It's been nearly half a century since Ray Bellamy gave his greatest gift to the local community when he signed with the University of Miami, helping to break the color barrier for major college football players in the South.
He paved the way for local African American players to gain national fame -- guys like Tommie Frazier, Willie Taggart and Peter Warrick, to name just a few.
It's not certain how many of today's local prep football players know about Bellamy, but they should. He's a pioneer who opened the doors for others in circumstances that were less than comfortable just 49 years ago.
The community owes Bellamy an everlasting gratitude of thanks. But the former Lincoln High receiver from Palmetto sees things the other way. It's one reason he was in town this week to coordinate an effort to provide local needy families with turkey and other food, helping to make their holiday a good one.
"This is my hometown, and Manatee County gave me so much that I felt a need to give back," Bellamy said. "The people here gave me the foundation for my life, and though I don't live here anymore, I wanted to come back and do this. I called the people in the community and we got together and did it."
Ray Bellamy's name still resonates here. Many people answered his call, including Eddie Shannon, who coached Bellamy at Lincoln.
Also helping was Ed Dick, who arranged for Miami to sign Bellamy in 1966. Dick showed up at all-black Lincoln High School during the segregation days here and knew he found the right guy.
"He was 6-5, ran a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and had hands as big as a catcher's mitt. He was also president of the student body and a good student. I knew right away he was the one," Dick says.
Bellamy seemed destined for the NFL until a car accident while he was in college diminished his great skills -- but he wound up being student body president at Miami.
Bellamy, who now lives in Tallahassee, gave credit to his college roommate, Dr. Mike Kotler, who stayed in the backyard but helped with the financing,
"He has my back. Anytime I'm doing anything he's here for me. He never said no about anything, but stays behind the scenes. He never hesitates to help," Bellamy said.
Ending a rivalry?
Watching Manatee get manhandled by Dr. Phillips in last week's region semifinal begs the question: is it time for the Hurricanes to end their rivalry with Southeast?
Manatee is stuck in a seven-team district that offers the Hurricanes little competition. They had to use a running clock in six-straight district games, and then again in the season-ending finale with Southeast.
Most of their starters played only about half of a game during that stretch, and none of those teams prepared them for Dr. Phillips, which basically tries to ram the ball down your throat.
This year in their non-district schedule, the Canes played national power Hoover (Ala.), Palmetto and Tallahassee Lincoln to open the season. Manatee has little wiggle room because of its heavily-loaded district, and dropping Southeast -- at least temporarily -- might be a viable option.
Manatee has won nine straight against Southeast and in four of the last five meetings, have outscored the Noles by a combined 209-19.
The question brings chills to local traditionalists, but you can't deny it's worth considering. If Manatee wants to make a deep run in the postseason, it would help to have another high-quality opponent, a team that plays the kind of offense the Canes are going to see from Dr. Phillips would help. Getting into a district with fewer teams could solve this problem, but that move is highly unlikely under current FHSAA rules.
Big Day For Lang
Former Manatee running back Johnnie Lang ended his high school career a high note to say the least. He ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns in leading East High of Salt Lake City to a 49-14 victory over three-time defending state champ Timpview in winning the Utah Class 4 State title game.
Lang, who switched to quarterback this year, was even more explosive in his team's semifinal, a 42-14 victory, running for 280 yards on 19 carries and four touchdowns. He also completed 3-of-5 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.