The athletic talent pool continues to flourish throughout north Hillsborough, and east and central Pasco.
Dozens of local high school athletes signed their letters of intent (LOI) on Feb. 1 to various colleges and universities as part of National Signing Day, held annually on the first Wednesday in February.
Once again, schools in our coverage area were well-represented.
Wiregrass Ranch High School led the way with 13 signings, followed by Land O’ Lakes High with nine. Other high schools, including Gaither and Steinbrenner, featured a handful of signings.
While Zephyrhills High had just one signing, it was arguably the most memorable.
Bursting with emotions and tear-filled eyes, senior running back/safety Antwione Sims signed his LOI to play football at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The day signaled a redemptive moment for Sims, who missed his entire 2016 senior season after tearing his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) last March.
Oftentimes, football players — even those as talented as Sims —have athletic scholarships withdrawn after a serious injury, particularly from Division I programs.
But, Navy upheld its offer.
“It’s a blessing to have (this) opportunity,” Sims said, “because not everyone has that…”
Putting pen to paper marked the end of a “long journey” for the 5-foot-11, 208-pound gridiron star.
It, too, signals the beginning of a new one.
“It’s not about the next four years,” Sims said, “it’s about the next 40.”
Sims, one of the most dynamic athletes in Pasco County, was one of just four football players from the county to sign with a Division I football program.
The others were Wiregrass Ranch quarterback/kicker Chris Faddoul (Florida A&M University) and defensive lineman Jason Winston (Stetson University), and Wesley Chapel safety Ellrie Allen (Florida A&M University).
Sims, though, is the most high-profile prospect of the group.
At one point, the consensus three-star recruit had scholarship offers from nearly a dozen schools.
His recruitment picked up steam after he rushed for a school-record 2,093 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2015.
Despite that production, he won’t likely play in Navy’s offensive backfield.
Instead, he’s expected to contribute in their defensive backfield, as a safety.
Sims noted he started closely following Navy’s football program “ever since they started recruiting me.”
On the surface, he made a solid selection.
Navy, renowned for its vaunted triple-option offense, went 9-5 in 2016. Under coach Ken Niumatalolo, they’ve had a winning season in eight of the past nine years.
Sims’ choice is about more than football, however.
“I feel like making this decision will allow me to set myself up for life,” he said.
A roundup of signings of athletes in our coverage area:
Decalon Brooks—Florida State University
Estefano Feliciano—Old Dominion University (Virginia)
Ben Hickson—Florida College
David Garzon—Florida College
Kasey Heslin—Pasco-Hernando State College
Megan Clark—Tennessee Tech University
Kalijahe Spann—Warner University (Florida)
Tyler Bray—Maryville College (Tennessee)
Land O’ Lakes
Troy Klemm—Palm Beach Atlantic University
Max Law—University of North Florida
McCabe Sargent—Saint Leo University
Dustin Harris—St. Petersburg College
Spencer Childress—Lyon College (Arkansas)
Devyn Cabral—Erskine College (South Carolina)
Haley Eckel—Florida Southern College
Skylen Acuna—Pasco-Hernando State College
Mary Katherine Miller—Hillsborough Community College
Devon Connors—U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado)
Noah Ruggles—University of North Carolina
Claire Morrison—Stetson University
Emmalee Jansen—University of Tampa
Tyler Peretti—Southeastern University (Florida)
Casey Gottschall—Broward College (Florida)
Shelby Lansing—Southeastern University
Haley Kirinsky—Flagler College (Florida)
Mackenzie Allen—University of Tampa
Kathryn Attar—Yale University (Connecticut)
Alexandria Schneider—Florida College
Jacob Thomas—Mars Hill University (North Carolina)
Ellrie Allen—Florida A&M University
Lauren Campoe—Ave Maria University (Florida)
Bailey Hern—Saint Leo University
Morgan Power—King University (Tennessee)
Chris Faddoul—Florida A&M University
Jason Winston—Stetson University
Noah Makarome—University of Pennsylvania
Connor Nixon—Presbyterian College (South Carolina)
Erin Brenner—Huntingdon College (Alabama)
Ysabelle Borgstadt—Andrew College (Georgia)
Sydney Chase—Saint Leo University
Maddie Moore—Shaw University (North Carolina)
John Pease—Jacksonville University (Florida)
Alexis Ridolph—Hillsborough Community College
Samantha Hiley—Edward Waters College (Florida)
Jaime Valenta—St. John River State College (Florida)
Antwione Sims—U.S. Naval Academy (Maryland)
Zephyrhills Christian Academy
Serion Bellamy—Shorter University (Georgia)
Published February 8, 2017