Nearly three years ago, when the Tampa Tribune shut down Hernando Today, I wrote a column for the final issue titled “One Last Mile.”
That headline was a reference to a line often repeated in interviews by then Springstead head boys basketball coach Pat Kelly back in 2009, as his team made a stunning run to the state championship game.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what the future held for me. Thanks to Rocco and Julie Maglio and Hernando Sun, it turned out I still had a few miles left in the tank.
On Monday, I’ll head down a new road. I’ll begin working as a sport writer/copy editor at the Citrus County Chronicle. It’s an exciting endeavor for sure but also bittersweet in that after 14 years, I’ll no longer be covering local sports in Hernando County.
My last farewell column was fairly long-winded, so this time around I’ll keep it more concise. There are far too many players, coaches, administrators and parents I’ve met along the way for me to possibly thank individually.
But I do want to focus on my time with Hernando Sun, which began in April 2015. I’ve covered two full football seasons, and they’ve certainly been memorable.
I’ve lived in Hernando County for 31 years, I came up through the school system, and never would I have imagined a football player from this area would lead the entire country in rushing yards and touchdowns. Yet that’s what Nature Coast’s DeShawn Smith did in 2015, throughout an extraordinary senior season full of dazzling runs.
That season I got to sit in the press box for many games and simply marvel at Smith’s ability, then could only laugh as he shrugged off his own accomplishments and focused on the team during postgame interviews. Last year his cousin, Central’s De’Vonta Smith, provided a nice follow-up, giving the county its second state-leading rusher in as many seasons.
Those were nights when going to work felt fun, and there were plenty of those to go around. I got to cover volleyball, basketball, baseball, soccer and softball teams as they made deep postseason runs.
As spring turned to summer in 2016, I found myself at a regional softball semifinal, with Springstead hosting Crystal River. The game went to extra innings, and I had an inkling that star catcher Paige Pfent, with the power to hit balls on to Mariner Boulevard, just might end things with another long ball.
When Pfent stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, I had my camera phone concentrated on home plate. On cue, the right-handed slugger smashed a ball the other way into the portables beyond the fence in right-center field, perfectly in frame. The video went up on Twitter, and my phone blew up for the next few hours.
I’m grateful I had the chance to cover amazing athletes like the Smith cousins and Pfent, and that I was able to continue watching prep sports in this county evolve in way I couldn’t have envisioned 20 years ago.
It wasn’t all about the high schools, either. It was a joy just two months ago, watching Anthony Caso, a young man I had written about since he was 14, win his first professional bowling tournament in the house he grew up in, Spring Hill Lanes.
I was also able to follow the exploits of former county athletes in the pros, such as Hernando alum Christian Arroyo during his promotion to the San Francisco Giants early this year and Nature Coast grad Matt Breida’s current rise from undrafted rookie to second-string running back for the San Francisco 49ers.
I’ll miss everyone I’ve worked with over the years, and appreciate all the kindness and assistance I’ve been given along the way. More than anything, I’ll miss being able to contribute to my hometown community.
A big thank you needs to go out to the two photographers I’ve teamed with at Hernando Sun, first Alice Herden, who I also worked with at Hernando Today. Both she and Cheryl Clanton have done a phenomenal job and there’s no way I could have kept this going without them.
Of course, I also need to thank the Maglio’s, who provided me with a wonderful landing spot when I was at a crossroads in my career. Rocco and Julie have put a tremendous amount of time and effort into cultivating Hernando Sun into a quality product. Please, please, please continue to support them as this keeps on growing. All they want is to serve this community that sorely needs a hometown newspaper.
As for me, I won’t be far and I’ll assuredly cross paths with many people from around these parts. So it would be silly to say goodbye. But as I reach what I think finally is that last mile marker, the one I believed I was coming up on three years ago, I can say thank you to everyone that allowed me to ride on just a little bit longer.