Gary Shelton - 4/200 - 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

Can the FSU offensive line protect Deondre Francois in Spring Game?

Five things to ponder while watching the FSU spring game.

1. The kids are all right: A lot of eyes will be on freshman running back Cam Akers as he tries to relieve much of the loss of all-everything Dalvin Cook. Akers is one of several Seminoles who have enrolled early, giving a chance for immediate help. Can Akers, a high school quarterback, be an instant success? Isn’t that the best kind?

2. The James Gang rides again: Safety Derwin James returns after missing most of last season due to injury. James was considered the best Seminole defender when he went down, and it took several games for the Noles to adjust.

3. The quarterback attack is back: Quarterback Deondre Francois won’t have Cook behind him, but on his own, Francois led five FSU comebacks last year. He’ll have to be very good very fast with Alabama looming in the opening game.

4. The Great Wall: Last year, FSU’s offensive line was sketchy. This year, it needs to protect Francois early. It was 58th in the NCAA with 26 sacks allowed last year, and Francois took a beating even when he got passes away. If the Seminoles’ young backs have a chance, they’ll need holes.

5. Is anyone open?: Who is Francois going to throw to? FSU lost its top four receivers from a year ago. Are Nyqwan Murray and Auden Tate the answers? We’ll see.

5 things to watch for as the Tampa Bay Rowdies put their unbeaten streak on the line

Five things to look forward to in the Saturday night game between the Rowdies and Ottawa FC.

1. Unbeaten, untied. The Rowdies seek to complete a successful homestand with a win over the Ottawa Furies. Tampa Bay had won 1-0 and 4-0 in two weeks and has looked solid on both ends of the pitch. For a team to get nine points out of its first home stand would be impressive.

2. Old friends: Ottawa is one of the few teams in the USL that is familiar to Tampa Bay, also coming from the NASL. Last year, the Fury had a loss and a tie at Al Lang Field, so the Rowdies will attempt to continue their hold over Ottawa, which is 0-1 on the season after losing last week with an own-goal.

3. Clean sheets: The Rowdies’ defense has been superb in two games so far, and pitched a shutout (a clean sheet) in both. Tampa Bay goaltender Akira Fitzgerald has been solid, but he really hasn’t had a lot of work because of the defense in front of him. Fitzgerald has only two saves in two games.

4. Passing crispness: Through two games, the Rowdies have completed 967 passes. That’s second in the USL to the Portland Timbers 2, who have 1,132, but the Timbers have played one more game. If the Rowdies can continue to distribute the ball, they should be able to get past the Fury.

5. Third time’s a charm: Rowdies’ forward Georgi Hristov has scored in each of the first two games for the Rowdies. Despite missing several chances in their opener, the Rowdies are second in the USL with five goals. Also look for Michael Nanchoff, who had two assists and earned Man of the Match honors.

Tampa Bay Rays outlast Toronto to capture a 10-8 comeback victory

They won it. They lost it. Then they won it again.

The Tampa Bay Rays won a wild one against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, winning 10-8 after losing a 6-2 lead.

For the third time in five games, the Rays jumped on the opposing starter. Toronto’s Francisco Liriano lasted only one-third of an inning, giving up five earned runs and leaving with an ERA of 135.00. But the Blue Jays pecked away at the lead, and went ahead 7-6. The Rays, however, had a comeback of their own to win.

“This is the first interesting one of the season,” said Rays’ manager Kevin Cash. “The back-and-forth. We have a lot of them here. Glad to get it out and have the win. It wasn’t by any means the prettiest game, but really impressed with some big hits, timely hitting, and (reliever) Danny Farquhar. He really stepped up for us, the way he came through. I asked a lot him and did everything he could to keep the lead for us.”

The Rays had 13 hits, including a home run by Evan Longoria (his second of the season). Ricky Weeks, Logan Morrison and Corey Dickerson all had two hits, with Morrison’s and Dickerson’s coming after they came off the bench.

Xavier Cedeno got the win for the Rays, although he got only one out and walked two. Alex Colome got his third save in as many tries.

Outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who had a two-run double, said he was glad to see his team’s offense.

“It’s good,” he said. “I think it’s good for our starting pitchers and it’s good for our bullpen to know that we can come back. These last two games have shown that we can fight back. We fell short yesterday, but being able to come through and be resilient, is pretty good.”

Among those with hits was rookie Daniel Robertson, who had his first career hit.

“It felt amazing, to say the least, and to just get it out of the way. Obviously, I feel like that first one is the toughest one to get and then you start trickling 0-for-8, 0-for-10 and then you start thinking about it. It just felt really good. I knew I was facing a tough pitcher, but I was trying to be aggressive early, especially with runners on. I got a pitch to my liking and put a good swing on it.”

The Rays and Blue Jays play again today at 6:10 p.m. Chris Archer goes for his second win for the Rays against Aaron Sanchez.




Feleipe Franks takes the lead in Florida’s quarterback scramble

Frankly, he has a chance.

Feleipe Franks, the redshirt freshman quarterback for the University of Florida, established himself as the team’s front-runner in Friday night’s spring game. He led the Orange team (the starters) to a 31-0 victory over the Blues Friday night.

Franks hit eight of 14 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown.

“He did all right,” Gators coach Jim McElwain said. “He’s ahead.”

Franks seemed much more poised than a year ago, when he threw three interceptions in the spring.

Franks, the 6-foot-6, 219-pound redshirt freshman from Crawfordville, Fla., didn’t waste any time showing off his arm strength and touch, lofting a 46-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond on the game’s first series to set up a touchdown and later fired a 16-yard scoring strike to junior wideout Antonio Callaway.

“Obviously, that was a big confidence booster, and a big role of playing quarterback is having confidence,” Franks said. “It’s been a tremendous difference this year [compared to last year].”

Kyle Trask, who worked with the starters in the second half, was six of 15 for 66 yards and an interception.

All the quarterbacks did a decent job,” McElwain said. “We kept it pretty vanilla. There is no sense in showing all we’re going to do when we open up in that first ball game.

“(Franks) played decent, yet Kyle took that drive down pretty good. I’m excited about Kadarius (Toney.) We know what we have there. He will be a guy that needs to touch the ball for us.

“I hope you saw what I saw. Those quarterbacks were very comfortable, you could see them setting their feet and the ball thrown from the pocket. I think we’re going to be all right.”

McElwain said the next thing is for the Gators to pick a starter at quarterback and develop him.

Lightning wins, waits, watches to see if playoffs are possible

The Tampa Bay Lightning has one game left, but the games they don’t control that will be the most nerve-wracking.

The Lightning has to watch as the Toronto Maple Leafs play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. A win in either game clinches the playoffs for the Leafs and eliminates the Lightning.

The Lightning closes out his season Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. The team has to wait to see if that game matters.

The Bolts beat Montreal Friday night, 4-2, to come within one point of the Maple Leafs.

Yanni Gourde scored twice for the Bolts. Nikita Kucherov scored his 40th goal, and Alex Killorn added a goal. Andrie Vasilevskiy played for the third straight game and stopped 27 shots.

“What’s encouraging for us, these guys (rookies) that are new to this, they don’t seem to care,” Bolts’ coach Jon Cooper said. “It doesn’t matter what league they’re playing in. They’re not afraid of the moment.”

The Bolts have gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games. Gourde has scored in five of the last seven games.

“I think just hard work,” Lightning rookie Brayden Point said of his team’s late-season run. “You look at the last two minutes on that penalty kill, guys are selling out and blocking shots. I think that’s why we’re having success. we’re so excited, these are must wins for our team. We’ve got lots of energy. Obviously, it was a tight-checking game, but I think we worked really hard tonight.”

Point said his team would pay attention to Saturday’s game.

“I think we’ll all be watching them pretty close,” Point said. “But we’ve got to rest up and take care of business ourselves.”

Quarterback competition to highlight Gators’ spring football game

The defense has been rebuilt. Definitely, Gator fans are going to want to check it out.

Oh, and the play-makers are better at wide receiver. Those will be fun to see.

The offensive line is better. And the running game is solid. And …

Oh, never mind. You want to see the quarterbacks, don’t you?

If there is one overwhelming point of interest to this year’s Gators, who have their spring game tonight, it is the quarterbacks. With returner Luke Del Rio out, the competition has boiled down to two quarterbacks: Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask. One or the other of them has a chance to be the quarterback the Gators have been looking for since Tim Tebow left.

“I will say I’m excited how they’re playing,” coach Jim McElwain says. “It’s been good, we’ve been able to stretch it really good.

“They’ve done a great job, and yet, I kind of expected them to.

Franks threw three interceptions in last year’s spring game. This year, with increased knowledge of the offense, Gator fans can expect a smoother quarterback. He has shortened his release and improved on his decision making.

Whether it is Franks or Trask – and the job is just beginning – the Gators hope to have more of an impact player at the position than in the last two seasons.

Kendrys Morales’ grand slam leads Blue Jays over Rays, Blake Snell

You can blame one swing of the bat.

Or, if you look closer, you can blame the walks that came before it.

Together, the two led to a four-run third inning that gave the Toronto Blue Jays to a 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night. Blake Snell gave up a grand slam to Kendrys Morales in the third, but only after giving up two-out walks to Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista.

“Walks,” Snell said, shaking his head. “that’s always been the thing that gets me so. So I just gotta attack, and I felt like I did really good attacking today. Just gotta do some things mentally to stay into it, but, like I said, things I’m aware of so I can get better at it.”

Manager Kevin Cash agreed.

“I thought Blake had really good stuff,” Cash said. “Any time you give up a grand slam in the third, it’s going to be a big blow. Maybe he drew some experiences from last year, knowing that at that point the game wasn’t over. We still had plenty of outs and innings to get, and he went and got them for us.”

The Rays struggled against Blue Jays’ starter Marcus Stroman, who was backed by three of Toronto’s four double plays.

For the second straight night, Souza was out at the plate for the Rays. This time, he jammed his leg but stayed in the game and had three hits. Snell struck out five and had five walks.

“I was really proud of him, actually,” Souza said. “One pitch changed the game. He got himself into jam. He could’ve collapsed after that and he went 6 2/3 and did a great job. That’s a good start to build off of. Obviously, the results weren’t there with the grand slam, but he can build off that result and keep going forward.”

The Rays and Blue Jays play again tonight at the Trop, with Matt Andriese pitching against Francisco Liriano.

Lightning defeats Toronto to remain alive in playoff scramble

Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning has a pulse.

The Lightning, clinging to hope in the NHL Eastern Conference wild-card chase, beat the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, 4-1.

Toronto leads the Bolts and New York Islanders by three points.

“It’s about just keeping it kind of in your hands,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t sit here and look at what the Leafs are doing or what the Islanders are doing. You just look at what you’re doing. And somebody told me we’re the only game on the docket tomorrow, so it’s in our hands. As soon as you start worrying about other stuff, it’ll just affect your mindset. It’s kind of what has got us to this point so far. I’ve said this before, ‘Who’s next? Well, Montreal’s next.’ That’s what we have to focus on.”

Brayden Point scored twice for the Bolts, his 15th and 16th of the year. Nikita Kuchorov scored his 39th of the year, and Michael Bournival scored. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 26 shots for Tampa Bay.

Cooper seems to have enjoyed so many callups from the AHL.

“They believe in what we’re doing,” he said. “I’m sure people probably look at our lineup card tonight and try to figure out who some of these guys were, but you know what, they’re hockey players. They’ve got a goal and it’s one game at a time. But it’s just these unsung things that people aren’t going to sit there and say, ‘Well, we won this big draw.’ Well, Dumont won a big draw when we needed it. McKegg won a big draw when we needed it. Bournival scores a huge goal for us to make it a two-goal game, and you need, you just can’t rely on the Points and Palats and Kucherovs to do everything for you. We’re not anywhere without those guys, but you need secondary help and these guys, they’re there for us. And it’s just been a lot of fun to coach this team.”

Cooper said focus is key for his team.

“You can’t look too far ahead,” Cooper said. “I hope the guys don’t even know who we’re playing on Sunday. We’re playing Montreal. We’ve got to find a way to beat a really good Montreal team. We just saw them recently, and they, even though we took that game to overtime, they’ve got a good team and if we’re not ready to play the way we played tonight, you can’t exhale because we won this game. There’s a lot of road still to go. As I told the guys, ‘Enjoy this. Enjoy the plane ride. As soon as we land in Montreal, let’s turn the page and get ready for them.’”

The Lightning now travels to Montreal to play tonight.

Lightning’s Steven Stamkos might not play the rest of the year

The Tampa Bay Lightning had hoped that Steven Stamkos would make a triumphant return to the lineup that would power team team in a late-season push for the playoffs.

Evidently, neither will happen.

Stamkos said Thursday that it “wasn’t looking good” for a return to the ice before the regular season ends Sunday.

“It’s probably not looking that good,” Stamkos told the Tampa Bay Times.  “It’s frustrating from an individual perspective where I want to be out there trying to help my team — especially at this (time of) year — but it just doesn’t feel right.”

“If it doesn’t feel right, you can’t expect to be able to go out there and do the things you can when you’re healthy,” Stamkos said. “Obviously with a significant injury, which it was, we want to make sure things heal so you don’t have to deal with it again. It’s tough. I want to be out there as much as anyone. I think I showed that last year coming back for Game 7 (of the Eastern Conference Final).”

Stamkos said when he feels right, he’ll be back, pointing out it was most likely a five-month recovery from the start (which would put it in mid-April). The biggest issue is that his knee flexion is “very limited.”

“It’s gotten better, we kind of hit a pleateau, it was frustrating,” Stamkos said. “There was no setback. Everything still progressed. But it wasn’t a minor procedure. This is pretty major, and there are a lot of working parts when it comes to the knee with having the tissue heal, scar tissue. Things that are kind of behind the scenes that have been tough. We’ve been working hard, just hasn’t been there yet.”

Stamkos had gotten his year off well. He scored nine goals in 17 games before his injury.

The Lightning, on the brink of elimination, plays the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Former Bucs’ running back Warrick Dunn gives away another home

Once again, Warrick Dunn has scored.

Dunn, the former Bucs’ running back who has devoted much of his life to charity, presented his 155th home Thursday morning to Keyona Thompson, the mother of six children – three of them with medical or mental disabilities. The home, in St. Petersburg, is a six-bedroom, two bath with wheelchair accommodations is the latest from a non-profit charity from Dunn. The home is furnished by Aaron’s.

“I can’t find the words to describe how I feel today,” said Thompson. “It’s an overwhelming feeling to be a first-time homeowner and to have the support of this community. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!”

With 20 years of experience helping single-parent families achieve affordable homeownership,  Dunn understands the challenges many families face. Dunn remembers similar obstacles from his childhood as his mother worked to achieve homeownership. Her dream of homeownership was never achieved, however, after her murder while working as an off-duty police officer in Baton Rouge, Dunn parlayed the funds received upon her death into the first home for him and his five siblings.

Dunn made news in the fall when it was reported that Clemson running back Deshaun Watson had lived in a home donated by Dunn.

In her previous home, Thompson not only lacked space for her large family but like many who live on the edge of poverty, the apartment was in substandard condition due to a leaky roof. Despite her long record of successful employment, homeownership was out of reach without help.

“According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, one full-time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S.,” said Dunn. “With the help of partners like Habitat, Publix and Aaron’s, Warrick Dunn Charities works to help single-parents avoid the pitfalls of not only securing homeownership but also understanding the systems around the process. Assistance with the down payment means a smaller mortgage, furnishing the home means less credit card debt, stocking the pantry means healthier food choices and having a safe and stable home base improves the lives of not just the family but the community as well. And because they are required to learn about personal finance and mortgages, they are educated about how it all works. All of us doing our part helps chip away at the significant problem of affordable housing.”

“We’re proud to continue our partnership with Warrick Dunn Charities’ Homes for the Holidays program, which is dedicated to providing single parents like Keyona with homes so they can have a safe and stable space to raise their families,” said John Robinson, CEO of Aaron’s, Inc. “Aaron’s has a longstanding tradition of giving back to communities across the country and we’re so pleased that these furnishings will be able to help make a difference in the Thompsons’ lives for years to come.”

In a 12-year NFL career, Dunn gained 10,967 yards.

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