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Locals left scrambling after Florida Tech cuts football program

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Trent Chmelik

Trent Chmelik spent the offseason recovering from a knee injury and a broken finger that sidelined him for most of his redshirt junior season at Florida Tech. 

Stronger, more focused and injury-free, the former Countryside standout wanted to cap off his college career by regaining his starting job at quarterback. 

He will not get that chance.

Florida Tech's Trent Chmelik
Florida Tech’s Trent Chmelik

On Monday, Florida Tech eliminated its football program as part of the school’s cost-cutting measures due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Panthers are the second football program that was discontinued nationwide within the past month and state-wide in the past six months. 

Urbana, a Division II program in Ohio, ended its program in April when the school closed for good because of declining enrollment and financial woes, in part because of the virus. Javion Hanner, a former star at Zephyrhills Christian, played for Urbana this past season and still is searching for a place to play. In December of 2019, Jacksonville discontinued football, citing financial reasons.    

The decision at Florida Tech was abrupt. Players were told this past Sunday to be ready for summer camp on June 1. A day later, they found out via video conference the program no longer existed. Gulf South Conference commissioner Matt Wilson did not know about the Panthers’ plans until about an hour before they were announced. 

“I’m extremely saddened by this,” Chmelik said. “This has been my home for the past four years. This hurts deep.”

Besides Chmelik, there were 11 other players from the area expected to return from last year’s  roster. 

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Florida Tech said it would honor scholarships for the next four years if players wanted to remain as students. Those who still want to play have to go through the recruiting process again. Landing with another program will be difficult considering fall camps could be starting within the next two months. Most scholarships and roster spots are already filled up.

Hanner knows. Since Urbana closed, he has been active on social media, posting highlight tapes in hopes of playing somewhere else. He has a few offers and some interest but has yet to sign with another school.

“I have some offers, but the process is tough trying to find what would be the best fit without visiting or anything,” Hanner said.

Former Countryside standout Riley Metheney can somewhat relate. In 2014, he committed to Alabama-Birmingham, only to be left in recruiting limbo months later when the school dropped its football program (it has since been reinstated). 

After starting his college career at Robert Morris, Metheney transferred to Mesa Community College in Arizona. He didn’t stay long. In 2018, the Maricopa Community College County College District ended the football programs at four colleges — Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale — because of financial constraints. 

Metheney transferred again, this time to West Florida to finish his college career. This past season, he helped the Argos win their first Division II national title.

“I think the UAB situation was completely different because I was still being recruited out of high school,” said Metheney, who is now a project engineer at Power Design. “The only situation I can relate to is my time at Mesa when the district eliminated football due to ‘financial’ reasons.

“Trent and Thomas (Roman) have already logged four years at FIT and to have their last season stripped away because of COVID-19 is heartbreaking. Words can’t describe how heavy my heart is for them, and some other players I’m mutually friends with at the school.”

Florida Tech’s decision not only ended a football program but also a rivalry. For the past four seasons, the Panthers played West Florida in a regular season game dubbed the “Coastal Classic”. That game was supposed to be the regular season finale for both teams this year.

“The Gulf South Conference is the best conference in D2 football,” Metheney said.  “We had our own in-state rivalry like FSU vs UF. It’s discouraging that our schools will never face each other again. The rivalry was special. With how talented the state of Florida is, it’s daunting that this (the rivalry) will only be remembered as a memory.”

After Florida Tech’s program was disbanded, Chmelik spent a few days pondering his future. He already has his bachelor’s degree and wants to work on his master’s. 

Ultimately, he decided to give up playing football and remain as a student.

Florida Tech’s returning locals

QB Trent Chmelik, R-Sr., Countryside

RB Matt Davis, R-Sr., Chamberlain

LB Chris Daniels, So., Tampa Bay Tech

LB Matt Geiger, R-Fr., Land O’ Lakes

LB Thomas Roman, R-Fr., Countryside

LB Dominic Marino, So., Mitchell

OL Geordie Holcombe, So., Armwood

OL Cameron Heid, So., Mitchell

OL Javon Livingston, R-Jr., Riverview

OL Evan Kulyk, Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic

WR Carson Kaleo, R-Jr., Steinbrenner

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Former PHU/UCF star Jacob Harris goes to Rams in 4th round

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Jacob Harris, a former star at Palm Harbor University and Central Florida, was taken in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft.

He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns.

Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns.

With the Rams, Harris will join former East Lake star Tyler Higbee in a group of tight ends that features plenty of locals.  

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College Football

The local list of potential NFL picks

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The NFL Draft concludes Saturday. Plenty of locals have the potential to be picked. Below is the list of former area stars who could hear their name called. All were either on mock drafts or were selected to an all-star game or NFL Combine. 

Photos courtesy of UCF Athletics

TE Jacob Harris, Palm Harbor University/UCF

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft. He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns. Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns. 

OL Shane McGough, Gaither/Florida International

The younger brother of former Gaither and FIU quarterback Alex McGough redshirted as a freshman before becoming a consistent starter on the Panthers’ offensive line. He was an all-Conference USA honorable mention selection in 2018 and 2020. This past season, McGough started in four of FIU’s five games as a center.  

WR Antonio Nunn, Jefferson/Buffalo

Nunn, a dynamic deep threat at Jefferson, redshirted his first season at Buffalo before rocketing up the depth chart. He started every game the past two seasons, finishing with a combined 86 catches for 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns. Nunn was a third-team all-MAC selection in 2019 and second-team selection this past season. 

Photo courtesy of Indiana University Athletics

WR Whop Philyor, Plant/Indiana

A first-team, all-state selection at Plant, Philyor became Indiana’s most dependable receiving target during his college career. He finished with 2,316 all-purpose yards (2,067 receiving, 134 rushing, 66 kick return, 49 punt return) in 38 games (22 starts).Philyor also is the Hoosiers’ s all-time leader in double-digit catch games (7), ranks fourth in receptions (180), fourth in 100-yard games (7), ninth in yardage (2,067) and is tied for 16th in touchdowns (12). He capped off his career by setting a Big Ten bowl and Outback Bowl record with 18 receptions for 81 yards. 

DL Justus Reed, CCC/Virginia Tech

A first-team, all-state selection, Reed led Clearwater Central Catholic to its only state final appearance as a senior in 2013. He started out at Florida before spending three seasons at Youngstown State. This past season, Reed transferred to Virginia Tech as a graduate student. He started in 10 of the Hokies’ 11 games, finishing with 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks.  

Photo courtesy of USF Athletics

DB K.J. Sails, East Bay/USF

A highly touted high school recruit, Sails spent his first three years in college at North Carolina before transferring to USF. As a junior, he led the Bulls in interceptions with three and recorded 22 tackles this past season. Sails gained notoriety this past summer when he organized a unity walk during the social justice movement that was attended by about 400 teammates, coaches, administrators and community members.  

Oregon's Jordon Scott/Photo credit: Oregon Athletics
Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics

DL Jordon Scott, Pinellas Park/Oregon

The three-star high school prospect originally committed to Florida before signing with Oregon. He immediately became a force on the Ducks’ defensive line, earning FWAA freshman all-America honors in 2017. Scott opted to return to Oregon as a senior rather than turn pro and helped the Ducks reach the Pac-12 title game for the second straight season. 

Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics Communications

TE Pro Wells, Hollins/Texas Christian

As a senior at Hollins, Wells had a breakout season, finishing with 31 catches for 952 yards and five touchdowns. He played at Milford Academy and Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he became the No. 4 JUCO tight end in the nation. After redshirting in 2018 at Texas Christian, Wells turned a reliable red-zone target and led the team in touchdown receptions each of the past two seasons. 

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College Football

Tre McKitty goes to Chargers in the third round

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Georgia tight end Tre McKitty, who spent time at Wesley Chapel and Tampa Catholic before transferring to IMG Academy, was selected at the end of the third with the Los Angeles Chargers’ compensatory pick (97th overall). 

He becomes the first player with area ties taken in this year’s draft. 

A three-star recruit at IMG, McKitty started his college career at Florida State, where he played in 35 games and caught 50 passes for 520 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

McKitty (photo above courtesy of UGA Athletic Association) went to Georgia as a graduate assistant this past season. He finished with six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. 

The Chargers have a knack for bringing in local talent. Former Admiral Farragut standout Rayshawn Jenkins was selected in the fourth by the Chargers in 2017. Sean Culkin (Indian Rocks Christian/Missouri) and Artavis Scott (East Lake/Clemson) spent time with team as undrafted free agents.  

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