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Prep football preview | Manatee High's leading tackler balances brain, brawn

BRADENTON -- Have you heard about Hershel Caywood?

Chances are you haven’t.

At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he isn’t the biggest guy on Manatee’s stacked defense, and he doesn’t have a who’s who of Bowl Championship Series schools wearing out a path to his door or draining the life out of his cell phone.

But Caywood is a three-year starter and the leading tackler for the nationally-ranked Hurricanes, who host Venice tonight in a Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal.

He’s a stud in the classroom, enjoys mathematics and will spend next fall studying and playing in the Ivy League.

As for him not being a household name, that’s something the linebacker can live with.

“It’s fine with me,” he said. “It just means I have an easier job than everyone else. No one’s looking at me, so I can go get tackles when I want.

“Whenever I talk to the scouts, they say I’m a little undersized. But I’m just saying I can bench more than the bigger people and I’m faster than the bigger people, so it doesn’t matter.”

Caywood’s has totaled a team-best 81 tackles this fall, including 12 during last week’s playoff opener against Largo Pinellas Park, to go along with four sacks and four fumble recoveries. And he has managed to do that while maintaining a 4.3 grade-point average, meaning a typical day for Caywood doesn’t yield much free time. Chances are he is studying either a playbook or a textbook.

He usually wakes up at around 6 a.m. and goes to bed at 10 p.m., then spends the weekends either going over schoolwork or taking a breath.

Balancing such a workload doesn’t sound easy, but Caywood chalks it up to genetics. His mother served in the Coast Guard, and his father served in the Army; those regimented ways have rubbed off on their son.

“I just get up, get ready for the day,” Caywood said. “I’ll either do homework or spend the day relaxing or icing. Or if there’s practice, I’ll practice. Or if there’s workouts, I’ll work out. That’s it.”

It seems to have worked.

“Outstanding year,” said coach Joe Kinnan. “He’s really played a lot better. ... He’s got great grades, so he’s got a chance at the next level. And it’s going to be a good academic school.”

Caywood has already been accepted to Brown University and plans on playing football.

Not bad for someone whose father tried getting him to play basketball from the time he was born.

It didn’t take.

“I was bad,” Caywood said. “I shot too hard.”

Football, however, has worked out, especially since the coaches at Brown told Caywood he is a chance to start as a freshman.

“Over there, they said we’d have a schedule. And I like that,” he said about balancing playing football and studying at an Ivy League school. “I like knowing what I’m supposed to be doing every minute of the day. With that set up, I think I should have enough time throughout my day to even have some free time with the way they set it up.”

With his future seemingly set, Caywood can focus on the present, and on trying to help Manatee win a state title. He came close in 2009, when the Canes fell to Tampa Plant in the Class 5A championship game.

“The three years have been pretty good,” Caywood said. “I’d just like to finish out with (a state championship) on the board, just so I can see how it feels.”