Hometown kids shine in 2019 college football season

The college football season has come to a close, and it was one in which many players with ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area showcased their skills.

Dozens of area athletes are a part of programs at the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and Football Championship Series (FCS) levels, as well as Division II, Division III, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and junior college ranks.

Here is a look at some of them.

Noah Ruggles
College: University of North Carolina, sophomore kicker
High School: Steinbrenner High (Odessa native)

Steinbrenner High product Noah Ruggles (Courtesy of University of North Carolina Athletics)

The Steinbrenner product appears entrenched as UNC’s long-term answer at kicker, as he enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, converting 19 of 27 field goal attempts, including a long of 49 yards, and converting all 45 of his extra-point attempts.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Ruggles was nearly automatic on kicks inside 40 yards, but struggled on some longer kicks, including going 0-for-3 on attempts of more than 50 yards.

Arguably, his most defining moment came when he kicked the game-winning field goal in a 20-17 home win against conference rival Duke University on Oct. 26. It was a just week removed from UNC head coach Mack Brown benching Ruggles, after he missed two overtime field goal attempts in a road loss to Virginia Tech.

While at Steinbrenner, Ruggles developed into one of the nation’s most coveted kicking prospects, ranked as the No. 9 kicker by 247sports.com and the No. 12 kicker by ESPN.com for the 2017 recruiting class.

Chris Faddoul
College: Florida A&M University, junior punter
High School: Wiregrass Ranch High (Wesley Chapel native)

Since he stepped foot on FAMU’s campus as a freshman in 2017, Faddoul’s leg has been put to good use.

Wiregrass Ranch High product Chris Faddoul (File)

A three-year starter, Faddoul again earned consecutive All-American honors after another banner season for a team that went 9-2 and undefeated in conference.

His average of 46 yards per punt ranked second in Division I FCS (Football Championship Series). The 5-foot-11, 210-pound specialist tallied 40 punts for 1,841 yards, with 19 punts placed inside the 20-yard line, 16 punts of 50 yards or longer, and only five touchbacks. He also registered a career-long punt of 72 yards in an Oct. 20 overtime win over nationally-ranked North Carolina A&T State.

At Wiregrass Ranch, Faddoul was something of an athletic unicorn, playing football, soccer, tennis, and also competing in track and field. His senior year on the gridiron, Faddoul guided the Bulls to a state playoff appearance in 2016, as the team’s starting quarterback, kicker and punter.

Michael Penix Jr.
College: Indiana University, redshirt freshman quarterback
High School: Tampa Bay Tech/Pasco High (Dade City native)

Dade City native Michael Penix Jr. (Courtesy of Indiana University Athletics)

The Dade City native got off to a roaring start as Indiana’s starting signal-caller in 2019, helping guide the Big Ten program to its best start since 1993, up until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in November that required surgery.

Indiana was 5-1 in games played by Penix, who completed 69% of his throws for 1,394 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, and tallied 119 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

The 6-foot-3, 203-pound lefty made history by becoming the first freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Hoosiers since Antwaan Randel El in 1998.

While Penix seemingly has a bright future ahead, injuries have become a concern. He also suffered a season-ending ACL injury in 2018 as a true freshman.

For his prep career, Penix played his first two seasons at Pasco High, then transferred to Tampa Bay Tech, finishing with 6,986 total yards and 76 touchdowns. He is something of a Pirates legacy, as his father was an All-State tailback/defensive back at Pasco High in the early ’90s; his uncle played there, too.

Donovan Jennings
College: University of South Florida, sophomore left tackle
High School: Gaither High (Tampa native)

Gaither High product Donovan Jennings (Courtesy of University of South Florida Athletics)

The 6-foot-5, 328-pound Jennings has established himself as a reliable and consistent protector for USF quarterbacks’ blindside, playing in a combined 22 games his freshman and sophomore seasons. He began the 2019 season at right guard, before moving to and finishing the season on the left side of the offensive line.

The Gaither High product this past season was USF’s highest-graded offensive lineman by Pro Football Focus (66.9), a website that focuses on thorough analysis of the National Football League and NCAA Division I football.

Jennings has been lauded by coaches for his pass protection skills and effectiveness in the run game, because of combination of quick feet, balance and strength. He often was tasked with blocking opponent’s top pass-rushers in one-on-one situations last season.

Jennings is actually a late bloomer to the gridiron, as he didn’t begin playing football until his freshman year of high school because he exceeded the size limit for youth football leagues. He instead turned his attention to basketball, where he played four years on varsity at Gaither.

His future, however, was found in football.

He developed into an All-State player and a three-star prospect, earning scholarship offers from Central Florida, Virginia, Marshall, Old Dominion and Toledo universities.

Nate Craig-Myers
College: Colorado State University, redshirt junior wide receiver (Auburn transfer)
High School: Tampa Catholic/Pasco High (Dade City native)

Dade City native Nate Craig-Myers (Courtesy of University of Colorado Athletics)

After transferring from Auburn early in the 2018 season, the Dade City native and former blue chip prospect put together his most productive college season, becoming Colorado State’s fourth-leading receiver in 2019, hauling in 23 receptions for 329 yards and a touchdown, in nine games.

Before his transfer, Craig-Myers seemed like a star-in-the-making for the powerhouse SEC (Southeastern Conference) Alabama-based school.

He posted 16 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns for Auburn’s 2017 squad that went 10-4 and reached the SEC Championship.

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound athlete was expected to break out for Auburn in 2018, but a lack of targets in the early going led him to seek opportunities elsewhere. His half-brother and former Pasco High standout, Jayvaughn Myers, also left the team around the same time.

Craig-Myers wasted no time making an impact with Colorado State this past year, making five catches for 88 yards in his first game against Toledo on Sept. 21. He followed that up with strong showings in his next two games against Utah State (three catches, 97 yards) and San Diego State (four catches, 68 yards, touchdown), respectively.

In the prep ranks, Craig-Myers spent two seasons with Pasco High before finishing his career at Tampa Catholic High. He was one of the nation’s most touted football recruits, a consensus four-star prospect with more than 40 scholarship offers, including from the likes of Ohio State, Florida and Florida State universities, among others.

Other notables

  • University of Miami redshirt senior defensive end Scott Patchan (IMG Academy/Freedom High) finished with a career-high 33 tackles, including six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, in 13 games and six starts.
  • Florida State University junior tight end Tre’ McKitty (IMG Academy/Wesley Chapel High) collected 23 receptions for 241 yards, in 11 games.
  • Samford University redshirt sophomore tailback Antwione Sims (Zephyrhills High) racked up 108 all-purpose yards, in 11 games.
  • Florida State University redshirt sophomore DeCalon Brooks (Gaither High) tallied 15 tackles, in 11 games.
  • Florida State University freshman defensive back Isaiah Bolden (Wesley Chapel High/Jacksonville Bartram Trail) collected eight tackles, two pass breakups and an interception, in 12 games.
  • Morehouse College freshman defensive back Cartrell Strong (Zephyrhills High) registered 15 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception, in eight games.
  • University of Cincinnati freshman safety Ja’quan Sheppard (Zephyrhills High) had five tackles, in four games.

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