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NAIA to offer flag football for females

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Robinson flag football celebrating

Robinson has a flag football dynasty with five state titles and a runnerup finish in the past six seasons. Still, Knights coach Josh Saunders constantly worries about coaches in other sports, particularly at the club level, trying to persuade his players to bolt in order to pursue a college scholarship.

There are no flag football programs at the college level, much less any scholarships to offer.

That is about to change. 

On Monday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced a partnership with the NFL and Reigning Champs Experiences (RCX) to put together the first women’s flag football competition governed by a collegiate athletics association.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” Saunders said. “This cracks the ‘flag doesn’t have scholarships’ mantra that other coaches tell players. Some high school coaches do it, not as much at our school anymore, but club coaches are really bad about it. This will likely end that to a degree, but it’s also really great for kids that might get an opportunity to continue playing a sport they love.”

Robinson's flag football team
Robinson’s flag football team

The plan is to increase participation at the college level through showcases that will start in the summer or fall. Competition guidelines will be outlined for colleges interested in starting a program with the first competitive season to be held in 2021 and the first emerging sport or invitational championship in the spring of the following year. 

An emerging sport at the NAIA level must have at least 15 participating schools and invitational status needs at least 25. A sport also is required to have 40 schools involved to be considered for full championship status.

There currently are 11 state colleges that compete at the NAIA level. Webber International said on Monday it plans to add flag football. 

“Football is for everyone,” NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent said in a statement. “This groundbreaking and historic joint venture provides an opportunity for the values, fun and competitive environment of football to be enjoyed as a varsity sport by female student-athletes attending NAIA institutions across America.”

The NFL has made efforts recently to promote the sport. For the past two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation hosted the largest flag football tournament in the nation. This year’s event, held in March, had 57 high school teams.

Locally, teams have thrived. Alonso was a state runnerup from 2010-11 before winning two straight titles in 2018-19. 

“It’s huge,” Ravens coach Matt Hernandez said of having the sport at the college level. “It gives kids a next step to keep playing with scholarship opportunities. I sent out information (Monday) to our team/parents and had a lot of reaction, especially from the younger kids and parents.”

Alonso flag football
Alonso’s flag football team posing after winning a state title

Saunders said this could end up being the first step to having flag football at all levels of college football.

“I think this could continue to push the NCAA in that direction,” Saunders said. “The sport is extremely popular and extremely cheap. That seems like a good combination.”  

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack commits to Alabama

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Lakewood’s Amari Niblack had offers from 15 schools entering this week, including Florida, Florida State, Georgia and LSU. 

Then Niblack went to a camp at Alabama and picked up an offer from the Crimson Tide. 

That was all the three-star prospect needed to make up his mind. 

On Thursday, Niblack announced on social media that he committed to Alabama. 

A 6-foot-4 pass catching target, Niblack can play receiver or tight end. This past season, he had seven receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns according to the stats listed on MaxPreps. 

This is the second straight season Alabama has landed an area receiver and the third time in the past five seasons the Crimson Tide has picked a local skill player.

Agiye Hall, who starred at Armwood and Bloomingdale, was part of the 2021 class. He was an early enrollee and has already made an impact with several highlight-worthy catches in the spring game. 

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Football: Local list of 2022 commits

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The Tampa Bay area always produces a tremendous amount of football talent. This year is no different. Several seniors have already pledged their allegiance to colleges. Here is the list, which is expected to grow considerably in the next few months. 

Armwood

WR Kye Stokes

College: Ohio State

Berkeley Prep

LB TJ Bullard

College: UCF

TE CJ Hawkins

College: Florida

Related: Berkeley Prep’s CJ Hawkins commits to Florida

Calvary Christian

OL Preston Cushman

College: Mississippi

Carrollwood Day

DL Brandon Cleveland

College: North Carolina State

Clearwater Academy

CB Rhyland Kelly

College: Minnesota

Clearwater Central Catholic

LB Melvin Jordan 

College: Oregon State

Gaither

DL Mario Eugenio

College: Michigan

Hillsborough

RB Jordaan Bailey

College: Pittsburgh

DB Adrian Ramsey

College: Howard

LB Joseph Sipp Jr.

College: Colorado State

Jesuit

WR Jaydn Girard

College: Wake Forest

ATH Junior Vandeross

College: Toledo

Related: Jesuit’s Junior Vandeross commits to Toledo

King

OT Tony Livingston

College: Florida

Related: Tony Livingston transfers to King

Lakewood

TE Amari Niblack

College: Alabama

Pinellas Park

PK Robert Gunn III

College: Clemson

Related: Pinellas Park’s Robert Gunn III commits to Clemson

Sickles

WR Javohn Thomas

College: USF

Tampa Catholic

OL Chris Williams

College: Florida A&M

Wharton

LB Daveon Crouch

College: Boston College

Wiregrass Ranch

QB Rocco Becht

College: Iowa State

Related: Wiregrass Ranch’s Rocco Becht commits to Iowa State

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Pinellas Park’s Robert Gunn III commits to Clemson

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Kickers typically are not offered scholarships while they are in high school. Most at the Division I-A level arrive as walk-ons with the chance to earn a scholarship based on their performance. 

Robert Gunn III is not your typical kicker. 

The Pinellas Park senior is ranked as the nation’s best at the position in the Class of 2022 according to Kicking World. That lofty status got the attention of college coaches.

Gunn III already has offers from six colleges, including Clemson and Texas.

The offer from the Tigers came on June 13 during an unofficial visit. Two days later, Gunn III ended the recruiting process by committing to Clemson. 

“I wanted to go to Clemson because of the people and how they care about the school so much,” Gunn III said. 

The Tigers have been successful landing area special teams stars. Former Jesuit and IMG standout Aidan Swanson will be a redshirt sophomore punter for Clemson this season. 

Now the Tigers will have an area kicker, too. 

This past season, Gunn III hit both of his field goal attempts and had 16 of his 19 kickoffs go for touchbacks. He also averaged 44 yards per punt.  

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