Before becoming college football stars who regularly appeared on national television and in huge stadiums across the country, these athletes excelled on the ground in Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
Big college football has returned this fall – later than usual and on a reduced schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, this won’t prevent several locals with connections to The Laker / Lutz News coverage section from enjoying the big stage and playing plays at the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Southeastern Conference (SEC), and American Athletic Conference (AAC) on Saturdays . among other.
Here are a handful of hometown players to watch for throughout the 2020 college football season:
Isaiah Bolden, recipient
University: Florida State University, sophomore Redshirt
Local tie: Wesley Chapel High School
Wesley Chapel High Product Isaiah Bolden is a sophomore redshirt recipient in the state of Florida. (Courtesy of Florida State University’s Sports Information Department)
After spending his first two years as a fullback at FSU, the 6-foot-2,196-pound Wesley Chapel High shifted to the offensive side of the ball – the wide receiver. During the preseason, the FSU coaches raved about Boldens size, athleticism, great playing skills and passion for the game.
But how much playing time the Redshirt collects at the position in the second year remains up in the air as he tries to crack a deep, experienced position grouping.
At the very least, expect plenty of Bolden to co-start kick-return assignments. He played in all 13 games last season, returning six kickoffs for 156 yards, including a career of 41 yards and a punt return for seven yards.
Bolden was a three-sport star at Wesley Chapel who shone in soccer, basketball, and athletics. In addition to his pigskin talents, Bolden was the lead rebounder on the varsity basketball team (8.5 rebounds per game in 2017-2018) and won a bronze medal in the 100-meter run at the 2018 state championships of Class 3A.
The former wildcat was a consensus four-star recruit and was courted by about two dozen FBS Division I college football programs, including several other blue blood relatives.
Donovan Jennings, tackled on the left
University: University of South Florida, Junior
Local tie: Gaither High School
Gaither High product Donovan Jennings wants to build a respectable campaign for 2019 along the offensive line for USF. (File)
The massive 6-foot-5,338-pound Gaither high alumnus is cemented as USF’s starting links tackle in a new high-paced attack and aims to build a strong 2019 result by having seen action in 10 games and made eight starts.
In fact, last season Jennings was the team’s top-rated offensive lineman at Pro Football Focus (66.9), a website that focuses on in-depth analysis of the National Football League (NFL) and NCAA Division I football.
He has been recognized by coaches for his pass protection skills and effectiveness in running game, a combination of quick feet, balance and strength. Over the past season, he has been hired many times to block the opponent’s top pass rushers in one-on-one situations.
Expectations remain high again in 2020. He was appointed to the fourth team of the Athlon Preseason All-Conference and the fourth team of the Phil Steele Preseason All-Conference.
Surprisingly, Jennings didn’t start playing soccer until his junior year of high school, as size restrictions in youth leagues prevented him from playing the sport. However, he flourished in four short years at Gaither, receiving all-state honors and scholarship offers from the universities of central Florida and Virginia, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Toledo, among others.
Devontay Love-Taylor from Odessa brings an experienced presence to the offensive line of the state of Florida. Love-Taylor was preparing for Mitchell High School. (Courtesy of Florida State University’s Sports Information Department)
Devontay Love-Taylor, take it right
University: Florida State University, Redshirt Sr.
Local tie: Odessa native
The Odessa native will have an immediate impact on the US state of Florida after moving from Florida International, where he made 16 starts in 32 career games and was recognized by the All-Conference USA last season.
The sturdy 6-foot-4,315-pound lineman is leaned against for his experience, work ethic, and maturity. Pro Football Focus website gave Love-Taylor an above-average rating (74.2) for 721 snaps in a FIU uniform last season.
Love-Taylor was preparing for Mitchell High School, where he received the first-team All-Conference award and advanced the program to the 6A state playoffs. He also played basketball.
Tre ‘McKitty, close end
University: University of Georgia, PhD student
Local tie: Wesley Chapel native
Wesley Chapel native Tre ‘McKitty is listed as the start tight end in Georgia, an SEC program with legitimate national championship aspirations this year. (Courtesy University of Georgia Sports Information Center)
The Wesley Chapel-American native appears to be establishing himself as the first close end of a Georgia team with legitimate aspirations to clinch a national title and ranks fourth on the Associated Press’ top 25 poll.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound McKitty moved to Georgia from FSU in January after a coaching change. He played 35 career games in three seasons at FSU and got a total of 50 receptions for 520 yards and two touchdowns.
At camp with its new roster, Georgia coaches raved about McKitty for being gritty and able to block and make catches.
Forecasters are also optimistic about McKitty’s final season as he was placed on a preseason watchlist for the John Mackey Award, given to the top end of the nation.
McKitty grew up in the South Pasco Predators youth soccer league in Land O ‘Lakes. He played his freshman year at Wesley Chapel High and then prepared for Bradenton’s IMG Academy, where he was a blue-chip recruit
Steinbrenner High alum Noah Ruggles is in a kicker position battle in North Carolina. He was the team’s most important foosball player last season. (File)
Noah Ruggles, table football
University: University of North Carolina, Junior
Local tie: Steinbrenner High School
Ruggles became North Carolina’s main kicker for their sophomore year last season. He converted 19 of 27 field goal attempts – including a length of 49 meters – and was perfect on all 45 of his extra point attempts.
The earlier Steinbrenner high standout was almost automatic for the tar heels on kicks within 40 yards, but struggled on some longer kicks, including 0-3 on attempts greater than 50 yards.
His defining moment in 2019 was when he scored the game-winning field goal in a 20:17 home win against conference rivals Duke at the end of October. It was just a week away from UNC head coach Mack Brown, who benched Ruggles after missing two overtime field goal attempts in a loss to Virginia Tech.
The 6-foot-2,195-pound kicker has yet to prove itself. He’s runner-up on the team’s depth map behind All-American Furman transfer Grayson Atkins but is likely to have plenty of chances.
Ruggles, who is closer to home, was named an All-State Player by Steinbrenner and named Most Valuable Player of the Seniors All-Star Game in East-West Hillsborough County in 2016.
Zephyrhills high alum Ja’Quan Sheppard is ready for a bigger role this season for Cincinnati. (Courtesy of the University of Cincinnati Sports Information Department)
Yes’Quan Sheppard, security
University: University of Cincinnati, sophomore
Local tie: Zephyrhills High School
The Zephyrhills High product is pushing for a bigger role this season for a Cincinnati program due to be completed at the American Athletic Conference (AAC).
A true newcomer to the 11-3 Bearcats in 2019, the 6-foot-2, 197-pound safety played in nine games, mostly as a special-team ace where he was one of the top defenders on the team’s special-team kickoff with six stops -Reporting. Sheppard collected two tackles on his Cincy debut in Marshall and also linked that brand with two tackles in Houston.
In high school, Sheppard was best known for his wide receiver skills at Zephyrhills, where he recorded a total of 91 catches for 1,649 yards and 25 touchdowns in four different seasons. His influence led the Bulldogs to their best season in program history in 2018 – they won 11 games in a row and reached the semifinals of Class 5A. He was no stranger to receiving awards, receiving all-state and all-conference honors, and being invited to the Pasco County’s all-star senior football game. Sheppard was a consensus three-star recruit with more than 20 offers, including from Temple, Marshall, and Kentucky.
Published on September 16, 2020