Gary Shelton - SaintPetersBlog

Gary Shelton

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

Rowdies open first USL season with 1-0 victory over Orlando City B

Now, that’s the way a team should begin a journey.

The stadium was packed. The evening was perfect. And the team – the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in this case – dispatched a brand new rival in a new league with a 1-0 victory.

Playing in front of 7,710 fans, the Rowdies beat the Orlando City team of the USL.

Georgi Hristov scored on a penalty kick in the 57th minute for the only goal to lead his team to the victory.

It was a big game with a big atmosphere and my players came good tonight,” Rowdies’  coach Stuart Campbell said. “I’m delighted for Georgi because he worked his absolute socks off and if anyone deserved a goal tonight, it’s him.”

Hristov, who had missed much of the preseason with an injury, admitted he could have scored two other goals. But he calmly knocked home the penalty kick for the winner.

It was an unbelievable atmosphere,” Hristov said. “I think everyone realizes that out organization is trying to do something big for Tampa Bay, so I appreciate everyone coming out to support us.

I’m happy to have scored the goal on an important night for the Rowdies,” Hristov said. “We played really well tonight and should’ve won by more, so I’m proud of the way all my teammates played. There’s things we can do better, but this is a good start.”

Said Campbell: “He’s a cool customer, isn’t he? He’s never too high. Never to low. When it comes to penalty kicks, I let the players sort it out. Sometimes, it’s whoever gets the ball first.”

Orlando City goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. had a good night, making four saves.

For the Rowdies, goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald had a clean sheet. He had found out only Thursday that he was starting because of neck injury to regular Matt Pickens.

I’ve been in the league six or seven years,” he said, “so the night before wasn’t too bad. The team played great defense in front of me.”

Said Campell: “He’s done well. We’ve known he was starting for a while, but we kept our cards close to our vest. He’s calm. Very assured.”

The Rowdies are home on Saturday night against Toronto.

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Bucs place three players on under-25 offensive football team

Does tomorrow belong to the Tampa Bay Bucs?

Tampa Bay placed three players on the recent 25-and-under team as picked by NFL.com, all on offense.

Leading the way was quarterback Jameis Winston, who was selected over Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.

Also picked was Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, who led the NFL in being targeted last year.

The third member of the Bucs to be picked was guard Ali Marpet, who has started every game since coming out of tiny Hobart College.

No Bucs’ defensive players were picked, despite the presence of linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

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5 things to keep your eye on as Rowdies open their USL era

Five things to look for in tonight’s home opener for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

1. The crowd: Sure, most teams look for a big gate in their opening game. For the Rowdies, who have been pushing their attendance to make the MLS notice, it’s even more important. Tampa Bay has to establish itself as a solid market.

2. New surroundings: The USL isn’t where the Rowdies were, and it isn’t where they want to be long-term. But it’s a stable league, which pulled the Rowdies from the NASL, where they had played for years. The opponent, Orlando B, could be the birth of a new rivalry.

3. Joe Cole: Someday, Cole will get old. Not yet, though. Cole has looked as frisky as ever in the Rowdies’ training camp, and he’s still capable of taking your breath away with a key goal. At this stage of his career, Cole is also a calming influence for a young team.

4. Marcel Shafer: The Rowdies hope Shafer, too, can have a bit impact on their roster. He spent 10 seasons playing for German Bundesliga’s VfL Wolfsburg.

5. Georgi Hristov: Hristov, last season’s leading scorer for the Rowdies, leads an attack the team hopes will be more productive. Speed gives the Rowdies’ fans reason to hope.

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Nikita Kucherov’s overtime goal leads Lightning to another win

The Tampa Bay Lightning continues to be contrarians.

Following a three-game losing streak that looked as if it was going to finish the team, the Bolts responded with a two-game winning streak on the road that might end up saving them.

The Lightning beat the Detroit Red Wings Friday night, 2-1 in overtime, to pull within one point of the Bruins and Islanders for the final wild-card spot. The Bruins and Islanders play each other today.

The Lightning now has at least a point in 11 of its last 12 road games (8-1-3).

Nikita Kucherov won the game for the Bolts with a goal in overtime. It was his 38th goal of the season, and his seventh in the last four games. Earlier, Ondrej Palat had scored to tie the game at 1.

It just feels good to win this game,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We had a tough little stretch there where we lost three in a row at home, and you sit here and say every game’s a must win, but let’s be honest, we don’t come out with four points in this, we’re in trouble. To come in on the back-to-back and be down in the third and to gut one out, pretty proud of the guys.

Losing would have been devastating for us, and that’s the way it is. When you’re not just trying to catch one team, you’re catching multiple teams, that’s why it’s hard to do. Really, you’ve just got to sit here and say the only destiny you can control is your own. That was the big conversation going into the third period. We had the one-goal lead against Arizona the other night and let it slip away, now we’re down a goal, what are we going to do here? The guys just talked about what needed to be done to win a hockey game, and they found a way.”

Cooper talked about the ascension of Kucherov, who has carried the Bolts as of late.

The biggest thing for me, what I think what’s really changed for him and it actually didn’t look like it tonight, but he’s been shooting the puck,” Cooper said. “And probably a month and a half ago, he’d show up on the sheet with one or zero shots, and I thought a big turning point was in Colorado, he didn’t score but I think he had eight or nine shots on goal that night. And the next night he had seven and scored, and it’s just taken off ever since. He got the big one tonight, but he passed up a couple really good looks where he can score. When Kuch is getting into that three to six shot a night range, pucks go in for guys like him. That’s what he’s doing, he’s creating space for himself, he’s fighting through stuff and, as I said, your best players got to be your best players and he’s a big reason why we’re back in this race.”

Tampa Bay is off until Monday when it plays Chicago.

  

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Tampa Bay Bucs might have interest in Miami tight end David Njoku

Could the Tampa Bay Bucs‘ Plan B for their upcoming draft be a tight end?

The Bucs have recently been linked to Miami tight end David Njoku, the second-best tight end in the upcoming draft. Njoku has special burst that could add something to the Bucs’ receiving corps, something more than incumbent Cameron Brate offers.

I know, I know. It’s hard to see the Bucs drafting Njoku over FSU’s Dalvin Cook, no matter what the mocks say. As a tight end, Njoku figures to touch the ball 5-6 times a game. As a running back, Cook figures to touch it about 20 times.

Ah, but if the Bucs are committed to Cook, and he goes off the board, say, 17th in the first round, Tampa Bay has to have an alternate plan.

Taking a player from Miami, a year after taking one from Florida and two years after one from FSU, sounds plausible.

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FSU running back Jacques Patrick a bridge between star runners

He stands between the Best One and the Next One. For FSU running back Jacques Patrick, it’s a special place to be.

A year ago, he supported record-setting Dalvin Cook for the Seminoles. Now, he is grooming Cook’s eventual replacement in Cam Akers.

For now, however, the job belongs to Patrick.

“It gets you excited and gives you a rush, knowing a guy like that is going to be a first-round pick in the [NFL] draft, and he’s blocking for me,” Patrick told the Orlando Sentinel.

“It was a great feeling, and we’re trying to do the same thing out here. I know these guys look up to me, so I’m doing it for the group.”

Patrick, a former five-star recruit from Orlando, headlines FSU’s deep running back group that features sophomore Amir Rasul, freshman Cam Akers and seldom-used backups Ryan Green and Johnathan Vickers.

“All of them do a lot of things,” Fisher said of his running backs. “It’s not like you have to put one guy to do this, and one guy to do that. They have a very wide range skill sets.”

Patrick has rushed for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career.

“It’s pretty cool because we have a lot of things we can relate to coming out of high school,” Patrick said of Akers. “Cam has been improving, and you can see the improvements each and every day. I’m happy for him. That guy is going to be really good.”

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Rays won’t get their first choice in search for a new stadium

For Stuart Sternberg, finding a new stadium site for the Tampa Bay Rays hasn’t proven as easily as just identifying his preferred site.

“We had some ideas on locations that just weren’t available, that I thought would have worked perfectly, but they’re off the table,” Sternberg said in Port Charlotte Thursday. “So we’re sort of moving down our list to Nos. 2, 3 and 4. It’s like starting pitchers, you have five of them and sometimes No. 4 is better than No. 2, but rarely better than No. 1. The No. 1 is the No. 1. I hate to be mixing these sort of metaphors, but it sort of works in this case.

“We did have a choice that we thought that was going to be ideal, a choice or two, and it was going to be unavailable. We would have had to flesh it out. But we’re working and trying to find out what will be next best.”

Sternberg wouldn’t say where his choice would have been, or if it was in Tampa or St. Petersburg.

How optimistic is Sternberg?

“It’s unknown at this point,” he said.

Sternberg said in February he expected conclusion by August, but said Thursday it could take until the end of the year.

“Nobody wants this process to move quicker than we do,” he said. “Because the sooner we are able to get something done the quicker we’re able to ramp up our revenues and know where our future’s going to be for the next set of generations to come, but it’s an important process and we’re not doing this in a vacuum. We’re working with various cities on both sides of the bay, we’re working with the different counties on both sides of the bay, we’re working with MLB to a point as well, landowners sometimes in some cases. It’s a complicated process.”

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Gators’ fans continue to search for their next great quarterback

There is one question that dominates the Univesity of Florida football team. It isn’t about linebackers.

It isn’t about receivers or runners or defensive backs. It isn’t about opponents or guards or defenders.

At Florida, the question is always about quarterbacks.

This spring, with a shoulder injury to incumbent Luke Del Rio, the Gators have been turned over to redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. The Gators haven’t had an impact quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2009.

That has led to a Franks vs. Trask discussion on campus that has not paused. It seems to be a friendly competition.

“We haven’t had any tension,” Trask told the Orlando Sentinel. “Because we both early enrolled we’ve gotten close ever since.”

“Like they say, iron sharpens iron,” Franks said. “It’s a cool opportunity, a very cool opportunity. I’m working my butt off every day for that opportunity.”

A year ago, however, Franks was still wrestling with an “overwhelming” playbook.

“I think it was a case of me just not coming in and getting comfortable with everybody,” he said. “Being here a season, redshirting, it was really good for me, getting to know the players, getting to know the offense, knowing how things operate around here at Florida.

“It’s been really good for me.”

Franks is known for his strong arm. Trask is known for his accuracy.

“I’ve made a big focus on just being more vocal at the line of scrimmage,” he said. “After one year, coming in as an early enrollee to now I feel 100 percent more confident at the line of scrimmage.

“You gotta be confident. Your energy reflects on everybody.”

Franks has the confidence part down. Too much so at times.

“He’s got great belief in his arm strength,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “At times, we’ve got to teach him that you can’t make every throw and sometimes you can’t throw it through three guys.”

For the Gators, the players give Florida two chances at their next great quarterback.

And a discussion that will not stop.

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New USF Basketball coach Brian Gregory says local recruiting vital

For the USF basketball team to succeed, it will have to contend with basketball programs from across the nation.

Still, for USF, the chore begins here.

“We have an incredible recruiting base to recruit from,” new coach Brian Gregory said in his introductory press conference Wednesday. “Our footprint of our university has been undervalued and underutilized in the recruiting process. That must and will change.”

Orlando Antigua, Gregory’s predecessor, signed no bay area player in his 2 1/2 seasons. Several Tampa area graduates are playing for schools across the country.

“We’ve always said, ‘Let’s control our area first,’ ” said Gregory.

“We want to identify recruits that are high-character, high-talent, fit our system, fit our style of play, fit the vision and the mission of the university. And we want to do that locally first and then move out from there.”

USF has reached the NCAA Tournament only three times in 45 years.

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Florida running back Mark Thompson isn’t making predictions

This time, Mark Thompson will run silently.

Thompson, the senior running back for the University of Florida, entered talking last year. He was going to have 1,000 yards by the Georgia game, remember? He was going to kick the doors open in the SEC.

It didn’t quite turn out that way.

Thompson, a second-team junior college All-American at Dodge City Community College, finished the regular season with only 299 yards rushing a year ago.

“I would say last year did motivate me and humble me,” Thompson said. “I made some predictions, I said some things. I was saying a lot before even stepping on the field. Yes, it humbled me a lot. And this year I’m just looking forward to my progress from year one to year two and I will have a lot of focus.”

Thompson said he is better prepared this season.

“Hey, just get on the field, make some film for the NFL guys to look at and get some stock to my name,” he said. “I’m headed in the right direction. I’m not heading backward, I’m not taking any steps back. I’m very, very ready to see what’s in store for me these next few months.”

“I had some hiccups learning, not only football, but things off the field as well. I could have had a way better first year in all aspects of being at the University of Florida. But, you make the biggest transition from year one to year two, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Thompson said the low point last season was being suspended from the Georgia game after being cited for possession of marijuana the Thursday before the game.

“Definitely, missing that Georgia game. It hurt,” he said. “Growing up, that was the main game. I was always like, ‘Florida-Georgia, I got to watch this’. So not being able to play in that game really hurt, and it really made me realize, ‘Hey, I’m not doing the right thing, let me step back and really re-evaluate everything I’m doing, and stay on the right track’.”

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