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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. 

https://twitter.com/evan_kulyk/status/1259923490980986882

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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College football: Athlete update

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The top performances from former area stars in week five of the college football season. 

DB Dane Belton, Jr., Iowa: The former Jesuit standout had one of the Hawkeyes’ six interceptions in a win over Maryland.

QB Devin Black, Sr., Bethune Cookman: The former Armwood standout accounted for 258 yards (131 rushing, 127 passing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in a loss to South Carolina State.  

DL Zachary Carter, Sr., Florida: The former Hillsborough standout recorded three tackles and a sack in a loss to Kentucky.  

QB Austin Day, Sr., Marist: The former Clearwater standout threw for 149 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Valparaiso. 

RB Jerome Ford, Jr., Cincinnati: The former Armwood star ran for 67 yards on 17 carries in a win over Notre Dame. 

RB Dominic Gonella, So., North Dakota State: The former Bloomingdale standout ran for 37 yards on seven carries in a win over North Dakota. 

WR Travell Harris, Sr., Washington State: The former Jesuit standout had seven catches for 46 yards in a win over California. 

DB Kym-Mani King, Jr., Iowa State: The former Mitchell standout recorded three tackles and picked off a pass in a win over Kansas. 

RB Keyvone Lee, So., Penn State: The former American Collegiate standout ran for 74 yards on eight carries in a win over Indiana. 

DB T.J. Limehouse, Jr., West Florida: The former Armwood standout recorded a team-high 16 tackles in a win over Delta State. 

LB Micah McFadden, Sr., Indiana: The former Plant star recorded eight tackles in a loss to Penn State. 

QB Braxton Plunk, Jr., Mount Union: The former Plant City standout threw for 313 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Otterbein. 

QB Tyler Riddell, Fr., East Tennessee State: The former Chamberlain standout threw for 268 yards and a touchdown in a win over Wofford. 

WR Mike Roussos, Sr., Columbia: The former River Ridge standout averaged 19 yards per kickoff return and 15 yards per punt return in a loss to Princeton. 

RB Deon Silas, Fr., Iowa State: Ran for 30 yards and a touchdown on three carries in a win over Kansas. 

RB Brian Snead, Jr., Austin Peay: The former Armwood standout ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries in a loss to Tennessee State. 

TE Michael Trigg, Fr., USC: The former Carrollwood Day/Seffner Christian standout had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown in a win over Colorado. 

RB Treshaun Ward, Fr., FSU: The former Tampa Bay Tech standout accounted for 95 yards (66 rushing, 29 receiving) in a win over Syracuse. 

LB Kee Whetzel, Sr., West Florida: The former Countryside standout recorded 10 tackles and a ½ sack in a win over Delta State. 

WR Mario Williams, Fr., Oklahoma: The former Plant City star had three catches for 29 yards in a win over Kansas State. 

LB Stephon Williams, Jr., West Florida: The former Calvary Christian standout recorded five tackles and 1 ½ sacks in a win over Delta State. 

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College Football

Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits

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Since arriving at Iowa State five years ago, Matt Campbell has guided the program to four straight bowl appearances, including a Fiesta Bowl win this past season that vaulted the Cyclones to No. 9 in the final AP poll, the highest ranking in school history. 

That success is due in part to the talent accumulated in Florida, especially the Tampa Bay area. 

There are currently five local players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by Campbell’s staff. Anthony Johnson, a former standout at St. Petersburg, starts at cornerback. Two other defensive backs, T.J. Tampa (Lakewood) and Kym-Mani King (Mitchell), should get significant playing time this season. 

It does not end there. 

This offseason Iowa State had perhaps its biggest haul of local talent with three offensive stars — Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, Tampa Bay Tech receiver Greg Gaines III and Berkeley Prep athlete Xavier Townsend — all committing to the Cyclones as part of the 2022 class.  

Gaines is a four-star recruit while Becht and Townsend are both three-star prospects according to 247Sports. The addition of that trio helped the Cyclones’ current recruiting class rise to No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 23 nationally. 

The recruiting efforts are not just limited to the staff. Becht, who committed in April, said he tried his best to get more offensive talent from the area to join him. 

“I talked to Greg and Xavier everyday,” Becht said of his recruiting pitch to that duo. “I was on them from the beginning.”

Rocco Becht

Iowa State’s staff also zeroed on those targets — and the area.

“The Tampa Bay area is a huge priority,” said Cyclones assistant head coach/linebackers coach Tyson Veidt, who recruits locally. “Some of our best players are from there and it has helped us develop some all-around continuity.”

Iowa State has a knack for landing playmakers in the bay area, particularly on the defensive side. It started more than a decade ago with linebacker Jeremiah George (Clearwater) and defensive back Leonard Johnson (Largo), both of whom played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during their NFL careers. 

There has been even more of an emphasis on the area with Campbell and his staff.

That comes from experience. 

Before taking over the Cyclones, Campbell was an offensive coordinator (2009-11) and head coach (2012-15) at Toledo. During his time with the Rockets, the program landed several prospects from the area, including former Lakewood star Bernard Reedy, who went on to play in the NFL. 

In fact, Campbell had at least one local commit in each of his recruiting classes as Toledo’s head coach. That helped the Rockets rank among the top two recruiting classes in the MAC in three of the four years during Campbell’s tenure. 

The trend has continued at Iowa State. 

And it is having an impact, especially with the camaraderie among locals. 

“Well, of course, the decision was for me and my future as a student athlete,” said Townsend, who committed to the Cyclones on Sunday. “But it was icing on the cake knowing a couple of my boys are coming up with me.”

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College Football

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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