The 2021 National Football League (NFL) season and all its glory has just kicked off.
Reaching the highest level of America’s most popular sport is no easy feat, but a handful of athletes with deep ties to The Laker/Lutz News coverage area have done just that, from Lutz to New Tampa to Wesley Chapel and in between.
Here’s a closer look at local NFL players to keep an eye on, as the gridiron season unfolds throughout the fall and winter:
Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots wide receiver
Local tie: New Tampa native/Lutz Chiefs/Liberty Middle School
Skinny: Nelson Agholor is coming off one of his most productive seasons in his six-year NFL career, hauling in 48 receptions for 896 yards and eight scores with the Las Vegas Raiders last season.
The 6-foot, 198-pound Agholor penned that output into a two-year deal worth up to $24 million with the New England Patriots.
Since entering the league in 2015 as a first round (20th overall) draft choice, the now 28-year-old has become a household name, compiling a combined 272 receptions for 3,411 yards and 26 touchdowns (and winning a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018).
Before launching 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. He would emerge as one of the nation’s top football prospects at Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School and then an All-American at the University of Southern California.
Vernon Hargreaves III, Houston Texans cornerback
Local tie: Wharton High School
College: University of Florida
Skinny: Vernon Hargreaves III has re-upped with the Houston Texans on a one-year deal following a noteworthy 2020 campaign where he appeared in 16 games and registered 72 total tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and seven passes defensed.
A change of scenery to the Lone Star State seems to have done the 26-year-old favors, since being waived by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through the 2019 season.
Hargreaves, 26, was originally taken in the first round (10th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft by the hometown Bucs.
But he didn’t quite live up to the hype, battling injuries, allowing big plays and regularly being targeted by opposing offenses due to his youth and smaller stature at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds.
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 All-American and All-SEC selection.
Tre’ McKitty, Los Angeles Chargers tight end
Local tie: Wesley Chapel native/South Pasco Predators/Wesley Chapel High School
Skinny: Tre’ McKitty heads into his rookie campaign months after being a third round pick (97th overall) of the Los Angeles Chargers in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Though he had what some consider a quiet training camp, the Chargers have expressed optimism about his long-term traits as a pro-style blocking tight end and physical mismatch for linebackers and defensive backs, as he measures 6-foot-4, 246 pounds.
Working in his favor is the ability to pick the brain of Chargers starting tight end Jared Cook, a two-time Pro Bowl selection embarking on his 13th NFL season.
McKitty grew up playing youth football for the Land O’ Lakes-based South Pasco Predators (while attending Pine View Middle School), and played varsity football and basketball his freshman year at Wesley Chapel High School.
From there, McKitty transferred to Tampa Catholic High School and then Bradenton’s IMG Academy, where he established himself as one of the nation’s top tight end prospects in the 2017 recruiting class, with over 30 NCAA Division I FBS scholarship offers. He played major conference college football, first at Florida State University, then the University of Georgia.
Amani Oruwariye, Detroit Lions, cornerback
Local tie: Gaither High School
Skinny: Amani Oruwariye enters his third season with the Detroit Lions, where he’s tasked with learning the intricacies of a fresh defensive scheme under new head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
The 25-year-old is primed as one of the Lions starting outside cornerbacks, following a consistent 2020 season where he played in all 16 games, registering 52 total tackles, one interception and seven passes defensed; and opposing throwers completed 55% of their passes when throwing his way for three touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound corner also exhibited some versatility to his game, playing over 100 snaps in the slot.
Prior to living out his NFL dreams, Oruwariye was a three-year letterman at Gaither High School 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.
Oruwariye went on to earn multiple All-Big Ten Conference honors at Penn State University, then was selected in the fifth round (146th overall) of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Lions.
He is believed to be the highest NFL draftee to come out of Gaither, where he graduated in 2014.
Auden Tate, Cincinnati Bengals, wide receiver
Local tie: Wharton High School
Skinny: Auden Tate has certainly made the most of his opportunities for the Cincinnati Bengals since being a seventh-round draft pick in 2018 — hauling in a combined 58 catches for 760 yards and a touchdown across 28 games in three seasons.
On the whole, the 24-year-old has carved out a role as a reliable rotational receiver for the Bengals, advantaged by his large 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame, wide catch radius and aptitude for making acrobatic catches.
Tate now looks to rebound from a 2020 season where he missed seven games, in part due to a season-ending shoulder injury to repair a torn labrum.
The athlete prepped at Wharton High School, moving to the Tampa area as a 10th-grader from South Carolina.
Following a strong junior campaign where he posted 49 receptions for 815 yards and five touchdowns at Wharton, Tate went on to become one of the nation’s most coveted receiver prospects with offers from 20 Division I schools before ultimately signing and starring for Florida State University in 2015.
As a testament to the axiom that hard work pays off, Tate was once cut from his middle school team in South Carolina.
Other notable local products:
- Pasco High School/University of Florida product Joey Ivie IV (defensive end) was waived by the Buffalo Bills.
- Gaither High School/Florida International University product Alex McGough (quarterback) was waived by the Seattle Seahawks.
- Gaither High/Alonso High/University of Miami product Anthony Chickillo (defensive end) retired after six NFL seasons, most recently with the Denver Broncos.
Published September 15, 2021