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State champions – Oh, how sweet it is


The roar grew louder and louder with 22 seconds remaining on the Citrus Bowl scoreboard.

It began to reach a crescendo as thousands of deliriously happy Manatee High School faithful, jammed into the stadium’s lower east stands, counted down with the clock: “3 ... 2 ... 1 ... YEEEAAAAAAAAAAY!”

When the clock hit :00, a wave of Manatee Hurricanes stampeded the field.

Players danced and cavorted around and around, overcome with joy, trailed by coaches who shook hands and hugged at the team’s magnificent accomplishment.

The Manatee High School Hurricanes were the 2011 Class 7A state champs.

How sweet does that sound?

State champs.

“It’s DYN-O-MITE!” cried Tiki Jackson, waving pompoms from the stands.

State champs.

“It sounds so great,” said City Councilman Gene Gallo, beaming on the field. “I wish I could sign a a parade permit tonight.”

State champs.

“It’s beautiful,” said coach Eddie Shannon, as the celebration swept around the team’s patriarch.

Hurricane players bunched up, helmets held high, mugging for the cameras at the 35-yard line, thrusting their index fingers into the night.

Nearby, Debbie Krowe fought back tears.

“This is their time,” said the Shake Pit owner, whose marquee on Manatee Avenue is must viewing for Bradenton.

“ ‘State champs’ is going up on the sign tonight!” she said. “Tonight!”

Up in the stands, so many wanted to join the celebration, but the security folks lining the field on the east side prevented that.

Regardless, there were a lot of good vibes emanating from the crowd.

Among them was Sean Smith, who played fullback for the Hurricanes when they lost to Tampa Plant on this same field two years ago.

“It’s so exciting, I want to be out on that field myself, playing,” said the University of Central Florida sophomore. “I feel the love for all of them.”

So did Casey Kraft, another Manatee alum and now a University of Florida student.

“I wish this could’ve happened my junior year, but I’m glad I came back,” she said. “This is so unbelievable.”

That was a common sentiment throughout the crowd as the Hurricanes steamrolled previously unbeaten Jacksonville First Coast and shut out the Bucs to boot.

Corey Gallian, yet another MHS alum among a throng of grads back for the big game.

Several of them had their faces painted in red, white and blue.

“I can’t believe this!” he yelled above the din.

Believe it.

Drakkar Wilson did.

Like Smith, he’s a former Hurricane who played in the same state championship game two years ago.

“Them boys earned it,” said the Eastern Kentucky University defensive lineman. “I feel like I’m out there, too.”

Don Keller, whose son, Blake, had a huge game Friday night, recovering a fumble for a TD, was happy for another reason, too.

Blake wears No. 55, the same number worn by his late grandfather, Dan Keller, a ferocious player for Manatee in his day.

“I know Dad’s proud and happy, sitting up there in heaven,” said the photographer.

It was a heavenly night for the Manatee Hurricanes, indeed.

State champion Manatee Hurricanes.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055.