By Kyle LoJacono
The Gaither flag football team won the District 12 championship in 2009 and was the runner-up last season. The 2011 Cowboys (1-2) look very different, but their goal is the same.
“When I first came here, Freedom was district champs and then the next season, when I was on varsity, we won the district,” said senior Ayanna Fullwood. “Freedom has been at the top of the district for a while, and last year Alonso was a very good team. This year I think it’s up for grabs.”
Gaither went 8-3 last year, but two of those losses came to Alonso which reached the state championship game.
“We’ve made the district tournament each year, but we’ve only advanced one year,” said Gaither coach Bill Agatheas, who took over the program for the 2007 season. “Last year we lost 20-14 to Alonso in the district title game.”
The Cowboys will need to replace several key contributors if they are to return to the district playoffs. Shanel Sweet was Gaither’s quarterback last season, but she transferred to Land O’ Lakes.
Lauren Moore was a starting wide receiver and safety for Gaither last year, but is sitting out her senior campaign after signing a soccer scholarship with the University of Tampa.
Additionally, Agatheas lost his would-be quarterback Caity Chandler, a senior, after she tore her anterior curciate ligament (ACL) in her knee during the last minute of the last game of the girls soccer season.
“We’ve had a wacky year with so much turnover,” Agatheas said. “We’re basically a new team with all new faces except a few. I’ve had a few kids drop out in the past, but nothing like the number we’ve lost this year. It’s just a weird year. The kids are fired up though and want to play.
“It’s on odd year with our roster, but who knows,” Agatheas continued. “Maybe we’ll surprise some people.”
Junior Audrey Trent slides into the quarterback role in her third year on the squad. She said she picked up the game because she plays softball in the Lutz Leaguerettes, which is where she learned how to throw.
“I want to be less nervous the rest of the season,” Trent said. “I want to have fun all year, and I think by having fun, winning just comes in line.”
Agatheas said he is leaning on his senior captains Dobra Hollins and Fullwood to lead the squad. He is also counting on major contributions from freshmen, like wide receiver Kashari James.
“She’s our best receiver,” Agatheas said of James. “She’s only a freshman, and she’s going to be a big target for us.”
Fullwood mainly plays running back and cornerback, but occasionally gets in at quarterback. She started playing the game because it is a stress reliever.
“You have school all day and it’s fun to be able to come out to the field after and release everything,” Fullwood said. “We can leave school behind. It’s really a competitive sport and I’m a competitive person, so it’s the perfect sport to play.”
Hollins, a running back and defensive back, joined the team her sophomore season because she is good friends with Fullwood. She also grew up playing pickup football.
“I would always play football growing up,” Hollins said. “It would be with all boys. I was the only girl playing.”
The two team leaders are hoping for a strong finish to the season.
“I want to finish out as strong as possible,” Fullwood said. “We want to do the best we can and most importantly have fun. It’s my senior year and I want to have fun.”
Gaither next plays at home against Alonso on Thursday, March 31 at 7:30 p.m.