FLEMING ISLAND - Sports heroes are normally athletes that inspire their teammates to surpass their own limitations on the field of battle.Case in point, Oakleaf High linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, …
FLEMING ISLAND - Sports heroes are normally athletes that inspire their teammates to surpass their own limitations on the field of battle.
Case in point, Oakleaf High linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, now a Jacksonville Jaguar linebacker, was once asked what he would do if his teammates decided that “Shaq will get that guy.”
In one of the more epic answers to a question that I have asked an athlete, Quarterman said, in his interview before being put on the cover of the Clay Today Perseason Football Magazine, that “it is my job to make them better than me.”
Fast Forward to a small, 10 year old boy that played football for the Fleming Island Dreadnaughts in a season that would put the Dreadnaughts on the doorstep of a national title.
Connor McKay was a boulder of energy that captured the hearts of everyone on his team with his attack on the game he loved from his defensive end position.
McKay’s story became an epic journey of toughness and courage that far surpassed any field of play, but transcended to the boys on his team as he battled a brain tumor that ultimately took his life.
McKay’s “Connor Strong” influence fueled his teammates the following season to a dominating season with one goal...finish Connor’s mission.
Unfortunately, the Dreadnaughts team, though playing magnificently through the 2022 season lost in the Pop Warner National Championship tournament one game away putting McKay’s dream to fruition.
For McKay, his story is the Clay Today Sports Story of 2022 as it reads below with numbers two and three on page 26 and more throughout the Clay Today sports pages.
Dreadnaught defensive end stalwart now battles brain cancer
Update: Heaven gets an All Star Defensive End, #ConnorStrong
FLEMING ISLAND - March 28, 2021 was a fateful day for Conner McKay after a successful youth football season that saw his Fleming Island Dreadnaughts 10-Under team get into the National Championship tournament by way of Valdosta “Titletown” Georgia’s exclusion from the tournament.
“We started spring football and he complained of headaches so we went to the hospital to check on a concussion,” said Brittany McKay, who was at Conner’s side on Saturday at Fleming Island High School when members of his 10-Under team were set to take on Oakleaf in a 2021 12-Under team contest under the lights at the high school. “They checked him out and found the tumor at about 2:30 a.m.”
The tumor, a DIPG brain tumor, is on Conner’s brainstem and both the tumor and the swelling around it affect his balance, his coordination and his vision.
Update: Connor McKay lost his battle with his brain tumor the morning of Mon., Jan. 31, 2022. For me, the news was a punch in the stomach for a beautiful person who personified the love of being a teammate on a sport. McKay showed no fear, no remorse and no less enthusiasm for being a teammate to his Fleming Island Dreadnaught team on that Fleming Island High School sideline that I was honored to have a conversation with him. He later swam with sharks, rode his brand new bicycle and, astoundingly, learned and taught sign language to himself and his family when the tumor took his voice from him. so that he could continue to have his profound conversations of God’s plan for him. In lieu of flowers, McKay’s family is asking that friends of Connor may donate to his The Cure Starts Now Foundation under Connor McKay’s name (p2p.thecurestartsnow.org).
Conner started radiation treatments in April with a six week blast of daily treatments minus the weekends that ended on May 26.
“I fall a lot and my energy is kind of day by day,” said Conner, as his former teammates gathered for hugs at the Fleming Island festival in his honor. “It doesn’t hurt, but they say they can’t go in and get it out.”
Brittany McKay, and husband Sean, a U.S. Naval officer, noted Conner’s treatments; chemotherapy and a ton of anti-immune therapy drug trial, have kept him sustaining life, but it is his affection toward his football family that is keeping his smile in tact.
For Dreadnaughts coach Michael Kenny, Conner’s impact on the field and now off the field is immeasurable.
“His team was undefeated in regular season, won the conference title and made it to round four of the national playoffs,” said Kenny. “Conner was a ripped, fast and athletic defensive end that had a big motor. I play my best athletes at the defensive end position all the time and he was it. His situation made all of us recalibrate what was most important in life.”
11th straight title
St. Johns Country Day School girls soccer coach Mike Pickett secured his legacy to this point in his career with an 11th straight state soccer title built around a team of new faces and youth. Pickett’s secrets of preparation are legendary and, after a solid graduating class that won the 10th title, many were questioning Pickett’s team as ready to continue the legacy. They did..
Holy Julia!! Spartans tag 11th title
DELAND - St. Johns Country Day School senior Julia Boaventura, amidst waves of underclassmen around her for a 2022 season that saw her Lady Spartans appear to be mortal with three regular season losses, snapped a 0-0 halftime tie with Shorecrest Prep in the Class 2A championship game with two goals out of the halftime lockers to give St. Johns an 11th straight state title; 2-0 the final.
Boaventura, by her own admission was slightly off her game in the first half but was dialed back in by her team and Spartan coach Mike Pickett.
“Especially me in the first half, I was thinking this was my last time playing, so it was really hard,” said Boaventura heading to Southern Mississippi next fall. “The second half, we all played together and I thank God I had the two opportunities to score. I am so happy right now.”
After eight shots on goal in the first half, a 0-0 tie, Pickett found a vulnerability.
“Their goalie was unbelievable,” said Pickett. “Crazy good. Best keeper we played all year. She kept them in the game and all they needed was one chance and they (Shorecrest) are winning the game. We needed to get the end line on her and draw her out of the middle of her goal. She was too good on shot stopping. We did it twice and cashed them in.”
After laying out the game plan to his team, the girls went out and flawlessly executed.
Once the Spartans made the adjustments to pull the keeper forward, it was all Boaventura needed to head the ball past Kasica from the top of the penalty box line, fed from Ava Johnson in minute 56 of the competition, to put St. Johns on the board.
Asked if she saw it go in where she wanted it to, Boaventura admitted “I think I did. My heading is something I’ve been working on and getting better at.”
Just four minutes later, with a feeding pass from Towers, Boaventura, off her left foot three meters outside the penalty box line, blasted a cannon shot by Kasica to put her team out front 2-0.
Clay High wrestler Garrett Tyre overcame an emotional suspension from his junior season of wrestling due to an unsportsmanlike ticket in the Fleming Island vs. Clay dual match just before districts that eliminated Tyre for the remaining four possible meets of his junior season. Tyre regrouped his psyche for a final run in his senor season and had earth-shattering battles with one particular wrestler through the season, Raines High’s Jamari Watson that ultimately became his final match of his career at the state championship.
Tyre epic battle earns state
KISSIMMEE - Clay High senior 220 pound wrestler Garrett Tyre kind of knew his best match at the Class 1A championships in Kissimmee might be a familiar face and the premonition proved correct with Tyre linking up with Raines High’s Jamari Watson for a third battle of the titans that ended in just-as-thrilling a finish as previous battles with Tyre punching out a last-second scoring opportunity to win the Class 1A title.
“It has always been a learning experience to wrestle him (Watson) because he’s such a great athlete,” said Tyre, after pinning Watson with just three seconds left in the third period for the region 1-1A title a week ago. “This will be the state title match in a week.”
For Tyre, 49-2 for the season, who missed his state meet ticket last year due to an unsportsmanlike ding at the Fleming Island vs. Clay dual match that brought a suspension that included the district tournament, he has kept focus on his goal at hand throughout the season to avoid the same fate.
“I learned from that experience that wrestling hard and little things that happen are not personal and I had to think of the bigger picture to avoid that this season,” said Tyre. “The focus has been to wrestle hard and compete and not let things that happen get the better of me. My coaches have been super helpful in keeping my head on right this year and it paid off.”
One key moment of the season, at the riveting region championship match, was an errant out of bounds throw that put Watson and Tyre on the floor off the mat and on top of the mat boundaries.
“He was shaken up and I was scared that I might get stuck with a penalty, but I think the officials saw that it was just tough wrestling,” said Tyre. “Jamari came back on the mat and we wrestled hard to the finish and both looking forward to the state meet. I was more worried that they were going to call one of us for a concussion and that would have ended the match.”
In Kissimmee, Tyre advanced with pins of 1:36 and 3:33 with a 9-1 major decision in his semifinal to get to the final while Watson, 18-3, pinned all the way to the final; :28, 2:16 and 1:18.
“I watched his first match (an 18 second pin) and was not expecting him to beat him so fast,” said Tyre. “From there, I knew we were going to be in the final.”
In the championship match, Tyre scored first, but both wrestlers were hit with one-point stall penalties before Watson got a two point takedown. Tyre responded with an escape to end the second period tied at 2-2.
“He was coming hard and I was stressing a bit,” said Tyre. “I just kept thinking I worked too hard to not win this.”
In the third, Watson struck first with a one point escape with Tyre getting a takedown in the final seconds for the win.
“I shot in on him at about 21 seconds, grabbed an ankle then we bounced around until about three seconds to go before I got the points,” said Tyre. “It was amazing. He texted me later about it. He’s a classy guy.”