Gary Shelton - 2/180 - 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.

Lightning prepared to raise Marty St. Louis’ jersey to rafters

Three years ago, he went away angry.

Three years ago, a lot of Tampa Bay Lightning fans felt he had pulled out on the team.

But tonight, Marty St. Louis returns home for the team’s first jersey-retiring ceremony before the game against Columbus. Finally, the team and its star have reconciled.

“I don’t think even when you’re done playing and you’ve done some great things” St. Louis said, “it’s nothing you hope for. This is an add-on you never felt coming. I’m so flattered and honored. I feel good about what I’ve done. But there are people who want to recognize me for it is something I’ll remember forever.”

St. Louis, an afterthought when he entered the league, always played with a chip on his shoulder, as if he had something to prove. He was undersized as a player, but he showed he was big enough.

“You always feel you have something to prove,” St. Louis said. “It’s hard to make it to the NHL, and it’s hard to be an elite player. It’s even harder to stay there. Every year, kids are pushing you trying to get to there. I took pride in that. I think I was my biggest critic. I was trying to show people I could still do it. I think I was an impact player longer because of that mentality.”

St. Louis looks back on his days in Tampa fondly.

“My wife and I talk about it all the time,” St. Louis said. “We grew up here. We had just gotten married. All of our kids were raised here at a young age. We have a lot of friends of the family who are here. I matured here. It will always be home. It was home. Always be a special place.”

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Rays trade pitcher Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith, prospects

The Tampa Bay Rays, still trying to escape from the AL East cellar, have added some speed to their roster.

The Rays traded pitcher Drew Smiley for young outfielder Mallex  Smith and prospects Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. Smith will fit into a suddenly crowded outfield, which also will feature free agent Colby Rasmus, signed two days ago.

Smith stole 16 bases for the Atlanta Braves last year. He has 299 steals in the minor leagues.

Smith, 23, would help the Rays’ outfield makeup by added speed and defense. Rasmus, too, is considered a plus outfielder. He hit .238 last year.

You have to give up something to get something,” Rays general manager Erik Neander said on the team’s website. “But the type of deal we made, the return we got, we thought was something that made sense for us. We’re eager to see how it plays out from here.

“We are heavier with starting pitching than we are in some other areas. And this is an opportunity for us. One of the goals we set out to accomplish this winter was to put ourselves in position to be competitive in 2017, and we’re really doing everything we can to increase competition within our group, be more dynamic and have a greater mix and see how it shakes out.”

Smyly was available because of the Rays’ glut of starting pitchers and his salary. He was schedule to make $6.9 million this season through arbitration. Acquired from Detroit at the July 31, 2014 trade deadline in the David Price trade, Smyly was 15-15 with a 3.95 ERA in 49 starts with the Rays, including 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA last season.

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Examining the expectations for Florida football teams in 2017

If the early prognostications mean anything, then a level of success is going to surround the state of Florida in 2017.

Most of the too-soon predictions for next season have FSU contending for a playoff spot. They think USF could have its best season ever. They think Florida and Miami will both be solid. The predictions come despite FSU losing Dalvin Cook, despite Florida losing much of its defense, despite USF losing Marlon Mack and despite UM losing Brad Kaaya.

ESPN has FSU second in the nation to Alabama. CBS has the Seminoles third. Sporting News has FSU sixth, same as Pro Football Focus. SB Nation has FSU fourth.

USF is 10th by CBS. They’re 20th on ESPN, 25th on Sporting News, 15th by Pro Football Focus and 21st by SB Nation.

Florida is ranked 21st by ESPN, 14th by Sporting News, 21st by Pro Football Focus and 18th by SB Nation. They are unranked by CBS.

UM is 16th by ESPN, 24th by CBS, 21st by Sporting News, 17th by Pro Football Focus and 19th by SB Nation.

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FSU ranked eighth in final AP poll; three other state teams ranked

In the final Associated Press poll of the year, the debate anymore is not who is No. 1.

It’s how the rest of the field sorts out.

This year, for instance, there was never any doubt that Clemson and Alabama would be 1-2 in the polls. But Southern Cal climbed to No. 3 in the final poll.

The two national semifinal losers finished behind the Trojans. Washington was fourth and Ohio State sixth (behind Oklahoma).

Four of Florida’s teams made the top 20 in the poll. FSU finished No. 8 and Florida No. 14 in the polls. USF finished 19th, the first time ever the team has been ranked in the final poll. Miami was 20th.

LSU was 13th. The Tigers, Florida and USF all climbed six spots in the final poll.

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The road for Deshaun Watson started with help from Warrick Dunn

Think of it as Warrick Dunn helping with a few more memories.

Dunn has given away homes to single parents for years as part of the legacy of his mother, an off-duty policewoman who was slain while escorting a businesswoman to the bank to make a deposit when Dunn was only 11 years old. In all, Dunn has given away 152 homes.

Turns out, one of those who benefitted from Dunn’s generosity was Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who grew up in a home provided by Dunn. His new home was furnished, came with a television and a computer, plus cabinets full of food and a lawn mower.

“I felt grown having my own room,” Watson said. “Just having my own bed, not really being squished, not really worrying about someone sneaking up on me, it was a great moment,  a special moment.”

Dunn was pleased to learn Watson’s family has done well.

“We just try to help put people in safer environments and give kids an opportunity,” Dunn told the Associated Press. “You never know what impact you will have. You hope it’s a positive impact.”

Watson had his second straight championship game with more than 400 yards passing and led a last-second comeback.

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Rays add Colby Rasmus to their outfield, need bullpen help

The Tampa Bay Rays may have to tweak their starting rotation.

Obviously, the bullpen needs work.

As far as the regular lineup, however, the Rays have gotten better this off-season with the addition of Colby Rasmus and catcher Wilson Ramos. Whether they have done enough remains to be seen, but it’s a start toward fixing last year’s 68-94 record, the only non-winning team in the AL East.

Rasmus has had four 20-home run seasons and is thought of as an excellent defender.

Part of the equation, of course, will be when, and how many games, Ramos can catch. Another part will be how much Rasmus can hit. Rasmus hit only .206 last year in an injury-plagued year.

Still, the lineup of Brad Miller at first, Logan Forsythe at second, Matt Duffy at short, Evan Longoria at third and Ramos behind the plate has some promise. Rasmus would slide into left, with Corey Dickerson at DH. Kevin Kiermaier is in center and Steven Souza in right.

After Alex Colome, the pen needs attention, as does the rotation, where only Jake Odorizzi had a winning record a year ago.

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Clemson scores with one second left to dethrone Alabama

Deshaun Watson, it seems, had grown weary of the background.

No. 3 in the Heisman voting, 2015.

No. 2 in the Heisman voting, 2016.

No. 2 in the national championship playoffs, 2015.

For most of Monday night’s game against favored Alabama, it seemed that Watson might finish short of the finish line again. Instead, he led Clemson on a 68-yard drive in the last 127 seconds, throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to pull out a 35-31 victory over the Crimson Tide.

It was an upset win for the Tigers, who were facing a team that many had begun to refer as the best team in history. A year ago, despite 405 yards passing by Watson, the Tigers had dropped a 45-40 decision to Alabama.

This time, Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Clemson comeback.

“I told my team that the lights they had shine inside of them would be brighter than the light that shined on them,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “It’s been 35 years.

“There was no upset tonight. That’s the last thing I told them when we left the locker room. I said, when we win the game tonight I don’t want to hear one word about this being an upset. The only upset is going to be if we don’t win the dadgum game. I don’t want to hear one word about it. This is an expectation, the last thing I told them. We expected to win the game. We expected to win it last year. When we take the field, we expect to win because we work our tails off, and we got a committed group of people, staff, players, everybody.”

Alabama took a 14-0 lead on two touchdown runs by Bo Scarbrough, who had to leave the game with an injury. But the Tide sputtered offensively for most of the game. It will always be a question how much harder coach Nick Saban made it by changing offensive coordinators the week before the title when he dumped Lane Kiffen.

“I think the players handled it very well,” Saban said.” I think we scored 31 points in the game, which I think was pretty good against a pretty good defense that actually shut out Ohio State last week. I think we had some drops. I think we had some tipped balls. I think there was things that we could have done better. But I thought the preparation was good. I thought the organization was good, and I thought we gave our players a chance in this game to have success.

“Was it challenging? Yes. Did everyone involved handle it extremely well? Absolutely.”

Watson hit Mike Williams for four yards and Wayne Gallman ran for one-yard to give Clemson a 28-24 win. But Alabama came back itself, and quarterback Jalen Hurts ran 30 yards to give the Tide the lead.

After that, Watson drove the Tigers downfield, hitting six of eight passes.

“As I said earlier, and I’ll say it again, he didn’t lose out on the Heisman, the Heisman lost out on him,” Swinney said. “They lost out on an opportunity to be attached to this guy forever. But this guy, his class, his humility, this was his Heisman tonight, and this was really what he wanted. This is what he came to Clemson to do.

“He’s just been an unbelievable, unbelievable player, preparer, leader, and ambassador for this university. He set the standard. He set the bar for everybody coming through. It’s just unreal. Over a 3.0, and I’m so proud of him. I mean, this guy deserves it. I told him, I said, you deserve it. And I’m just happy that we have this moment to share in it, and the rest of these seniors, they’ll take this with them forever. They’ll take this into their marriages, they’ll take this into their jobs. The moment will fade, but the work ethic, the will to win, the passion, the courage, the guts, the teamwork, the belief, how to think the right way, they’ll take that with them forever.”

Saban tried to find some consolation on the season his team had.

“I have to say that I’m extremely proud of our team for what they were able to accomplish this entire season,” said Saban. “I don’t think one game defines who you are, you know, as a person, as a competitor, or as a team and certainly not define what this group of young men was able to accomplish this year. It was a hard-fought game out there today, very disappointing to lose a game like that, and I wish there was something else that I could do for the players to help them be more successful in the game.”

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Jags hire Doug Marrone as coach, bring back Tom Coughlin as VP

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new boss.

Two of them, in fact.

The Jags hired Doug Marrone as head coach and announced the return of Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice President in Charge of Football Operations. The team is hopeful the combination can turn the Jags around.

“I have confidence that one day soon we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said.  “I am honored to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, where winning was customary under his leadership.  I know he expects the same in his return to head our football operations, and that’s good news for us and Jaguars fans everywhere.  The extension of Dave Caldwell’s contract speaks to his excellent work thus far and the continued importance of complementing our talented and promising roster.

“I am particularly enthused to introduce Doug Marrone as our new head coach.  Doug is a strong football man in every respect and offers us qualities that will serve us well in all facets of the team, from the meeting rooms to game day and much more.  The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

Marrone, 52, is the team’s fifth full-time head coach in franchise history, joining Coughlin (1995-2002), Jack Del Rio (2003-11), Mike Mularkey (2012) and Gus Bradley (2013-16). Marrone served as the team’s interim head coach for the final two games of the 2016 regular season. He joined the team as the assistant head coach-offense/offensive line coach on January 20, 2015, following a two-year stint as the head coach for the Buffalo Bills (2013-14).

Caldwell, the team’s general manager for the past four seasons (2013-16), has received a two-year contract extension that will run through 2019.

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5 players who could decide tonight’s national title game

Forget the hype. Don’t watch the celebrities. Pay no attention to the talking heads.

This is about players. Football always is.

So which players could change tonight’s game? A handful of possibilities for each team:

Clemson

1. Deshaun Watson, quarterback: Watson is the key figure to the game for both teams. If he gets loose – he had 405 yards and four touchdowns last year – then he can lead Clemson to a surprisingly easy win. If Alabama can contain him, their job gets easier. Watson does have 17 interceptions, however, and the Tide has been known to return one or two.

2. Mike Williams, wide receiver: Williams is a difference-maker. He caught 90 passes for the Tigers this year for 1,267 yards and 10 scores. He can expose the Tide corners, which some suspect is the vulnerable part of their defense.

3. Ben Boulware, linebacker: He’s the voice of the Clemson defense, an effusive tackler and leader. He has 110 tackles, including 9.5 for loss. He’ll be the guy in charge of stopping the relentless Alabama running game.

4. Wayne Gallman, Clemson: Gallman has rushed for more than 2,600 yards for Clemson the last two seasons. If there is a crease in the Alabama defense, and there haven’t been many, it’s up to him to exploit it. A very underrated back.

5. Clelin Farrell, defensive end: Farrell just dominated the Ohio State Buckeyes a week ago. His matchup with Cam Robinson of Alabama will be one of the more interesting head-to-head competitions in the game. Farrell, a redshirt freshman, has blossomed in the playoffs.

Alabama

1. Reuben Foster, linebacker: A lot of other players get a lot of attention, but Foster is the guy in the middle of the highlight reel tackles. He’s projected to be among the top two inside backers in the draft. He’ll have a lot to do with stopping Watson.

2. Jonathan Allen, defensive end: Allen is the most physically dominating the Tide has had in years. Allen has 24 sacks the last two seasons, and before Watson can work his magic, he’s going to have to get free of Allen.

3. Cam Robinson, tackle: Robinson has already been projected as a 10-year left tackle on the next level. It is up to him and his linemates to allow the Alabama running back to click. If it doesn’t, the Tide is vulnerable.

4. Jalen Hurts, quarterback: Hurts’ play will be one of the most revealing aspects of the game. Hurts struggled against Washington, the Tide offense looked lethargic. In some games this season, however, Hurts has been a difference-maker. He isn’t as good as Watson – yet – but his game will help decide things.

5. Bo Scarbrough, running back: For much of the season, Scarbrough was just another guy on the Tide team. But in his last three games, he’s rushed for 361 yards. If he can move the pile against Clemson, it will go a long way toward Alabama winning.

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Lightning clobbered yet again, falls to .500 for the season

After a while, it isn’t just a slump.

After a while, it’s a new reality.

The Tampa Bay Lightning fell to .500 on the season, losing their fourth straight game of the season. This time, it was a 6-2 beating at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. It lowered the Bolts’ record to 19-19-4 on the season.

The Lightning has now given up three or more goals in 16 of their last 21 games.

“We played a really good team that’s had quite a long break to get the bodies healthy, and we’re a tired group,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When you’re tired, you’re bound to make a couple of mistakes. We did what we wanted to do, we got the lead, and unfortunately, we broke down on the first one and then the self-inflicted wounds started. We make a major error on the second one, turn it over, and against a good team, that’s going to end up in the back of the net. But, ultimately, it was still 2-1 going into the third. They pushed, and we just couldn’t push back. We were tired at the end.”

Weariness doesn’t answer all of the Bolts’ problems as of late, however. The defense has played poorly, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has three six-goal games in the last four.

Jonathan Drouin and Vlad Namestnikov scored for the Lightning.

“You’ve just got to get back to work,” Cooper said. “It’s 82 games, not four. But we’ve got to have a little renewed interest in our D zone because it doesn’t matter, you can sit here and say, ‘Well, we can score four or five a night,’ you’re still going to lose when you give up six. But, the guys have played a lot of hockey here in a short amount of time, and they tried to game this one out. It was our mistakes that led to their goals, and they capitalized on every one of them.

“I can look back on those goals and three-quarters of them, we just handed to them on a platter. You can’t do that. Ultimately, we didn’t penetrate enough. They got to the scoring areas to score, and we didn’t. We were still a little bit perimeter at times, and we can’t be. It cost us.”

The Lightning is home Thursday night against Buffalo and Friday against Columbus.

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