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FHSAA board member John Gerdes explains his voting decisions



Florida High School Athletic Association board member John Gerdes wrote a letter explaining his voting decisions from last week’s two emergency meetings that he shared with Prime Time Preps.

Gerdes, who also serves as Clearwater Central Catholic’s athletic director, voted against maintaining the July 27 start date for fall practices during the first meeting on July 20.

In the second meeting three days later, Gerdes said he would not have supported the initial recommendations from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee before fall practices could begin. He voted for delaying the start of fall practices until Aug. 24.

As an FHSAA Board member, the past week was a rollercoaster ride regarding two meetings that led to opposing decisions. In the rear view mirror for now, I realize people will judge what the “right” or “wrong” vote was, although I suggest that task is difficult at best. With that said, I would like to address my two votes and that of every Board member.

I did a great deal of reading and communicated with a wide variety of athletics directors from Naples through Tampa Bay ahead of each meeting. I trust and believe each Board member did the same with their respective constituencies. In my case – and I assume with each Board member – there were opposing opinions, all from administrators and coaches I respect and proudly consider friends. Without question, I could find opinions – even from doctors – that would support each side of the play/delay debate.

To be clear, like anyone, I have personal opinions. Mine was that full-go football on July 27 was still risky in our specific case at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. But I recognized that was not the case for many schools in various places in the state. Generally speaking, I am all in on subsidiarity or local decision-making.

So, why did I vote against the July 27 start in the first meeting, and for a state-wide delay in the second meeting?

Having sat on the task force heading into the Board meetings, and in my discussions with administrators and coaches between those meetings, there were strong but respectful arguments presented on both sides. But there was also a clear consensus in my view that July 27 was too soon, and a delay until August 10 would at least allow more schools to be better prepared to start. In my mind, two weeks was not a huge deal and August 10 would have generated broad-based acceptance that we could set as a firm date. Based on my conversations with the people I represent in my region, that is why I voted against July 27.

In the second meeting, I would not have supported the initial motion to utilize the recommendations on data points to be met before football and volleyball could start. I felt it was essentially the end of fall football and volleyball. That was too extreme for me. While I would have preferred August 10, I felt August 24 was an acceptable compromise.

I realize August 24 is not set in stone as a start date, but my position is we (and I) should do everything we can to make that the case. That is my goal.

Whether I am judged as “right” or “wrong” in either vote is up to whomever wishes to weigh in. I made my decisions based on an effort to gather and consider as much information as possible. It was by no means easy.

Further, I have zero doubt that each Board member tried their best to do the same. While I have not yet met the three new Board members, I have come to know each remaining member to be thorough and deliberate in every single matter that has come before us. We are each blessed with different personalities and skill sets, and we cannot be expected to completely divorce ourselves from that. The result ranges from fiery passion to meticulous dissection to legal considerations to all points beyond. In the end, our personality and skills lead us to present our opinions accordingly. We should and do respect them all – even in opposition.

I extend these same thoughts to each and every member of the FHSAA staff, who regardless of what any critics maintain, work extremely hard and always with the goal of giving students an outstanding athletic experience. Agree with them or not, they deserve our respect and admiration.

I spoke of my belief in subsidiarity above, and I offer that it should be balanced with solidarity. It is my commitment to stand in solidarity with every FHSAA member school to do our absolute best to defeat the virus and get as many kids as possible back to full-go practice on August 24.

John Gerdes

FHSAA Board of Directors

Athletics Director – Clearwater Central Catholic High School

(By way of disclosure, should comments be posted I will not respond due to the possibility that other Board members may read and/or react, posing potential Sunshine Law conflicts. Feel free to e-mail me at I will do my best to respond in timely fashion)

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College Football

Iowa State now a hotspot for local football recruits



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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Tampa Bay Tech’s Rod Gainey transfers to IMG Academy



Rod Gainey, one of the nation’s premier running backs in the Class of 2024, is leaving Tampa Bay Tech after one season to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Titans coach Jayson Roberts confirmed. 

As a freshman last season, Gainey rushed for 836 yards (7.7 per carry) and had 10 touchdowns on the ground to give Tampa Bay Tech’s high-powered passing game some balance. 

Already a youth league legend in Hillsborough County, Gainey’s performance in his debut high school season only solidified his stats as one of the county’s top recruits in his class. 

Gainey already has offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Penn State, Toledo, UCF, USF and West Virginia, among others. 

This is the second offseason the Titans have lost a star ball carrier to IMG. Last year, Stacey Gage, an incoming freshman at the time, said he was deciding between Tampa Bay Tech and IMG. He ultimately joined the Ascenders, who are a national powerhouse. 

Though the loss of Gainey hurts, Roberts said the ground game still is in solid shape thanks to an offensive line that returns all five starters — Kai Gadson, Shaun Lango, Fred Neal, DJ Porcher and J’shon Scott. And that list does not include Melvin Sylvester, a 6-foot-5, 270 pound incoming freshman who should get plenty of playing time. 

James Evans, John Ponder and Ronald Sims will now handle the bulk of the rushing load, Roberts said. 

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Meet Lakewood’s queen of the block



Melia Garcia knew all about the success of Lakewood’s athletic program before arriving this year as an advanced placement and honors world history teacher.

The subject that really piqued her interest was football. Discussions about the sport constantly came up, particularly among the players in her classes.

Garcia was hooked. She became one of the Spartans’ most ardent supporters, attending nearly every game.  

Still, Garcia grew tired of watching from the stands. So she came up with an idea that would allow her to be more directly involved with the program.

In January, Garcia asked Lakewood coach Cory Moore about joining the football staff. 

There were no double takes from Moore, despite Garcia having no previous coaching experience. 

“I knew she was serious about it,” Moore said. “And I welcomed it because I saw just how good of a teacher Melia is in the classroom and how well she interacted with her students.

“I thought that was exactly the kind of addition we could use on staff.”

At first, Moore had Garcia observe offseason conditioning so they could decide the best fit for her as an assistant. 

Garcia zeroed in on the trenches. 

She wanted to coach the offensive line. 

“That’s the one area I felt most passionate about,” Garcia said. 

Women have broken plenty of barriers to coach at the highest level of football. There are currently eight female coaches in the NFL, including two on the staff of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar. 

Those trailblazers helped pave the way for other females to become coaches in the college and high school ranks.

Garcia admires what they have done, but insists that is not the sole reason she wanted to pursue a job as an assistant. 

“I really wanted to set my own boundaries,” she said. 

So Garcia created her path by instructing big-bodied students to pave the way for others on the offensive side of the ball. 

The bond with blockers grew from her friendship with Tyler Armillay, a former standout lineman from Scranton, Pa. who went to play at Assumption and is now the offensive line coach at Endicott College.

Their conversations would often be about life on the line. Armillay taught Garcia the fundamentals of pass protection and moving defenders out of the way in the run game.

Garcia felt she could do the same with her students. 

Before that could happen, she needed acceptance. Garcia worried how a bunch of teenage boys would react to a female instructing them on the field. 

Those concerns were quickly soothed.

“Once the guys could see that she knew what she was talking about, they had a great relationship,” Moore said. 

Garcia gets her point across because she knows how to teach.

“I think they wanted someone that was nurturing enough to not crush their spirit but tough enough to make sure they didn’t mess around,” Garcia said.  

Her involvement is not restricted to drawing Xs and Os on a board. During spring practice, Garcia stood among her pupils as they jabbed and punched. She talked about body balance and counterstrikes and proper footwork.

Often, Garcia demonstrated by getting in the middle of piles. 

“Melia is not just some bystander,” Moore said. “At practice, she is in the dirt, in the grind. She’s hands-on all the way.”

Isaiah Cooper, a three-year starter who has played every position on the Spartans’ offensive line, was impressed. 

“She’s phenomenal,” Cooper said of Garcia. “You couldn’t even tell she was new. There were some things I didn’t know, that she knew. And she knows how to listen and find ways to relay the information in ways that we’ll understand.”

Her impact is felt off the field, too. 

Moore made Garcia an academic advisor. Players are required to turn in progress reports, complete with signatures from the teachers. Those who fail to do so are not allowed to practice. 

“The grades were a little rough for some, and now they’ve improved tremendously,” Cooper said. “Everything has gone a lot more smoothly as far as academics.”

And they should continue to improve with Garcia running study hall this fall.

“Melia has far exceeded my expectations,” Moore said. “In the classroom. On the field. She does it all.

“She is the real deal.”

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