Fred Billy remembers his first high school touchdown like it was his most recent.
That said, it’s not like he has just a few to reflect on.
The Saint Stephen’s senior quarterback has 112 career touchdowns as he prepares for his final high school game – Saturday night’s Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship against Windermere Prep in Oviedo.
“I still remember that (first touchdown) play like it was yesterday,” Billy said. “It’s pretty clear in my mind. ... I can remember a lot of them, but that one right there was pretty clear because it was the first.”
Billy, part of a senior class that turned the Falcons into a perennial powerhouse with a third straight SSAC title game appearance, came into focus as a future star long before he scored his first touchdown.
Billy was gunning to play quarterback as a freshman in Saint Stephen’s new read-option offense with fall camp just a couple days old.
At the time, Luc Goeders was a senior running back and Billy ran the read option three times in a row and kept the ball rather than handing it off.
“He got caught in the backfield three times in a row, so I kind of pulled some rank and played the all-star,” said Goeders, who wore No. 7 before Billy took the number for the past three seasons. “Grabbed him by the face mask and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to hand the ball off.’ And the very next thing we do is we go to kickoff return. And he’s on the scout kickoff team. They kick the ball off to me, and I hadn’t really been tackled in practice in my three years there. And Fred comes flying down the middle and just blows me up at the 20-yard line. And that was kind of the moment I knew he was going to be a special player.”
As Billy’s stock on the football field began blossoming, it took more time getting adjusted to Saint Stephen’s rigorous academic structure.
Arriving from Haile Middle his second semester of his eighth grade year, Billy faced a culture shock.
“When they say it’s a college preparatory school, it’s definitely a college preparatory school,” Billy said. “When I was at Haile Middle School, I was a 3.7 (grade-point average), so I thought it was going to be the same exact thing. And it was not. It was a wakeup call. You work extra hard. ... They push you to be the best in the classroom.”
Through various teachers and guidance, Billy started to work as hard in the classroom as he did on the field.
By the middle of his sophomore year, things clicked. No longer struggling, Billy is an NCAA qualifier and posted a 3.3 grade-point average in the most-recent quarter.
The crowning achievement is something he worked on last year with teammate Demetrius Davis.
Drawing on personal inspiration, the two concocted a play titled “The Price of Friendship” that was about a kid who was less fortunate attending a private school with a kid who was more fortunate, Billy said.
Both were friends and going for the same scholarship. The less-fortunate kid had motivation to get the scholarship, because that was the only way he could get a scholarship. The other kid wanted it because his dad would give him the money set aside for school instead of having to pay for it.
The play, which was an assignment from teacher Bernie Yanelli, garnered third place in the high school division for Manatee County, and fellow football teammates acted in the production, Billy said.
That’s Billy, the artist.
“That was a fun experience just to venture off and do other things,” Billy said.
Billy said he learned not to value material objects and comes from a large family, which includes brothers Deaquirius, Billy, E.J. and Luckner, and sisters Brianna and twin Dortavia.
Sticking to sports and getting to Saint Stephen’s changed Billy’s life, and that became even more evident in 2016 when his mother, Erma Fordham, died.
The Falcons rallied and supported Billy, with the Vining family eventually taking him in.
“Ten, 20 years from now, I’m going to look back and I’m going to look at what happened here,” said Billy, who considers Peyton and Cam Vining as brothers. “And I’m going to just be like, ‘That’s a movie.’ It feels like a movie. Someone could have scripted this and wrote a movie about it. A kid from East Bradenton, not the best part of town gets to a private school and struggles a little bit and overcomes adversity.”
Added head coach Tod Creneti: “This community has been as meaningful to him as he has been to it, and that’s been a pretty amazing thing to watch.”
Scouting Windermere Prep
Record: 10-0, Sunshine State Athletic Conference Coastal League champion
How it got here: Defeated Jacksonville Bishop Snyder (45-6), Orlando Christian Prep (49-48) and Maitland Orangewood Christian Prep (35-18) in the SSAC playoffs
Head coach: Jacob Doss
Key offensive players: RB Ismael Cortes (113 carries, 907 rushing yards, 12 TDs), QB Kai Patterson (71-for-129, 1,292 passing yards, 25 TDs, two interceptions)
Key defensive players: LB Mason Russell (119 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, seven sacks), DB Rahsaan Lewis (75 tackles, four tackles for loss).
Jason Dill’s prediction: Saint Stephen’s 35, Windermere Prep 21