Remember when Willie Taggart was founder and chancellor emeritus of West Manatee County University at Western Kentucky University?
This was no figment of your imagination in terms of value. As head coach at WKU, Taggart provided a home for Manatee County football players who needed a place to fuel their dreams.
Taggart is now at USF, but the state of Kentucky is still a place where some of our youth can go to resurrect their football lives.
Thanks goes to Vincent Davis, a Manatee County product who doesn't have Taggart's glitz but has ridden that train to nowhere and hasn't forgotten the journey.
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"I want to give these kids a second chance. I grew up with a lot of their parents," Davis said. "I started at Manatee High and went to Bayshore, but didn't play high school football. I was too small and had academic issues."
Davis is an assistant football coach at Campbellsville University, which is one player short of fielding an all-Manatee County team. The NAIA school in the heartland of Kentucky has 10 players from Manatee County on its roster, and eight participated in its spring game.
The most recognized name is former Manatee High running back Ben Axon, who is at his fifth college. He admits he created some of the obstacles in his path, but, to his credit, he keeps plugging away.
Axon was the leading rusher in the Tigers' spring game with 86 yards on 20 carries. Palmetto High grad T.J. Mann caught three passes for 61 yards, including a 32-yard TD reception.
Manatee grad Davian Evens-Dufrene had six tackles, and former Out-Of-Door-Academy standout A.J. Strong had three tackles. Travon Montgomery (Manatee) had three tackles, Rashaud Hill (Palmetto) had two tackles, and Ed Parrimon (Palmetto) had a pass breakup.
Rasheed Dunlap (Palmetto) and Shaunski Lawrence (Manatee) are on the team and working to become eligible academically. Former Palmetto quarterback Brian Smith joined the team, but tore his rotator cuff and was unable to participate in spring football.
Strong was a standout running back at ODA but will likely move to linebacker because of the Tigers depth at the running back position led by Axon. Strong attended FAMU, but did not play.
Davis, who grew up in Palmetto and was graduated from Manatee Vo Tech in 1982, played linebacker at Bishop College in Texas. He knows the workings of the NAIA and has used it to help his hometown kids.
"Most of these guys have no eligibility left with the NCAA, but in the NAIA there is no clock. You get ten semesters to play eight," Davis said. "For the NAIA, you need a 2.0 GPA for your previous two full-time semesters. All those guys will be eligible for the season if they get their grades.
"I am happy for Ben. He is still rusty because he didn't play much last year (at WKU). He has gotten bigger (6-2, 230 pounds) and could be a great power runner for us who can break it at times."
Former Southeast standouts Kieron James and Charles Chestnut finished their collegiate careers at Western Illinois University and are hoping to get an invitation to an NFL camp if they don't sign a free-agent contract.
James was a preseason first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection at defensive back, but missed his last four games because of a knee injury. His 23 career pass breakups ranks sixth all-time at WIU.
The 6-foot, 190-pound safety earned a reputation as a physical player with 49 solo tackles (79 total) the past two years. One of his best games last season was against Iowa State, when he had six solos. He was an all-conference honorable mention in 2011.
The 6-1, 190-pound Chestnut led WIU with 39 receptions and 413 receiving yards while averaging 10.6 yards per catch. He finished his career with 80 receptions for 931 yards.
While her brother, Adrian, is resurrecting his football career with the Tampa Bay Storm, Southeast grad Jamyriah McPherson finished her basketball career at the University of Maine-Machias. The 5-6 guard averaged 11.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and had a season-high game of 27 points. She left the team about three-quarters through the season because of personal reasons.
Shawn Campbell, who just resigned as Bayshore head boys basketball coach, was named the fifth best player in the history of Weber State, which recently celebrated 50 years in Division I hoops. The list includes Damian Lillard, a strong candidate for NBA Rookie of the Years honors this season.
The 6-11 Campbell, a fifth-round NBA draft choice by Phoenix in 1985, has the two best single-season block totals in school history and ranks fourth in Big Sky Conference history for blocks.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.