Lake Weir High School
Born and bred to be a prolific scorer from her shooting guard position, in 2000, Lake Weir’s Grace Daley embarked on a WNBA journey that didn’t exactly follow a script she would have penned herself.
After setting scoring records at first Lake Weir and then Tulane University, where she was later inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame, Daley looked to continue as a scoring juggernaut in the professional ranks. What ensued was a WNBA career that included four different teams in four years and the disappointment of playing out of position at each one.
Daley’s first stint with the Minnesota Lynx set the tone for her WNBA career. Former Olympian Katie Smith was already on the roster, so Daley would be placed at point guard, instead of her more comfortable shooting position.
“I had to play out of position, but I gave it my best effort,” says Daley, now a teacher at Fessenden Elementary School. “It was a very tumultuous start to my career.”
After a season with the Lynx, Daley headed to Europe to play in the Spanish League where she helped revive a perennial bottom-feeder into a second-place team. It was the start of a cycle that would last Daley’s entire professional career: summers in the WNBA playing point guard, then back to Europe to do what she does best—score in prolific fashion.
“Overseas I had the most fun,” says Daley. “They had a rule where each team could only have two Americans, so if you were American, you never came out of the game. I loved it.”
Daley went through WNBA stints with the New York Liberty, Houston Comets and the Phoenix Mercury. In between, she starred in Europe.
She looks back at her days with the Lake Weir Hurricanes as her fondest memories of basketball. Playing for coach Rick Dearing made basketball fun.
“I remember having the best time, and I had a great coach,” says Daley. “I remember the freedom. Once you get to higher and higher levels, they try to automate you into something else. In high school, you played the game and gave it your best effort.”
Forest High School
University of Florida
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If there ever was a royal family of Ocala sports, it would certainly be the Brantleys.
And Scot Brantley would be king.
The first of three Brantleys to play football at the University of Florida (brother John and nephew John, Jr. both played quarterback for Gators), Scot earned legendary status as the nation’s top defensive player in leading Forest High School to consecutive state championships in the mid-1970s. He carried a reputation as a ferocious hitter from the linebacker position all through college and into his eight-year NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
His blow to the Detroit Lions’ Eric Hipple in 1985 still resonates as one of the game’s more memorable hits.
But those hits nearly ended his career at the start of his senior season at UF. Against Georgia Tech in the second game, Brantley tripped over a seam in the artificial turf and caught the knee of a Tech runner into his head, leaving him unconscious on Florida Field.
After being diagnosed with a brain bruise, his college career was over and some feared his playing days behind him for good. But the Bucs were confident enough to draft Brantley in the third round of the 1980 NFL Draft, and he shined for nearly a decade from his linebacker position.
“After Forest, we never won a championship,” says Brantley, who still remains second on UF’s list of career tackles despite missing almost an entire season. “I went to Florida to help them win their first championship, but that never happened. With the Bucs, we went to the playoffs, but that was it. So that was a little discouraging.”
Still, playing eight years in the NFL following a serious head injury in college, Brantley feels grateful for every moment.
“That injury was actually a blessing,” says Brantley. “From that, I learned how to tackle with my shoulders and not my head. I had to work harder and focus more. That injury made me a better player, but it also made me a better person—a better man.”
He recalls the glory days with the Forest Wildcats as his most significant.
“It’s something I really hold on to,” Brantley said of the FHS championships. “Of all the coaches and teams I played for in my career, that was the most important. (FHS coach) Brent Hall or (Bucs coach) John McKay, it’s not even close. I liked Coach McKay, but he was a more mellow guy; Brent Hall would get in your face, and that’s what I liked.”
After his final season with the Bucs in 1987, Brantley entered the world of sports radio, hosting a popular talk show in Tampa. He also worked broadcasts for the Buccaneers and University of Florida football, and for the last two years, he has co-hosted a sports talk show with Steve Woodard on WMOP in Ocala.
Forest High School
University of North Carolina
Perhaps Tony McCall’s timing in the sport of track and field could have been a bit better, but the former Forest High sprinting star can forever rest assured he did things the right way.
After winning multiple state championships in the 100 and 200 meters, McCall went on to a stellar career at the University of North Carolina, and he was ready for a career as a world class sprinter for Team USA. McCall made it to Team USA in 1995 while still at UNC, but there were roadblocks for which he hadn’t planned.
“I went on to compete through the 2000 Olympic Trials,” said McCall, who now coaches track at Trinity Catholic High School and works with many up-and-coming sprinters in his own personal training business. “The hype of steroid use was high, and I didn’t see a way to compete against those who were using steroids in the sprints.”
McCall would eventually see many colleagues such as Marion Jones fall from grace due to steroids. He knew firsthand other athletes were involved but committed himself to remaining clean.
“In the beginning, you think you can still beat other sprinters on steroids. If you train harder and focus more, you feel you can compete. Then, you have some of your best races and still nothing is maturing.”
Eventually, the names of many stars who beat McCall became sullied in the steroid dragnet, but McCall emerged clean. No medals, but his honor intact.
Still, McCall enjoyed a successful professional career competing in Europe, and he qualified for two World Championships.
His days at Forest included many individual accomplishments that included running a 10.36 in the 100—a state record that would last 13 years—but his fondest memory is winning the state title in the 4×100 relay. That feat he could share with his friends.
“It was a team effort with that win,” McCall said of the group that consisted of Tom Johnson, Juan Ocasio and Kareem Walker and coached by Mark Mader. “My friends were able to experience that with me, and I had always wanted that.”
Today, McCall enjoys working with young athletes and training them to do things the right way. He hopes his passion for the sport will become contagious in an area that seems lacking in enthusiasm.
Forest High School
Boston Red Sox
From Forest High to Fenway Park, Reid Nichols made a name for himself in Major League Baseball like no other Ocalan before or since.
A star on the Forest High baseball team in the mid-1970s, Nichols also played tight end on the Wildcats’ two state champion football teams, and even today he does not discount the role that played in later becoming a member of the Boston Red Sox.
“I remember they made me play football, because if you were an athlete you had to play,” said Nichols.
The Red Sox drafted Nichols in the 12th round of the 1976 amateur draft, and four years later, he would make his Major League debut. Once on the roster, Nichols would play centerfield and platoon at designated hitter with legend Carl Yastrzemski.
After hitting .302 in 92 games for the Red Sox in 1982, Nichols followed that up with a .285 campaign in 1983.
“I was a pitcher and shortstop at Forest, but the Red Sox wanted me to play second base,” Nichols says, “but I was too overactive, and they moved me to the outfield. I was almost 10 years with the Red Sox organization—five in the Major Leagues.”
In July 1985, the Red Sox traded Nichols to the Chicago White Sox but not before he made a little history. In his final at-bat in a Red Sox uniform, Nichols tagged the Oakland Athletics’ Bill Krueger for a seventh-inning home run, making him only the second player in team history to hit a home run in his final at-bat as a Red Sox.
The first? Ted Williams, making Reid Nichols and the greatest hitter of all time the answers to a Red Sox trivia question.
Nichols retired from playing after 1987 and went to work as a minor league coach for the Baltimore Orioles and then farm director for the Texas Rangers, but for the last 12 years has enjoyed a successful run in his position as the director of player personnel and special assistant to the general manager with the Milwaukee Brewers.
His days growing up in Ocala may be distant memories for Nichols, but they’re still vivid.
“Mike McGrath was our coach (at Forest),” recalls Nichols, “and he had a lot to do with my development as a baseball player and person. “We did real well. I think we had six or seven players sign scholarships.”
His Wildcats team lost the state title by one run; then came the draft. The Red Sox came calling and that meant a big decision in the life of Reid Nichols. He had committed to playing baseball at Auburn University, but that wasn’t his dream.
“My mom wanted me to go to Auburn—I had signed a letter of intent to play there. But I really wanted to play pro ball. Then the Red Sox drafted me. I have no regrets.”
Forest High School
University of Florida
After a PGA Tour career that included three victories and 19 appearances in major championships, Mike Sullivan still holds dear the state championship his Forest High School golf team won back in 1971.
“I remember it was the first state championship Forest ever had, so it meant a lot to us,” said Sullivan, now a rules official on the PGA’s Champions Tour. “I remember even then I thought it was very competitive for high school. It was common for us to shoot under 150 and many times under par. When you take four scores that count and you’re under par, it’s pretty impressive.”
J.C. Batsel coached that Forest team, and he remains among those Sullivan acknowledges for helping to forge his later career as a professional. Along the way, local pros Jim Yancey and Joe Lopez, Jr. would take Sullivan’s game to the next level.
“I credit Batsel for making us strive to get better. He didn’t just let you rest on your laurels; you had to continually prove yourself.”
Sullivan would hone his craft the same way many other rising golf stars from the Ocala pipeline would—under the tutelage of the late Yancey at Ocala Municipal Golf Course. Yancey’s instruction as well as connections to other helpful influences put him on a path to future glory in the professional ranks.
At a young age, Sullivan would play golf with the likes of Bert Yancey (Jim’s brother and seven-time PGA Tour winner) and Frank Beard (11-time PGA Tour winner), all the while soaking in what it takes to reach the sport’s highest level.
“I started out with (lessons from) my dad,” Sullivan recalls, “then the Ocala Recreation Department and all the city lessons at the Muni.
After turning down football scholarship offers from Louisiana State, Auburn and Florida State, Sullivan went to the University of Florida on a golf scholarship.
“I figured I had a much better chance with golf than football,” says Sullivan. “(UF) really didn’t have to recruit me much because that’s where I wanted to go anyway.”
After a college career playing next to future star Andy Bean, Sullivan turned pro and won his first PGA Tour event in the 1980 Southern Open. He would go on to win the 1989 Independent Insurance Agent Open and finally the 1994 B.C. Open.
“My entire time on the PGA Tour was a good experience. Now that I’m removed, I realize that not that many people have the opportunity to be out there as long as I was.”
He played PGA Tour events every season from 1977 to 2004—not a bad record for a kid coming from the Muni.
Trinity Catholic High School
Florida Atlantic University
1000m World Record
A record-setting scorer for the Trinity Catholic girls basketball team in the early-mid 2000s, Brittany Bowe would move on to star at Florida Atlantic University all the while racking up gold medals around the world for inline skating. But after graduating from FAU in 2010, the wheels would give way to the blades, and Bowe made a quick ascent to race among the nation’s—if not the world’s—elite speedskaters.
Bowe earned a spot on Team USA for the 2014 Sochi Olympics after compiling an impressive résumé in a short time: a world record in the 1000 meters, an American record in the 1500 meters and one gold and two bronze medals in the World Cup 1000 meters.
Vanguard High School
A speed prodigy in his younger days tooling around the local roller-skating rinks, Joey Mantia went on to inline skating greatness by capturing nine gold medals at the World Championships from 2009 to 2010. Enter 2011 and Mantia, a graduate of Vanguard High School, would turn his attention to the ice and is making his mark on the international stage.
Mantia broke through early in his career, finishing fourth in the 5000 meters at the 2011 U.S. Championships. In 2014, he represented the United State at the Sochi Winter Olympics and continues his steady rise in the sport, having earned a spot on the 2014-2015 Team USA squad and his sights set on the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Vanguard High School
University of Central Florida
In 1994, Daunte Culpepper earned Mr. Florida Football honors, the only Marion County athlete to achieve such accolades. It was the crowning moment of a season in which he led his Vanguard Knights to the state championship game, losing by inches with a missed field goal on the last play.
Taken in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Culpepper wasted little time in joining the elites of his profession.
His first full season, Culpepper reeled off seven straight wins to start the season and led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and playoff berth. Through his first five seasons with the Vikings, he would throw for over 18,000 yards and 129 touchdowns.
In 2004, Culpepper earned his third Pro Bowl appearance and broke Dan Marino’s record for combined passing and rushing yards. But major ligament damage to his knee in 2005 diverted his career, and he saw just scant playing time over his final five years in the league.
Lake Weir High School
Wake Forest University
From the schoolyard courts of Weirsdale, Frank Johnson honed his skills in epic one-on-one games with a future NBA All-Star. Not coincidentally, that player also happened to be Frank’s older brother, “Fast” Eddie Johnson.
Frank, the MVP of the 1974 Kingdom of the Sun tournament, would be a first-round draft pick by the Washington Bullets in 1981. He then played 10 full seasons in the league, scoring nearly 5,000 points from his point-guard position. Johnson would play three seasons in Italy before returning to the NBA in 1992 for two years with the Phoenix Suns effectively closing out his career.
Vanguard High School
San Diego Chargers
A star defender for the Vanguard Knights, Drayton Florence’s route to the NFL came not through big-time Division I college football but through the hallowed gates of Tuskegee University.
Drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft, Florence would shine for 11 seasons in the league, most of them with the Chargers and Buffalo Bills. With 20 career interceptions and 414 tackles, he has been the defensive legacy of the Vanguard Knights much like Daunte Culpepper is the offensive legacy.
The pinnacle came in 2008 when he helped his Chargers advance all the way to the AFC Championship. In that game, Florence intercepted Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, but the Chargers fell 21-12.