Like other sports organizations, the National Football League (NFL) has succumbed in some way, shape or form to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The league already has scrapped its preseason games, and training camps have a much different look — all taking place at team facilities without fans and visitors.
With myriad health and safety precautions in place, America’s most popular sport has insisted on a full 16-game regular season. A full set of playoffs also will take place.
Whether fans will be allowed into stadiums for regular season games remains largely up in the air, however.
Some franchises plan to proceed with limited capacities. Others have said they will go forward without fans in the stands.
At least one team — the Las Vegas Raiders — has officially announced it plans to play the entire 2020 season at its brand-new $1.84 billion stadium with no fans.
Moreover, dozens of NFL players have voluntarily opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus or other unspecified reasons.
However this unique 2020 season shakes out, you can bet on seeing several pros take the field with deep ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area — by way of Lutz, New Tampa, Wesley Chapel and Dade City, respectively.
Here’s a closer look at those locals suiting up as NFL training camps ramp up, with hopes of making a team’s final 53-man roster or 16-man practice squad by the league’s Sept. 4 cut date.
Nelson Agholor, Las Vegas Raiders, wide receiver
Local tie: Lutz Chiefs
The 6-foot, 198-pound veteran pro wideout is embarking on his sixth NFL season — his first with the Raiders after spending his entire career with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he won a Super Bowl in 2018.
Before he became a household name registering a combined 224 receptions for 2,515 yards and 18 touchdowns in his pro career, Agholor was making highlight-reel plays as a dual-threat quarterback for the Lutz Chiefs youth football organization, while attending New Tampa’s Liberty Middle School.
Agholor would go on to become one of the nation’s top football prospects at Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School and then an All-American at University of Southern California. He was drafted by the Eagles in the first round (20th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Agholor, 27, doesn’t forget his football-playing roots. During the 2015 NFL offseason, he made an appearance at a Lutz Chiefs practice at the Oscar Cooler Sports Complex, speaking to players about the bonds and life lessons formed in youth football.
Anthony Chickillo, New Orleans Saints, linebacker
Local tie: Gaither High School
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound linebacker has seemingly lived up to expectations since entering the league as a sixth round pick (212th overall) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft, out of the University of Miami.
After spending his entire career in the Steel City, the 27-year-old now takes his talents to New Orleans, where he’ll compete for a backup defensive role after signing as a free agent in March.
Altogether, Chickillo has played in 65 regular season games with nine starts, while also being a core contributor on special teams for Pittsburgh. He’s recorded 89 career tackles, 7.5 sacks for loss, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries; he’s also played in four postseason contests.
Before launching into the game’s highest ranks, a younger Chickillo could be seen disrupting opposing quarterbacks on Friday nights at Gaither High School.
Chickillo played at the local school his freshman and sophomore seasons in 2008 and 2009, before transferring to Alonso High School and shaping up into a five-star prospect boasting more than 40 college scholarship offers.
His sophomore season at Gaither, Chickillo tallied 77 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He also spent time as a tight end and offensive lineman on the team.
Chickillo in March 2017 visited his old stomping grounds, giving the Gaither football program a pep talk in the midst of spring football practices.
Vernon Hargreaves III, Houston Texans, cornerback
Local tie: Wharton High School
Since being a first round pick (11th overall) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2016 NFL Draft, the hometown kid has had a somewhat underwhelming pro career — criticized for allowing big plays and becoming one of the most targeted corners by opposing NFL offenses. The 25-year-old corner has been somewhat injury prone, too, including a hamstring tear, groin strain and shoulder labrum tear between 2017 and 2018.
But, a new environment outside of Tampa Bay seems to be serving him well.
The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Hargreaves was waived by the Bucs in the middle of the 2019 season, then picked up by the Texans, where he tallied 21 tackles and two passes defensed in six games and two starts; he was re-signed by the Texans in March.
Hargreaves starred at Wharton High School. In 2012 he was named the Class 8A Defensive Player of the Year and the Guy Toph Award winner as Hillsborough County’s top senior football player, after he registered 110 total tackles, five interceptions, five passes defensed and five forced fumbles.
The accolades continued at the University of Florida, where he was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, and consensus First Team All-American and First Team All-SEC selection.
Athletes run in the Hargreaves family. His younger sister, Chanelle, was a standout on the University of Florida volleyball team. His father, Vernon Jr., was a two-time All-American linebacker at the University of Connecticut and is a longtime Division I assistant football coach, presently a defensive line coach at Howard University in Washington D.C.
Joey Ivie, Tennessee Titans, defensive end
Local tie: Pasco High School
The 25-year-old Dade City native is now in his fifth different NFL franchise since being taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the seventh round (228th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-3, 301-pound defensive lineman has spent much of his pro career on various practice squads, but now seeks a larger role as a backup within the Titans 3-4 defensive scheme.
Thus far, Ivie has played in eight career NFL regular season games; his two career tackles came as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.
In addition to the Titans, Cowboys and Chiefs, Ivie also was a member of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.
Before starring at the University of Florida and later reaching the NFL, Ivie shined as a multisport athlete at Pasco High School, where he graduated in 2013.
The Pirates football team, then coached by Tom McHugh, went a combined 36-3 and captured three district titles in the three seasons Ivie spent on varsity. Ivie’s best season came as a senior — where he racked up 89 tackles, 12 sacks and three forced fumbles in 12 games.
A defensive end by trade, Ivie was also utilized as a fullback and tight end while in a Pirates uniform. His younger brother, Andrew, also starred at Pasco High and briefly played football at Florida before an injury ended his playing career prematurely.
Ivie’s late sister, Jordan, passed away in 2015, a month before she would have graduated high school, due to injuries sustained in a car accident in Dade City. Ivie has said he uses her memory as motivation and has shared these moments on social media.
Alex McGough, Houston Texans, quarterback
Local tie: Wesley Chapel High School/Gaither High School
The 24-year-old McGough has yet to throw a meaningful pass in an NFL regular season game, but teams seemingly appreciate his skillset enough to keep him rostered, mostly as a practice squad player.
The 6-foot-3, 214-pound signal-caller is on his third NFL franchise since being taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round (220th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft. In addition to Seattle, McGough also spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars before landing with his current team, the Texans.
So far through training camp, McGough projects as the team’s third-string quarterback, behind incumbent starter Deshaun Watson and backup AJ McCarron.
Closer to home, McGough began his prep career at Wesley Chapel High School, where he played varsity football, baseball and soccer.
He transferred to Gaither High School as a sophomore, and would go on to compile nearly 5,000 career passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns in three varsity seasons, graduating in 2014.
Despite showy statistics, McGough was rather lightly recruited, surprisingly, winding up at Miami’s Florida International University (FIU).
He proved doubters wrong there, too, setting several program records en route to over 9,000 career passing yards and 91 total touchdowns.
McGough’s uncle is former NFL punter and Super Bowl Champion Kelley Goodburn. McGough’s younger brother, Shane, also a Gaither product, is a redshirt senior offensive lineman at FIU.
Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions, cornerback
Local tie: Gaither High School
The 24-year-old Oruwariye looks to build off a promising rookie season where he registered 17 tackles, two interceptions and three passed defensed in nine games — and would’ve put forth a stronger showing had he not been hampered by a midseason knee injury.
But, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound corner will have to navigate another hurdle entering his second season, as he was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list by the Detroit Lions in late July.
A two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection at Penn State University, Oruwariye was selected by the Detroit Lions in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
With that, Oruwariye is believed to be the highest NFL draftee to come out of Gaither High School, where he graduated in 2014.
Other known Gaither alums drafted into the NFL include Alex McGough (seventh round in 2018), Carlton Mitchell (sixth round in 2010) and J.R. Russell (seventh round in 2005); and, New Orleans Saints linebacker Anthony Chickillo (sixth round in 2015) who attended Gaither his freshman and sophomore years before transferring to Alonso High School.
Oruwariye was a three-year letterman at Gaither under former head coach Jason Stokes, and finished his career with 121 tackles and 12 interceptions combined. Senior year he was named team MVP, earned first-team all-district honors and was invited to play in the Hillsborough County All-Star Game. Various recruiting services ranked him a three-star prospect and top 100 recruit in the state.
Auden Tate, Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver
Local tie: Wharton High School
The 6-foot-5, 223-pound wideout looks to build off a breakout 2019 campaign that established him as one of the Bengals’ top offensive targets — hauling in 40 receptions for 455 yards and a touchdown. It marked a significant jump in production from his rookie season two years ago, where he compiled just four catches for 35 yards in seven games.
The 23-year-old prepped at Wharton High, moving to the Tampa area as a 10th-grader from South Carolina. He went on to become one of the nation’s most coveted receiver prospects with offers from 20 Division I schools, ultimately signing with Florida State University (FSU) in 2015.
Following a productive career at FSU, Tate was the Bengals’ seventh round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Quite impressive, considering Tate was once cut from his middle school football team in his hometown of Irmo, South Carolina.
Published August 12, 2020