High School Football

Meet the ‘Ice Gang.’ Palmetto High’s four senior wide receivers are as cool as ice

They call themselves the “Ice Gang.”

They’re a group of four explosive receivers on Palmetto High’s football team.

Meet LaJohntay Wester, Eddravian Butler, Kobe Mays and Curtis Thomas.

“They’re unselfish. They work for each other. They block for each other,” head coach Dave Marino said. “(Eddravian) has a lot of shake. He’ll make you miss. LaJohntay’s got that shake and he’s got that explosiveness, and has a little bit more length. He can go up higher and get balls.

“Curt just does it all. Curt is a grinder. He just makes plays. It’s all heart and passion. ... He works so hard on his strength and becoming a better athlete and you’re seeing it.”

“Kobe has great length. He can get up. He has great explosiveness. He’s the vertical guy. He can just go up and just make some crazy acrobatic catches. He’s unselfish. He’ll block, he’ll block, he’ll block. He’s aggressive. His motor goes the whole time. But he will go up. He’s got the best length and athleticism of those guys.”

Mays is sidelined with an ankle sprain, which has increased Thompson’s role in the passing game and he nearly came down with an acrobatic catch between two defenders that was broken up during the Tigers’ 18-12 overtime victory over rival Manatee last week.

Wester originally came up with the “Ice Gang” name a couple years ago when the four came together.

“It’s just the style, our drip, the way we carry ourselves, the way we play,” Wester said. “We don’t have ice bling, but we shine.”

“In the clutch, we have ice in our veins,” Thomas said.

Palmetto High senior wide receiver LaJohntay Wester, above, grew up with Eddravian Butler and Kobe Mays playing Pop Warner football together for the Palmetto Trojans. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

Palmetto enters Week 3 armed with a No. 3 state ranking in Class 6A, a punishing defense and talented skill players on offense.

The line is young but gaining experience, and the Tigers are hoping for a deep postseason run north of the Manatee River.

It’s reminiscent of Palmetto’s 2011 team, the best group to date under Marino. That team lost a close game to Miami Norland and current NFL running back Duke Johnson in the state semifinals.

“This is very comparable, very comparable if not better,” Marino said. “... They’re special. This is a good group and we’re excited.”

Eddravian Butler on what it means to represent Palmetto High: “Our parents and people have been at Palmetto High forever. So we just followed them and came here. Stayed with the fam and run with the fam.” Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The potential to be even better than the 2011 team is due, in part, to the receiving corps. In a time when players can freely transfer to whichever high school football program they choose, provided that school isn’t at capacity, the Palmetto group has stuck together.

Wester, Butler and Mays all grew up playing Pop Warner football together for the Palmetto Trojans.

“Our parents and people have been at Palmetto High forever,” Butler said. “So we just followed them and came here. Stayed with the fam and run with the fam.”

Added Marino: “When we took over, we were like, ‘Hey, if the Palmetto kids just stayed together, stay committed. Don’t go anywhere else, we’ve got great coaches, we’re going to coach you up, just stay together.’ And these guys did that. These guys epitomize that. They stayed committed. They could have looked for greener pastures and they didn’t.”

Thomas came to the Tigers his sophomore year from Sarasota as a defensive back before switching to offense.

He said he was welcomed in the receiving group, which is now a senior-laden quartet — when Mays returns — steeped in a brotherhood developed at an early an age.

Palmetto High senior wide receiver Kobe Mays is the son of former NFL defensive back Alvoid Mays, who won a Super Bowl ring with the Washington Redskins. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“After practices, everybody used to come to my house, so we’ve all just stayed together,” said Mays, who is the son of former Super Bowl winner Alvoid Mays.

Even though Thomas came into the fold a couple years ago, he’s transitioned seamlessly into the brotherhood aspect of the “Ice Gang.”

They have big-game experience as Palmetto has advanced past the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons. There’s a thirst for a deeper run this season, and they’ve jumped to a 2-0 start, with last Friday’s victory coming in overtime against rival Manatee.

Butler scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, before a couple runs in overtime set up quarterback Xavier Williams’ game-winning touchdown.

Cool as ice, indeed.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.