By Kyle LoJacono
If the Gaither football team is on offense, Shug Oyegunle is on the field.
Which position he’s at is much less certain.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior has lined up at every offensive position during his time with the Cowboys except on the line while also returning punts and kickoffs.
He led the squad with 526 yards on 64 carries and five touchdowns while adding 265 yards on 12 catches and another three scores. Add in 178 return yards, including a 99-yard touchdown, and completing 15-of-37 passes for 257 yards and two scores, and Oyegunle showed that he is one of Tampa Bay’s more versatile football players.
He even makes Gaither’s defense better.
“Going against Shug, he’s the fastest guy around here,” said senior linebacker Dom Neglio. “He’s speedy. … Going against him makes us learn how to take the right angle and makes us build our speed. If we can catch them, we can catch anyone in the county.”
Oyegunle first took the gridiron at age 7 with the Citrus Park Bills with the goal of emulating his older brother, Yemi, who is entering his senior year playing linebacker at The Citadel.
“I just wanted to follow his footsteps,” Oyegunle said. “He’s been the biggest inspiration in my life, and I’ve always wanted to be like him.”
Oyegunle played mostly on offense while in youth football, including significant time at quarterback. When he started at Gaither he expected to one day be the signal caller; he just didn’t think it would be at age 14 and less than a month into his freshman season.
He played mostly slot receiver early on, but made the move under center three games into his first year.
“I expected to play quarterback at some point in high school, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen so fast in my freshman year,” Oyegunle said. “Just having the opportunity to start in my freshman year was a really good thing getting that experience.”
Oyegunle stayed there the rest of that season and his entire sophomore campaign. He went a combined 139-of-350 passing for 1,947 yards and 14 touchdowns while adding another 462 yards on 183 carries and five scores.
Oyegunle was preparing to again play quarterback going into last season when the squad picked up a big addition — 6-foot-2.5, 190-pound Wesley Chapel transfer Alex McGough.
McGough started for the Wildcats as a freshman the year before but expected to sit behind the established quarterback. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Oyegunle recognized how much better the squad was with both of them on the field at the same time.
“As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters to me,” Oyegunle said. “I don’t care where I’m playing as long as we win.
“When Alex came in, I was happy because I’ve been waiting for someone to play that role in this offense,” Oyegunle continued. “It was a really good thing for us that he came here. Honestly everything came out right. … When he first came, I tried to make him as comfortable as possible. I told him everything about our offense so that he could play that role as our quarterback.”
McGough added, “It made it easy for me. He was very receptive of me coming in. He was fine being our all-around athlete. It put us both in a position to excel. He’s one of my best friends. The chemistry we have is really good.”
Gaither coach Jason Stokes, who was also in his first year with the program in 2011, said Oyegunle’s attitude set the tone of being unselfish for the rest of the team.
“Just doing whatever it takes to win,” Stokes said. “People saw that if our quarterback can give up anything to make the team better, then they need to do whatever it takes too.”
Oyegunle played a lot at quarterback early last season as McGough transitioned to the program and learned the offense. By midseason, it was McGough under center with Oyegunle moving all over the field.
“Shug is such an athlete that anywhere you put him he’s going to make a difference,” Stokes said. “Now the team has to worry about a good quarterback, a good running back and receiver. It makes it more of a headache for defenses having to deal with him and follow him around the field.”
The squad took off after that, going 9-4 and made the regional finals for just the second time in the program’s 27-year history.
This offseason, Oyegunle has been 100 percent preparing to play running back and receiver, but added teams will still have to respect the potential of him throwing the ball.
“I love being able to do that, and we’ve got some packages where I can still throw it, like as a halfback toss,” Oyegunle said. “I know I can still do it, and if people aren’t paying attention we’ll really be able to burn them with it. That makes us more dangerous I think.”
Oyegunle has received 13 scholarship offers to play in college, including from Division I programs like Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, Navy and Ball State.
Stokes said the colleges like Oyegunle’s unselfishness, versatility and 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash. The senior is thrilled with the prospects of playing at the next level, but is more energized about what the Cowboys can do this season.
“This is so exciting,” Oyegunle said. “We’ve got a lot of really good players on offense, the defense is looking really good and we’ve got great coaches.”
Oyegunle and Gaither host Leto for their home opener on Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m.
—Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches