CFL's Clemons recalls growing up in Dunedin
By NANCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
Michael Clemons learned early the meaning of "never say never."
The former Dunedin High School football and soccer standout never fathomed the success he enjoyed in a college and professional football career. Nor did Clemons plan on being named the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
"I've been blessed in so many ways," said Clemons, 35. "Every day, I am so thankful for my life and what I have been able to accomplish."
Clemons grew up in Dunedin with his mother, Anna Bryant, and great-great grandmother, learning values that have followed him throughout his life.
"My mother cared for both me and my great-great grandmother while she worked," Clemons said. "She gave me a solid foundation of faith, exemplified a strong work ethic and taught me a strong sense of community service."
Clemons started playing football at 8 as a member of the Dunedin Golden Eagles, a youth organization coordinated by the Police Athletic League.
"Football was my first love, although I had success in other sports, especially soccer," he said. "Given the economic situation, I realized football could help get me to college, so I focused my search to schools with football opportunities."
Following a stellar prep career that ended in 1983 and culminated in all-state football and soccer honors, Clemons accepted a full football scholarship to William and Mary College in Virginia.
A captain his senior year, Clemons was selected an NCAA Div. I-AA first-team All-American and was drafted by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in 1987. He attended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' camp the next season but joined the Toronto squad to begin a record-setting 12-year career in the CFL.
After just a week with the Argonauts, Clemons was given a nickname that described his style of play as a running back. "Pinball" was known for his ability to bounce off players for extra yardage.
It may have helped him amass 25,396 yards, an all-time career record in all of pro football. The late Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears led the NFL with 21,803 yards in 13 seasons.
Clemons owns 12 Toronto records and was a CFL All-Star in 1990 and 1997.
Last season, he he took over the helm of the fledgling Argonauts.
"We were midway through the season when I was asked to be head coach," Clemons said. "It was odd, but it was also a compliment that they had the confidence and respect to ask me to be head coach."
Trading in his helmet to become the organization's 38th head coach, Clemons directed the team to a 6-2 record. This season, he was given the additional responsibility of vice-president of football operations.
"It's definitely easier to play than coach," Clemons said, "but we're working on developing more consistency in our coaching and getting the players to learn the system."
Toronto got off to a rocky start and is 3-7.
Clemons is not certain how long he will coach, although he's sure his family (wife Diane, a Clearwater graduate, and daughters Rachel and Raven) will remain in Toronto.
"This is home," Clemons said.
"I have a cable company here that a partner and I started about nine years ago. I expected that business and some public speaking would be what I would be involved in at this time in my life," he said. "It'll take a while to build the football program, so we'll see."
PRO FOOTBALL: Pinellas County schools boast nine players in the NFL.
Leading the list is the Bucs' Shaun King (Gibbs/Tulane). Although in a backup quarterback role this season, King helped Tampa Bay to 14 wins the last two years and a berth in the 1999 NFC Championship.
Starting their professional careers in 1993 were Kipp Vickers (Tarpon Springs/Miami), Tom Carter (Lakewood/Notre Dame) and Tarpon Springs' Robbie Tobeck (Washington State).
Vickers, an offensive tackle, begins his second season with the Super Bowl XXXV champion Baltimore Ravens.
Carter, a first-round Washington Redskins draft pick, spent much of last year as the starting left cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals. Tobeck started his career with the Atlanta Falcons, playing at guard and center until signing as a free agent with Seattle last season.
Joining Tobeck at the center are Mike Gruttadauria (Tarpon Springs/UCF) and Jeff Mitchell (Countryside/Florida).
Starting his seventh year and third with the Arizona Cardinals, the 6-foot-3, 297-pound Gruttadauria is considered one of the most productive, hard-nosed players on the line despite his relative small stature. Mitchell, after being drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore in 1997 and starting through the Ravens' Super Bowl run, was signed by the Carolina Panthers this spring.
Cornell Green (Lakewood/UCF) was switched from the defensive to offensive line in college, was signed and released by the Falcons in 1999 and is with the New York Jets as a tackle.
Defensive left end Darren Howard (Boca Ciega/Kansas State) begins his second season with the New Orleans Saints. Aveion Cason (Lakewood/Illinois State) is a rookie with St. Louis. In the Rams' 20-17 win over Philadelphia, Cason had four kickoff returns for 73 yards.
Fullback William Floyd (Lakewood/FSU) was released by Tennessee this month, as was Chris Daniels (Clearwater/Purdue) last month by the Bucs.
Floyd earned a Super Bowl ring while with San Francisco. Daniels, plagued by injuries, is the receiving coach for Largo High School.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Kentucky Wesleyan middle linebacker Frank Wintrich (Seminole) has nine tackles in the Panthers' first two games.
Wintrich, named a first-team All-American by Football Gazette after his 94 total tackles last season, is in his senior year.
Karl Bates (Seminole/Kentucky Wesleyan) is in his second season as the Panthers' defensive coordinator.
Bates was an All-American in 1998 while playing for Kentucky Wesleyan, and he was a member of the Houston Thunderbears in the Arena Football League after graduation.
Mark Leyenaar (East Lake) is a senior center for Robert Morris College (Pa.). The team won its fifth consecutive Northeast Conference title last year.
Freshman wide receiver David Guild (Gibbs) caught three passes for 43 yards in William Penn University's 33-16 loss to Midland Lutheran.
BASEBALL: Randy Hart (Seminole/Florida Community College) will join the University of North Florida team. The .325 hitter led FCC in RBI and was a Mid-Florida Conference second-team selection as a catcher.
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