Pride intact after rough season

Trying times in past, six from St. Petersburg Catholic sign, three with West Virginia.

Published February 8, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - St. Petersburg Catholic's Shawn Nicholson capped a whirlwind week Tuesday night with a trip to Sports Fan Attic.

The 5-foot-11, 255-pound long snapper, having orally accepted a preferred walk-on spot at West Virginia late last week, rushed to Tyrone Square Mall for a Mountaineers hat for Wednesday's national signing day ceremony.

"Everything happened so quick, I had to act fast," Nicholson said with a grin. "I got the last WVU hat they had."

Nicholson was one of three Barons wearing Mountaineers gear for SPC's televised signing in the school gymnasium. Six players, including West Virginia-bound tailback Jock Sanders and receiver Andrew Harris, pledged their college plans.

To fit the banner class - which also included offensive lineman Elvis Fisher (Missouri), linebacker Noah Hughes (Citadel) and center Devon Turner (Florida A&M) - SPC administrators had to push together four 8-foot-long tables along the baseline.

"It's a great way to go out," said Sanders, the Times' No. 4 bay area recruit. "Our class has faced a lot of adversity, but our coaches really prepared us for the next level."

The seating chart at the signing symbolized the Barons' roller-coaster season. At one end was former SPC coach Dan Mancuso, who resigned six days before the Florida High School Athletic Association denied the school's appeal to lift a three-year postseason ban and $13,000 fine for illegal practices and recruiting violations.

At the other end was interim coach Mike Lynch, who took over at midseason.

In between sat a large portion of SPC's senior class, which Lynch credited with helping the Barons' turn their season around, winning their final four games after a 1-4 start.

"There was a time midway through the year I didn't even want to go to college," Turner said. "Everyone was bashing us and the guy (Mancuso) who helped make me what I am today. But we stuck together as a group, and it paid off.

Sanders said it was Nicholson, SPC's "Iron Man," who inspired him to "keep going."

"Shawn never left the field," Lynch said. "He didn't have the size or the height. But at the same time, when you think about a complete football player, that fits Shawn Nicholson to a T."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@ sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8129.