I’d have to say it’s groundhog day for the fight for playoff spots. In Pinellas, the early exit polls show it’s East Lake, Largo and CCC as the clear-cut favorites in their respective districts (although CCC isn’t a given with Berkeley Prep/TC lurking out there by any means), but the uncertainty (or should I say excitement) surrounds what COULD happen at places like St. Petersburg, Countryside, Palm Harbor University and Lakewood could give us reason to argue day-and-night about whether or not the balance of power could EVER-so-slightly be tipping towards the western shores of Tampa Bay.

We are obviously in the infant stages of the “new” season, but the potential for a quick maturation from the Classes of ’13-’15 could have this region EXACTLY where it needs to be. I’m not naive enough to believe that you can make complete evaluations from tape, combines and 7-on tournaments, but I believe it’s no longer hyperbole nor hot-air, not even smoke being blown up the you-know-what when we can safely assume that this region is as deep as any region in the state.

Just take a long and hard look back at what happened on Saturday. You’ll see. I don’t have to put on my bloomers and tote my pom-poms anymore. Seems some of you have already joined the squad.  Good luck fellas and see you in the spring!