Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
Springstead

Ex-QB Vendrone rooting for Eagles


Published:   |   Updated: November 29, 2013 at 02:44 PM

The future is a vast unknown. Few can predict it, though Nostradamus tried.

The debate rages in Hernando County on whether Springstead's senior quarterback Tyler Mahla is the school's best ever.

The 6-foot, 155-pound Mahla is in the midst of a career campaign.

On the eve of Springstead's 387th all-time game, forget the fact that the Spring Hill program enters 18 games under .500 at 184-202 (47.7 winning percentage).

Disregard the fact Friday's Class 6A, Region II final at Kyle Flagg Stadium against 12-0 and two-time state champion Seffner-Armwood bears a striking resemblance to Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek series, with the Eagles going where no one (from Hernando County) has gone before.

Mahla might be the Eagles' finest signal caller.

The two-time All-County pick and the Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 10 Most Valuable Player has torched the SHS record book.

That's what happens when a quarterback leads his team to victory in 24-of-33 varsity starts under center - highlighted by back-to-back district and county championships.

That's what happens when he leads the veer option thrust with 2,422 career rushing yards and 34 touchdowns.

Most pundits and the proverbial "Monday morning quarterbacks" believe Mahla is strictly an option quarterback, aka a running quarterback.

Look again. Mahla is only one of two Springstead quarterbacks in 38 seasons to throw a touchdown pass as a freshman. He and A.J. Stone - who holds the school record with 26 touchdown aerials - threw at least one touchdown pass in four straight seasons.

Through the air, the Eagles "option quarterback" has completed 212-of-388 career attempts (55 percent) for 2,630 career yards and 19 touchdowns.

Of Mahla's 5,055 combined career rushing/passing yards, he's thrown for more real estate than he's rushed.

Ironically, one of Mahla's biggest fans will be in the stands Friday night in Hillsborough County.

Donald Wesley Vendrone lives minutes away from Flagg Stadium. Vendrone was "the man" under center as a senior for the 1983 Eagles.

After a 5-5 campaign in 1982 under mentor Bob Levija, the '83 squad opened the season on the wrong side of six straight losses. Three of them were by a touchdown or less to Land O' Lakes (14-6), South Sumter (14-7) and St. Petersburg Catholic (18-13).

After getting shredded by Wildwood at Booster Stadium on Oct. 14, 53-7, SHS turned things around. Down the stretch, the Mariner Boulevard gridders won 3-of-4.

What ignited the team's rally was a scintillating 25-22 upset over Dunnellon.

The Tigers were two years removed from stardom. In 1981, Dunnellon had lost to Clewiston is the 2A sectional final (what would be considered today as the state semifinal), 14-6.

Many old-school Spring Hill fans believe that victory was the most noteworthy until this season.

Though SHS finished 3-7 overall, the 5-foot-10 175-pound Vendrone raised eyebrows as the Eagles' first legitimate quarterback.

His stats backed him up.

Donnie, as his friends called him, was born in Ansonia, Conn., the third of four children to Donald and Marlene Vendrone.

The Vendrone's relocated to Spring Hill prior to Donnie's freshman year at SHS.

During that senior campaign, Vendrone led the North Suncoast in passing connecting on 103-of-201 attempts (51.2 percent) for a school-record 1,454 yards and eight touchdowns.

He set a school record that still stands today - three decades later - with nine consecutive 100-plus passing games in a row.

These days, the 47-year-old Vendrone serves as a manager of molecular biology for BayCare Health Systems in Tampa. He's a scientist who's working on human genetics to help cure cancer.

As Springstead's first 1,000-yard passer, Vendrone fondly recalls his playing days.

"When I was a sophomore, I played the entire season as a defensive back," said Vendrone, who is still close to his playing weight at 190. "I was fortunate; my O-line was huge. I was a drop-back quarterback.

"No way could I rush the ball the way Mahla does now. It's a completely different system," he said. "I was fortunate that we were starting putting it all together at the end of the season. I really wish we would have had a few more games. Things started clicking for us during the last month.

"Offensively, James Thomas and Greg Herron (808 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns) were our 1-2 punch running the football. I probably had 20 yards (rushing) for the season," he added. "We had great receivers with Keith Hammel (44 receptions/679 yards/six touchdowns) and Tommy Martin (28 receptions/424 yards/one touchdown). Hammel was very athletic; he was a tremendous hurdler. And I played with James on the basketball team."

Upon graduation from SHS, Vendrone's lack of height hurt his chances of playing at a bigger school.

As a result, Vendrone signed a letter-of-intent to play football for NAIA's Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.

After one season with the Swedes, Vendrone returned home to Hernando County.

He eventually enrolled at the University of South Florida where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in medical technology in 1989.

Three years later in 1992, he earned his master's in public health, also at USF.

He married his wife Elaine - a Tampa Catholic graduate - in 1991.

The Vendrone's have three children: Andrew - a 10th-grader at Tampa-Sickles High, who is an elite AAU 400-meter runner; freshman Elise - who runs cross country, track, and plays soccer for the Gryphons; and 10-year-old Emilie - a fourth-grader at Incarnation Catholic School in Tampa.

Vendrone comes back to Spring Hill a couple times a season to catch a game with father, Don Sr.

Don Sr. was a fixture at SHS games for three decades working the chain crew. Last year, he was honored for his long-time service to the school. Before that, Don Sr. was a West Hernando Little League coach for 15 years. He coached Springstead head coach Mike Garofano for five years.

When the younger Vendrone analyzes Mahla's efforts, "We ran a pro-style offense, nothing near to what Coach Garofano is running now with the veer option. I'm very impressed with how smoothly Mahla runs the offense.

"It takes a very special athlete to operate that system. He has to make split-second decisions all the time."

As far as O-lines, "You don't get two 1,000-yard backs without the guys up front," detailed Vendrone. "I look at their line now, and I still think our line was bigger."

In predicting Friday night, "Springstead's defense is pretty good, but Armwood is very athletic," he said. "Jefferson has athletes all over the field and threw for over 300 yards and lost (to Armwood last week). Springstead will have its work cut out for them."

On the keys to the game, "Springstead can't get behind early," stressed Vendrone, whose nephew Trevor Vendrone is a freshman who was promoted to varsity at the end of the season. "Armwood's D-line is outstanding. Springstead's defense needs to stand up early. Tampa football is a little different than Hernando County.

"Springstead's going to have to continue playing with a lot of heart," he said. "Football is a funny game; anything can happen on any given day."

As far as being a former Springstead alumnus and former quarterback, "This (regional final) is fantastic, not just for Springstead High School - it's great for all of Hernando County," emphasized Vendrone.

"I look back fondly at my playing days at Springstead," he said. "It was a great time. I just wish we would have had a few more wins. But I loved the guys I played with."

On the Friday's significance, "This run is finally giving Springstead football a little respect," Vendrone said. "Times are changing for the best. Everybody (from Hernando County) should be here Friday supporting these guys. I'm so proud. I know my dad and I and my brother (Jason) will be sitting on the visitors' side wearing our red, white and blue and cheering for Springstead."

By the numbers: Springstead's Don Vendrone in 1983

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

PASSING:

GP ATT COMP .PCT YDS TD

10 201 103 .512 1,454* 8

* Denotes a school-record nine consecutive 100+ passing games in a row.

By the numbers: Springstead vs. Hillsborough County Football Teams

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

DATE OPPONENT SITE RESULT

10-15-76 Tampa-Temple Heights Away L 14-36

11-13-76 Tampa-Berkeley Prep Away L 7-50

10-21-77 Tampa-Berkeley Prep Home W 16-14

11-13-81 Tampa Catholic Home L 12-26

11-20-81 Tampa-Jesuit Away L 0-48

11-12-82 Tampa Catholic Away W 10-7

11-19-82 Tampa-Jesuit Home L 7-31

11-22-96 Seffner-Armwood# Home L 7-24

09-27-13 Tampa-Berkeley Prep Home W 30-18

# Denotes Class 5A Region II quarterfinal

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