Tony Dungy knows a thing or two about big games. So does his son Eric Dungy.
As a player, the elder Dungy was a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers team that won Super Bowl XIII in 1979. He also put together a string of 10 consecutive playoff appearances as coach of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. On Feb. 4, 2007, Dungy led the Colts to a victory over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
He should be able to impart some wisdom to Eric, who is quickly becoming accustomed to the bright lights and the high stakes.
A defensive back and wide receiver for Plant (Tampa, Fla.), Dungy helped the Panthers capture a 4A state title in 2008 in only his first season with the program.
Dungy relocated from Indianapolis after his sophomore year of high school and enrolled in Plant for his junior year, where he earned his way onto the field with an impressive season roaming the secondary at safety. He recorded 56 tackles and two interceptions.
In 2009, Eric has done even more for the Panthers. He currently has 55 tackles and five interceptions, including one against previously-unbeaten Lakeland last week in the 5A semifinals. On the season, he’s also added 278 yards receiving and one touchdown.
While the showdown with Lakeland was a major statement for Dungy and Plant, there is even more at stake in Saturday’s matchup with Manatee. Last weekend, Manatee knocked off Aquinas, which had been ranked No. 1 in the Xcellent 25. The Hurricanes are now playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and will be a huge obstacle for the Panthers to overcome.
Plant is currently ranked No. 10 in the Xcellent 25 and could inch closer to the top five with a win on Saturday. It would also be an appropriate sendoff for Dungy, who is still undecided on his college plans.
De'Anthony Thomas' legend precedes him
While researching for a story on top freshmen in the early spring of 2007, I asked a City Section coach if he had heard of players around Los Angeles that were garnering attention as ninth-graders. After little deliberation, he responded in the affirmative.
"I believe Crenshaw has a kid," he said. "They call him the ‘Black Mamba.’"
The coach didn’t know many details about the Black Mamba, except that he was rumored to be exceptionally fast.
So, I put a call in to Crenshaw head coach Robert Garrett, who was in the classroom at the time. Garrett gave me a few quick minutes of his time and seemed only somewhat surprised that I was asking him about a ninth-grader.
"He’s got some talent," Garrett said of then-freshman De'Anthony Thomas. "But I don’t like to talk about players that young. Call me back next year this time."
By that time, the secret of the Black Mamba was already out. Thomas enjoyed a breakthrough 10th-grade campaign debuting on the varsity team for Crenshaw. That spring, he went on to capture the track City Section title in the 100m (10.6 seconds). Throughout, he showed flashes of future stardom.
This season, Thomas has begun to fully display what he’s capable of doing on both sides of the ball. Used more sparingly on offense because of his defensive contributions, Thomas has made his mark in the secondary as well as on special teams. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Thomas plays free safety for Crenshaw but has the look of a cornerback at the next level if he doesn’t stick to offense.
Against Narbonne (Harbor City, Calif.) in the City Section final, Thomas put forth arguably his finest performance, erupting for three touchdowns and 198 yards on just 12 carries as the Cougars won easily, 34-14, completing an undefeated regular season and earning a bid to the Open Division Bowl Game on Saturday against fabled Bay Area power De La Salle (Concord, Calif.).
Crenshaw will have to utilize Thomas’ full talents if they hope to complete a 15-0 season and show the rest of the state why people around Los Angeles consider the Cougars one of the best city teams in recent years. Thomas, a member of the MaxPreps Top 100 Watch List for the Class of 2011, averages over 10 yards per carry and has also amassed over 200 receiving yards. Defensively, he’s registered 47 tackles, four sacks and two INTs.
Other top recruits still in action
With playoff football remaining in California, Texas, Florida, and Pennsylvania, a number of highly regarded college prospects are still active in the high school realm.
USC fans should be optimistic about bouncing back from a subpar season, because help is on the way in the form of Serra (Gardena, Calif.) superstar Robert Woods.
Woods is one of the nation’s most dynamic players. He has 58 catches for 932 yards to go along with 87 tackles and eight interceptions at defensive back.
Fresh off an upset of Oaks Christian, Woods will lead the Cavaliers in a Division III Bowl Game matchup with Marin Catholic.
Playoffs in Florida will spotlight a host of future collegiate difference makers. The 4A state title game pits Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) against Niceville (Fla.). Matt Elam, perhaps the state’s top player this season, is a two-way threat for Dwyer, while Oklahoma commit Roy Finch is an outstanding talent for Niceville.
At the 5A level, James Wilder Jr., a candidate for the MaxPreps Junior All-American team, will highlight the aforementioned showdown between Plant and Manatee. Wilder notched 17 sacks on defense for Plant, but will also see a good number of carries at running back.
In the 6A final, De’Ante "Pop" Saunders, a junior already committed to Florida, hopes to bring the title to DeLand as the Bulldogs take on Miramar.
Katy (Texas) and Abilene (Texas) will be the focal point of Saturday’s state final matchups down in Texas. Both teams are ranked in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25. While talent abounds on both sides, watch for Abilene junior Herschel Sims, who is making a strong push for the MaxPreps National Junior of the Year award.
The 4A final is equally intriguing, as two powerhouses will tangle when Lake Travis and Longview do battle. Lake Travis quarterback Michael Brewer, also in the mix for major postseason awards, has picked up where Garrett Gilbert left off, throwing for 4,252 yards and 41 TDs.
After a number of big upsets throughout the playoffs, it will be LaSalle (Philadelphia) and State College (Pa.) doing battle in the 4A final in Pennsylvania. State College receiver Alex Kenney is certainly worth watching; he’ll be playing for the Nittany Lions next year.