The 2020 college football season was anything but ordinary, mostly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Myriad schedules were delayed and abbreviated, countless games were canceled, and many lower-level programs opted to punt on the year entirely, with sights of restarting action in 2021.
Amid all the obstacles, however, more than a handful of athletes with ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area suited up and made significant impacts on the NCAA Division I FBS stage.
Here’s a closer look at some of the notable performers with connections to the area.
College: University of South Florida, junior left tackle
Local tie: Gaither High School
Donovan Jennings started in all seven games he played during University of South Florida’s nine-game season — missing two games due to COVID-19 protocols.
One of the 6-foot-5, 338-pound lineman’s brightest spots came in the Bulls’ Nov. 27 season finale against the University of Central Florida, paving the way for his team’s offense to post 646 yards of total offense, including 242 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Jennings generally has been lauded by coaches for his pass protection skills and effectiveness in the run game.
Thanks to a rare combination of quick feet, balance and strength, Jennings often is tasked with blocking opponent’s top pass-rushers in one-on-one situations.
Looking ahead to the 2021 season, Jennings will be one of the team’s most experienced members, having appeared in 29 games with 19 starts.
Jennings surprisingly didn’t begin playing football until his freshman year of high school, as size limitations in youth leagues prevented him from playing the sport.
But, he blossomed into an All-State player in four short years at Gaither, graduating in 2018.
While he garnered scholarship offers from several Division I FBS schools, Jennings, ultimately picked USF — a mere 7.5 miles from his prep stomping grounds.
“Playing in my hometown is great, seeing my friends and family come to all the games to support me with all I do,” Jennings said in a 2019 interview with USF’s official athletics website, GoUSFBulls.com. “I love putting on a show for all the fans and all the people I played in front of in high school. For my (former) coaches to be able to come out and see what type of player I’ve grown into is a good thing for me.”
College: University of South Florida, fifth-year senior wide receiver
Local tie: New Tampa resident, Wharton High School
Devontres Odoms-Dukes saved the best for last.
Playing in all nine of USF’s games and making six starts, Devontres Odoms-Dukes registered 24 catches for 297 yards and four touchdowns — all career highs and among team leaders.
The 6-foot-4, 216-pound Dukes, too, went out on a high note in his final college football game on Nov. 27 against UCF (University of Central Florida) — tallying five catches for 66 yards and two touchdowns.
Making all those figures more impressive is that Odoms-Dukes had to navigate playing for no less than four quarterbacks during the course of the season.
Meanwhile, his five-year run at USF hasn’t always been easy or stable, given he’s played for three different head coaches during that time — Willie Taggart, Charlie Strong and Jeff Scott, respectively.
Odoms-Dukes now has his eyes set on the 2021 NFL Draft, where he hopes to gain traction with his rare size at the receiver spot.
Prior to his USF tenure, Odoms-Dukes played two seasons at Wharton High, developing into an All-Hillsborough County honorable mention performer under then coach David Mitchell.
As a senior in 2015, he posted 41 catches for 780 yards and 14 touchdowns, guiding the Wildcats to an 8-2 mark that included dominating wins over the likes of Gaither, Freedom and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.
Odoms-Dukes was born in Pensacola and spent much of his childhood in the Fayetteville area in North Carolina before moving to New Tampa and finishing school at Wharton.
His parents are decorated military veterans who served in the U.S. Army and retired with Sergeant First Class status; they were deployed in areas including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another fun tidbit: Odoms-Dukes is related to 13-year NBA veteran Reggie Evans, who played for six franchises from 2002 to 2015.
College: Florida International University, redshirt senior center
Local tie: Gaither High School
Shane McGough’s final season as a Florida International University Panther wasn’t most ideal — given he played for a squad that went winless in a five-game season, cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the 6-foot-2, 302-pound center was one of the few positives, a team captain who pushed bodies for an offense that averaged 160.4 rushing yards. His production up front in the trenches earned him a spot on the All-Conference USA Honorable Mention team.
All told, McGough played in 40 career games, moving between the guard and center positions. He is noted for being part of an offensive line that allowed just 14 sacks in 2019 and a school-record low eight sacks in 2018, which ranked first in the conference and third overall in the nation.
Aside from his natural strength and line-moving abilities, McGough earns positive marks from coaches and teammates for his work ethic and lead-by-example demeanor.
FIU offensive line coach Jose Rodriguez offered a glowing review of McGough on the school’s official athletics website, FIUSports.com.
“Shane is part of a dying breed, as a guy who just gets it,” Rodriguez said. “He’s played and had successful experience. It’s one thing to just play and get your butt beat…but he’s had successful experience and knows what it takes from a preparation standpoint or in terms of training in the offseason.
“He also has great leadership qualities because when he speaks, people listen. Part of that is because he has so much experience and part of that is his demeanor, in general. Having a guy like that in your room is great, because you can always use him as an example and someone you can lean on when you want something done. Him being unselfish and a team player is great, as well, because it just makes everyone want to listen and do as he does.”
McGough is now readying for the 2021 NFL Draft, appearing in various all-star games such as Tropical Bowl and College Gridiron Showcase.
In chasing his pro football dreams, McGough could get an opportunity to play alongside or against his older brother Alex, a seventh-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft who’s bounced around the league as a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.
At Gaither, McGough was a three-year varsity letter winner and a two-way player seeing action at offensive and defensive line. He earned All-Hillsborough and All-Western Conference recognition along the way, too.
Interestingly, McGough was rather lightly recruited coming out of high school in 2015, perhaps because he was an undersized lineman by Division I FBS standards at the time, hovering around 250 pounds.
College: Colorado State University, graduate defensive end
Local tie: Freedom High School
Amid a season cut in half because of COVID-19, Scott Patchan sure made the most of his opportunities in Fort Collins, Colorado.
In just four games, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound edge rusher tallied 5.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss overall, adding 22 total tackles and three quarterback hurries — earning first-team All-Mountain West honors in the process.
Moreover, Patchan won on 24% of his pass rushes, securing a pressure on 19% – both figures leading Mountain West players by 3.5 percentage points, according to metrics from the scouting website Pro Football Focus.
Patchan will have further opportunity to add to his resume, as he’s stated he will return to the program in 2021 with the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic.
Colorado State defensive line coach Antoine Smith underscored Patchan’s qualities in a profile piece for the university’s official athletics website, CSURams.com.
“He doesn’t leave anything to chance,” Smith said. “Some guys talk. He doesn’t talk. He just comes and works every day and he’s very passionate about how he works and takes care of his body. He is a true athlete who loves performing. That’s pretty awesome.”
Patchan transferred to Colorado State after spending the prior five seasons at the University of Miami, where he battled two season-ending knee surgeries and even made a position switch to tight end before moving back to his natural defensive end spot.
Locally, Patchan played his first three years of prep ball at Freedom High before transferring to Bradenton’s IMG Academy for his senior season.
His final run at Freedom in 2013 proved most productive, as he totaled 8.5 sacks, 56 tackles and 24 tackles for loss. He went on to become one of the state’s most highly-touted prospects in his recruiting class, being courted by Florida State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, UCLA and others.
Gridiron talent certainly runs deep in Patchan’s family. Patchan’s father Matt III won national titles with the Hurricanes in 1983 and ’87; His older brother, Matt II, was an offensive lineman at the University of Florida and Boston College.
Michael Penix Jr., quarterback
College: Indiana University, redshirt sophomore
Local tie: Dade City native, Pasco High School
Michael Penix Jr., was rapidly becoming a household name in the big-time college football lexicon until a torn ACL in his right knee prematurely ended his redshirt sophomore campaign in late November.
The 6-foot-3, 218-pound left-handed signal-caller ended the year with six games played, spurring Indiana University to one of its best starts in program history with a 5-1 mark and No. 12 nationally ranking in the process.
Penix’s individual stats were likewise flashy — posting a 56.4% completion rate for 1,645 passing yards, and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions and two rushing touchdowns — solid enough for second-team All-Big Ten honors.
There were several notable moments along the way for the Dade City native, too.
Penix was responsible for a 2-point conversion that lifted the Hoosiers over Penn State in overtime of the season opener. Meanwhile, he passed for a career-high 491 yards and five touchdowns Nov. 21 in Indiana’s narrow 42-35 loss to No. 4 Ohio State. The 491 passing yards were second-most in program history, trailing only Richard Lagow’s 496-yard output in a 2016 win over Wake Forest.
The ability to stay on the field has remained an issue, however.
Injuries have cut short all three of Penix’s seasons at Indiana. He suffered a clavicle injury in November 2019 that required surgery. He also tore his ACL in his right knee in 2018.
Prior to his move north to Bloomington, Penix played his freshman and sophomore prep seasons at Pasco High School in 2014 and 2015, then transferred to Tampa Bay Technical High School for his junior and senior years. He was a baseball, basketball, and track and field standout along the way, too.
Also notable: Penix’s father, Mike Sr., was an All-State tailback/defensive back at Pasco High in the early ’90s.
Raymond Woodie III
College: Florida State University, sophomore defensive back
Local tie: Carrollwood Day School/Wiregrass Ranch High School
Raymond Woodie III enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign for Florida State University, compiling more playing time and production for a team in transition under new head coach Mike Norvell.
Suiting up for each of the team’s nine games and making two starts, the 6-foot, 194-pound defensive back totaled 25 tackles, 2.5 for loss with 0.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup. Among the notable showings was a game-high seven tackles at Louisville on Oct. 24.
It was all a step in the right direction from his freshman year — where he appeared in 10 games and recorded nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss with 1.0 sacks and one forced fumble.
Despite an enhanced role at FSU, Woodie has opted to take his talents to the West Coast — recently transferring to the University of California-Berkeley.
Woodie joins the Cal program this month with three seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining, which includes the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA to all fall sports athletes due to the effect of COVID-19 on the 2020 campaign.
“We are excited to have Raymond join our program,” Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said of Woodie in a news release from the Cal athletics department. “He is a talented football player and adds significant experience to our defensive backfield. I expect him to have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on our team.”
Before entering the college ranks, Woodie experienced quite the circuitous high school career, where he attended four different schools in as many years.
Woodie played his high school freshman and sophomore seasons at Carrollwood Day, working at quarterback, wide receiver and safety, earning All-Hillsborough County honors along the way.
Woodie then attended Wiregrass Ranch High and went through spring and summer team football workouts leading into his junior season, but wound up finishing his prep days at Sheldon High (Eugene, Oregon) and Florida State University High (Tallahassee). (These far-reaching moves were a result of following his father’s budding college coaching journey at University of Oregon and Florida State, respectively.)
From Carrollwood Day onward, Woodie emerged as a blue-chip prospect, designated as a four-star recruit in the 2019 class by ESPN and Rivals.com. He was ranked as high as the nation’s No. 9 safety and No. 158 player overall by ESPN.
Published January 27, 2021