College Sports

Oral history: Peter Warrick’s punt return 25 years ago launched him into a future FSU star

Former Southeast High star Peter Warrick helped Florida State win a national title and was a first-round draft pick (No. 4 overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000.
Former Southeast High star Peter Warrick helped Florida State win a national title and was a first-round draft pick (No. 4 overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2000. AP

There’s a YouTube video highlighting Peter Warrick’s electric skills at Florida State.

It’s why Warrick had his jersey retired when FSU opened the 2018 college football season against Virginia Tech on Sept. 3.

But before Warrick dazzled in Tallahassee, he was juking past defenders at Southeast High in Bradenton, Florida.

Twenty-five years ago this week, on Sept. 10, 1993, Warrick made a play that is still talked about among Manatee County high school football fans.

The play involved two legendary coaches, two future collegiate All-Americans and more than 10,000 fans crammed into Manatee High’s Hawkins Stadium.

It’s also the play that put Warrick, who was in his junior season, on the map in a cross-town rivalry game.

The play was a 60-yard punt return with 60 seconds remaining to vault Southeast past Manatee, 14-9.

Before diving into the play, the people behind it, we begin in the 1980s.

Florida high school hall of fame coaches Joe Kinnan and Paul Maechtle weren’t hall of famers just yet. They were building two Bradenton football powerhouses.

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Legendary coaches Paul Maechtle, left, and Joe Kinnan helped turned Southeast High and Manatee High, respectively, into powerhouse programs. Bradenton Herald file photo

Kinnan, who went to Manatee, returned to his alma mater and turned the Hurricanes into a dynasty.

Manatee went 9-2 in Kinnan’s first season in 1981. In 1980, the Canes were 4-6. Manatee won four of its five state titles under Kinnan by the time the Canes played the Seminoles on that September night in 1993.

Meanwhile, Maechtle built Southeast into a juggernaut. His Seminoles reached two state championship games in the 1980s, running into future Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith one time.

The rivalry between the two sides, with Manatee representing West Bradenton and Southeast representing East Bradenton, was truly born in 1985 when the Noles defeated the Canes for the first time on the field.

Buoyed by that victory, Southeast reached the 1985 state title game, where the aforementioned Smith led Pensacola Escambia to the win. Manatee won a state title that same year. Both games were played in Bradenton.

Their first meeting was a Manatee victory later awarded to Southeast because the Canes used an ineligible player.

Warrick was a dynamic youth football player in the years building into his first appearance in the Manatee-Southeast game.

That happened one year before Warrick’s last-minute heroics.

It was 1992 and Warrick was a sophomore. He had four catches for 114 yards, including touchdown receptions of 59 and 29 yards, as Southeast ended Manatee’s stranglehold in the rivalry. Like in 1985, Manatee rebounded from the Southeast loss to win a state title.

By 1993, the Seminoles were built to make a run at their first state championship.

In the second game of the season, they traveled to Hawkins Stadium to face bitter rival Manatee.

Southeast took a 2-0 lead on a safety after a bad snap forced Manatee punter Robbie Stevenson, who later became an All-American at Florida, to run out of the end zone. Manatee running back Shevin Wiggins, who later starred for Nebraska, returned a punt 94 yards and had a 25-yard rushing touchdown to give Manatee a 14-2 lead in the second quarter.

Dyral McMillan caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from John Reeves to close the gap to 14-9 by halftime for Southeast.

Then the scene shifted to the fourth quarter miracle for the Seminoles that really launched Warrick into stardom.

Here’s how the key figures — Warrick, Stevenson, Maechtle, Kinnan, Willie Taggart and Dave Marino — remember the play from 25 years ago:

Maechtle: “He was young at the time. He ... only caught two passes in the game.”

Warrick: “Honestly, the thing I remember the most is people walking out. The game’s not even over and people are walking out. So in my mind, I’m about to do something special to make a name for myself. Because that was the start for me.”

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Willie Taggart, left, was a star at Manatee High before going on to play ay Western Kentucky. Taggart is now the head coach at Florida State. Bradenton Herald file photo

Florida State head coach Willie Taggart, who was Manatee High’s quarterback in 1993: “Shevin Wiggins and myself were on the sidelines and we wanted to go for it, because it was fourth-and-1, but we had the ball on our side of the 50. ... Shevin and I are like, ‘We need to go for it, we need to go for it. Run quarterback sneak. I can get that.’ ... Now, being a coach you understand you kick the ball there. But you can’t kick it to Peter Warrick. You can’t do it.”

Kinnan: “We were only 1 yard away from the first down, but I didn’t want to risk, especially having a top punter, I didn’t want to risk not making it.”

Maechtle: “(Stevenson) was told not to. He was told to kick it out of bounds.”

Kinnan: “It’s just unfortunate that the best punt returner in the country is able to field probably the worst punt from one of the best punters in the country makes in his career.”

Kinnan: “Unfortunately, Robbie, who was usually extremely accurate, we were trying to kick the ball out of bounds and he shanked it. ... It went the opposite way and Peter was just too talented.”

Stevenson: “In a matter of seconds, it’s just him and I, and he’s going to win that battle 10 out of 10 times.”

Kinnan: “We should have gone for it. Hindsight is usually pretty good.”

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Former Southeast High and Florida State star Peter Warrick was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Al Behrman AP

Stevenson: “I remember jogging up the hash and he just made a move, and cut it to the north sideline — their sideline, the visitor sideline — and by the time I was able to determine he’s committed to going up the sideline, I probably was two steps behind him. ... He’s one of the top two athletes to ever leave this county.”

Warrick: “That was my moment, running that punt back against that team.”

Warrick: “I ran the punt back and I saw people coming back in.”

Maechtle: “People were going up to him and hanging on him, because at that time they didn’t have the fences. ... It was special. It was a big moment in the rivalry.”

Dave Marino, Palmetto High’s head coach who was a Southeast assistant at the time: “They just mobbed him in the end zone. It was crazy.”

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Palmetto High coach Dave Marino was an assistant on the Southeast staff when Peter Warrick added his name to Manatee County football lore. Tiffany Tompkins

Stevenson: “Manatee-Southeast is like Florida-Florida State. I went to Florida, Peter went to Florida State. It’s the same rivalry back when we played. ... They’d bring in stands (for Manatee-Southeast).”

Taggart: “It’s a game I’ll never forget. To this day, I remember it vividly.”

Stevenson: “We see each other probably three or four times a year, and we always refer back to that play. ... It’s cool the community hasn’t forgotten that. All the coaches here (at Palmetto) bust my chops all the time, especially (Matt) Braselton, because he went to Southeast.”

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