Gary Shelton - 2/194 - 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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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’.”

Baseball Prospectus sees the Tampa Bay Rays improving to second

The Tampa Bay Rays may be facing a turnaround year.

At least, that’s what the people at Baseball Prospectus believe.

According the PECOTA rankings, the Rays should improve to be the second-ranked team in the AL East. They should tie the Texas Rangers for the wild-card spot with 84 wins. It was the kind of turnaround prediction that is sure to make manager Kevin Cash happy.

That might sound a bit lofty when you compare it to last year’s 68-win season, but the website sees the Rays as giving up the second-fewest runs (690) in the division. Although it also thinks the Rays will have the second-worst batting average (.244) in the league, one point ahead of Oakland, it thinks it will finish three games behind Boston in the division.

It also has Toronto three games back, the Yankees four games back and Baltimore 10 games back.

Does that seem lofty to you? Well, Bleacher Report still has the Rays in fifth, going 72-90 on the season. USA Today also has the Rays in the basement, going 75-87 on the season.

Lightning embarrassed by Arizona with defeat in playoff drive

Quick question: If a team is going to be embarrassed by the second-worst team in the NHL, what does it say?

Other than, for a night, that the Tampa Bay Lightning was among the worst.

The Lightning blew every advantage Tuesday night. They were playing the second-worst team in the league, the Arizona Coyotes. They were at home. They held a lead in the third period. They were playing with playoffs in mind.

And still, they lost a 5-3 game to Arizona, an embarrassing game that might help keep them from the post-season.

The Bolts gave up five goals for the third straight game, and they lost again.

“You have to keep the puck out of your net if you’re going to win,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “In our last two games, we’ve scored three. In the past, when we’ve made a commitment to play defense, we’ve won those games. If you’re not going to defend, you’re not going to win.”

Cooper offered up an interesting statistic. Arizona blocked 25 shots on Tuesday night; the Bolts blocked only six.

Still, the Bolts had a chance to win. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Vlad Namestnikov scored to give Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead. Still, Arizona came back to win.

The Lightning, impossibly, is still only four points out of a playoff spot. But as Cooper said, “We’re running out of real estate.”

Tampa Bay now goes on the road, facing Boston and Detroit.

FSU defensive end Josh Sweat has learned his lesson for Seminoles

For Josh Sweat, there wasn’t enough sweat.

Sweat, the defensive end of the FSU Seminoles, looks back at a year ago and remembers being called out for loafing in a loss to North Carolina. He seems determined that it will not happen again.

“Everyone knows I had that one bad game,” Sweat told the Tallahassee Democrat. “I’m not going to let it bother me anymore. I felt like my last six games after that, I definitely turned it around. I’m not worried about that anymore, and nobody is going to get me down from that.”

Sweat has turned himself into an example for his teammates.

“I came out here the first day (of spring practice) and started to run to the ball,” Sweat said. “Everyone just followed.”

Last season finished like that for Sweat. His last three games included 4 1/2 sacks.

“We lost by a little bit,” Sweat said, “and sometimes a lot. But when it really mattered, we didn’t pull through. Some of the bad habits started in practice. It’s easier to say it, but we need to work on those things.”

The work will have to come quickly. FSU opens its season against Alabama. Sweat will be counted upon to help replace Demarcus Walker, who was second in the nation with 16.5 sacks.

 

Rowdies, Tampa Bay United announce milestone partnership

The two largest soccer presences in Tampa Bay have become one.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay United have announced a partnership.

Tampa Bay United, the largest youth soccer team in Tampa Bay, will rebrand as the TBU Rowdies beginning this season. The TBU Rowdies’ highest-level teams will wear the Rowdies’ familiar green and gold hooped jerseys on the field, expanding the visibility of the Rowdies throughout the region.

 The partnership brings into focus the Rowdies’ goal of being the backbone of soccer in the Tampa Bay community and developing elite players both through the US Soccer Development Academy on the boys’ side and the Elite Clubs National League on the girls’ side.

 “Over the last several years, the Rowdies’ focus has been to create a successful business model for both the first team players on the field and the stadium experience for the fans,” Rowdies COO Lee Cohen said. “We feel as if we are now prepared to focus on the next steps of our soccer evolution in the Tampa Bay Area. Partnering with TBU and making that club part of our family as the TBU Rowdies was, in our minds, the most logical next step.”

 The TBU Rowdies are sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation as an official Boys Development Academy club, meaning TBU Rowdies teams compete at the highest level for their age groups. The Boys Development Academy clubs receive direction directly from the United States Soccer Federation on training regimens and environments to ensure the highest quality.

 “We are honored to be working with such a highly esteemed team,” said Tampa Bay United CEO Charlie Slagle. “The value they bring in terms of expertise and opportunities supports our mission of developing youth talent as a long-term goal. It is not about winning one game, it is about developing what you need each year to continue for the long haul. Last year, we had a record number of TBU players sign on to play at the collegiate level, and this affiliation enhances our ability to be the top level club for youth soccer in the state of Florida.”

 Heading the collaboration between the Rowdies and TBU is Keith Fulk, a pillar of the Tampa Bay soccer community. Fulk has been a part of three national championship teams at the University of Tampa, as a player in 1981, as an assistant coach in 1994 and as head coach in 2001. He spent the last six seasons as head coach at St. Leo University, leading the Lions to two Sunshine State Conference championships. He previously spent eight years as an assistant coach for the United States Under-17 national team, including four FIFA Youth World Cups.

Tampa Bay Rays extend center fielder Kevin Kiermaier’s contract

Kevin Kiermaier was always one of the most popular Tampa Bay Rays.

Now, he’ll be popular with his banker, too.

Kiermaker, the Rays’ center fielder, signed a six-year, $53.5 million extension that will keep him in Tampa Bay through 2023.

The agreement with Kiermaier marks the fourth time that Stuart Sternberg’s ownership group has guaranteed at least six years in a contract with a Rays player. Right-handed pitcher Chris Archer signed for a guaranteed six years (plus two club options) on April 2, 2014. Third baseman Evan Longoria signed for six years guaranteed (plus three club options) on April 18, 2008, then on November 26, 2012, extended that deal an additional six years with a club option for 2023.

“Kevin has established himself as one of the most dynamic and exciting players in baseball, and he also sets a tremendous example off the field with his work ethic, dedication and leadership,” said Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman. “We’re thrilled that he’ll be patrolling center field for the Rays for years to come.”

Kiermaier, 26, won the AL Gold Glove Award for center field in 2016 for the second consecutive season, joining Longoria (2009, 2010) as the only players to win multiple Gold Glove Awards in franchise history. He also became the second AL outfielder since the awards were first presented in 1957 to claim the Gold Glove in each of his first two full seasons in the majors, joining Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001-02.

Last season, Kiermaier led major league center fielders with 25 Defensive Runs Saved despite missing 48 games due to injury. Defensive Runs Saved attempts to calculate how many runs a player saved or cost his team in the field compared to the average player at his position. His 25 DRS ranked second overall in the majors (regardless of position), behind Boston’s Mookie Betts (32), despite playing 509.1 fewer innings.

Kiermaier beat the odds. He simply outworked his teammates. He made the front office notice him.

The Rays were hunting for outfielders in the 2010 draft. They picked Josh Sale first. Bust. They picked Drew Vettleson third. Bust. They picked Michael Lorenzen 10th. Bust. They picked Deshun Dixon 13th. Bust. They picked Chris Winder 27th. Bust.

Finally, they picked Kiermaier. But not until they picked a third baseman named Nicholas Schwaner and a catcher named Matt Koch and a first baseman named Phillip Wunderlich. In all, it was the greatest collection of nobodies ever picked in front of a somebody.

And that’s a key thing with Kiermaier. Think of all the bonus babies who went in front of him. Think of all the high-priced free agents who disappointed. Kiermaier simply wouldn’t settle for being less than an impact player. He kicked down the doors to this franchise. He made himself a bargain.

For Kiermaier, it turns out that more things are gold than just his baseball glove.

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