Sports

College football bowl season full of Manatee County standouts

Former Braden River High standout Ryan Neuzil anchored Appalachian State’s offensive line to a third-straight 300-plus yard rushing performance during a 34-0 victory over Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl.
Former Braden River High standout Ryan Neuzil anchored Appalachian State’s offensive line to a third-straight 300-plus yard rushing performance during a 34-0 victory over Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl.

As the college football bowl season winds down with next week’s national championship game between SEC rivals Georgia and Alabama, former Manatee County high school stars dotted various bowl games.

There were players capping their college football careers.

There were players keying big bowl victories.

And there were players who stood out for their performances this bowl season.

Here’s a look at some highlight performances:

Blake Keller

The former Manatee High star, who won a state championship with the Hurricanes in 2011, completed his football career with a sack in Marshall’s 31-28 victory over Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl.

Keller, who graduated the same day as the bowl game, told the Herald that he wasn’t going to pursue a pro career.

Ryan Neuzil

Appalachian State’s running game took off during a late-season winning streak that was traced to the former Braden River High tight end’s move to left guard.

Neuzil, who was recruited as a center out of high school, continued his pivotal role along App State’s line when the Mountaineers ran for 327 yards in a 34-0 victory over Toledo in the Dollar General Bowl.

With Neuzil at left guard, App State entered the Dollar General Bowl averaging 311 rushing yards per game.

Sam Jackson

Jackson spent last year experiencing the highs (state semifinals in basketball and state meet in the discus and shot put) and lows (missing the football playoffs with a 2-7 record) during his senior season at Lakewood Ranch.

Now he’s experienced the highest of highs as a true freshman on the only undefeated FBS team this season.

Jackson, a backup offensive lineman, played in UCF’s 34-27 victory over SEC runner-up Auburn in Monday’s Peach Bowl.

Greg Reaves

The Manatee High grad had three tackles, one for a loss and one quarterback hurry in USF’s 38-34 victory over Texas Tech in the Birmingham Bowl.

Brooks Larkin

The Birmingham Bowl was a shootout game that saw USF quarterback Quinton Flowers deliver in a big way. But Larkin, a former Manatee High standout, left an even more memorable impression despite not playing in the game.

After USF tied the game at 24 during a fourth-quarter comeback, a group of Bulls players celebrated on the sideline. The group cheered around Larkin, a 315-pound offensive lineman, who performed a full split that ESPN’s cameras caught and subsequently made the move go viral on social media.

Michael Galati

The Manatee High alum is a redshirt junior and backup right guard at USF. He played in the Bulls’ bowl game win against Texas Tech.

Jon Hernandez

A former Manatee High standout, Hernandez boomed three punts for a 47.7 yard average for USF in the Birmingham Bowl win.

Demarcus Christmas

The Manatee High alum had one tackle and one pass breakup in Florida State’s 42-13 rout of Southern Mississippi in the Independence Bowl.

Jacob Westberry

The Saint Stephen’s alum was Fresno State’s long snapper in a 33-27 win over Houston in the Hawaii Bowl.

IMG Academy trio

There are several former IMG Academy players representing the college landscape. Bowl season is no different.

Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough tallied 24 yards on 12 carries and caught two passes for 16 yards, while Thomas Fletcher was the long snapper for the Crimson Tide in a 24-6 victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

In the other national semifinal, Isaac Nauta started at tight end for Georgia in the Bulldogs’ 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. He didn’t record a catch, but did block on Sony Michel’s game-winning touchdown run.

Alabama and Georgia play for the national title Monday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

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