Sunday, September 30, 2007

Former St. Thomas Aquinas Stars Make Huge Impact

Major Wright (left) & Wes Byrum

Loudmouth college basketball analyst Dick Vitale would call them "diaper dandies". The college football season is young. But it hasn't taken long for Major Wright and Wes Byrum to establish themselves as two of the best freshmen in the country. Just a year ago, Wright and Byrum were teammates at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. But yesterday, they became opponents in one of college football's biggest upsets.

During last night's 20-17 Auburn victory over #4 Florida, Byrum kicked a 43 yard field goal as time expired to give the Tigers the win. Byrum is the latest in a long line of great kickers to come out of St. Thomas Aquinas. He is the 6th consecutive St. Thomas kicker to go on to play major college football. His predecessor at STA Brett Swenson is a sophomore at Michigan State and one of the top kickers in the country. Indeed, the great tradition of St. Thomas Aquinas kickers goes back all the way to the 1980s with Pat Moons (Michigan), Greg Cox (Miami) and Richie Andrews (Florida State).

Byrum has been the biggest bright spot in Auburn's disappointing 2007 season. Auburn entered the Florida game with a subpar 2-2 record. The winning kick didn't come easy. He was forced to kick it twice. Florida coach Urban Meyer called time out just before Byrum put his foot to the ball and appeared to kick the winning field goal. The ball sailed perfectly between the goal posts, but the the officials waived it off. However, Meyer's head games didn't work and the cool freshman once again delivered with a perfect kick, silencing the majority of the 90,685 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

Major Wright is already one of the most devastating hitters in college football. Wright earned the starting strong safety position for the Gators as a true freshman, beating out veteran Kyle Jackson who was a key member of Florida's national championship team a year ago. Last night, Wright had 7 tackles including a forced fumble. I can remember watching him in high school and just destroying every ball carrier in site. He's listed at 6'1 and 200 pounds. But he plays and looks a lot bigger than advertised. Wright has been compared to former UM safety Sean Taylor. Both are big, physical players who hit like linebackers and can cover like cornerbacks.

Longtime St. Thomas Aquinas head coach George Smith is known for his grumpy sideline demeanor. But you know "Grumpy George" had a huge smile on his face watching his former pupils excell on one of college football's biggest stages last night.

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