Capping a brilliant senior campaign under center, Springstead quarterback Tyler Mahla was unanimously selected as Hernando Today's 2013 Football Player of the Year.
It should come to no one's surprise, since the county's leading passer, rusher, scorer, holder and punter guided the Eagles to a Hernando County-record 11-2 season.
Perhaps lost in the record book was the fact that the 6-foot-1, 155-pound option quarterback led the Spring Hill gridders to the third-round of the state playoffs - penetrating deeper than any previous local team.
The three-year starter was part of an Eagle senior class that captured back-to-back district championships - something that's never been achieved in these parts.
It certainly didn't hurt that Mahla and his teammates garnered more wins (31) across a four-year period (2010-13) than any previous Hernando County team.
Not lost in all the seasonal crib notes, the Mahla-led offense tallied a school-record 328 points and helped score a school-record 46 touchdowns, including a school-record 38 rushing touchdowns.
Area coaches had previously selected Mahla for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 10 quarterback, punter and Player of the Year.
For those efforts, Mahla joined former University of Florida All-America defensive tackle Ed Chester as the Eagles' lone FACA POYs. Chester was selected in 1993.
Local coaches were in concurrence with Mahla as the three-time All-County pick at quarterback. He was also feted as the county's finest punter.
"Tyler's stats are one thing, but it was his leadership that set him apart. It's the way he commands the huddle," described first-year Eagles skipper Mike Garofano. "He was our best-conditioned athlete and is deceptively shifty and agile. The kid never got tired even after every hit he took.
"We're going to miss his leadership. It'll be tough to replace his yardage and his touchdowns, but most importantly his presence on and off the field."
"Mahla was Springstead's most important player. He did everything at an ultra-high level," said former Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley. "Had he gotten hurt against Citrus in Week 1, they don't even have a winning record - that's how much he meant to their team's success."
"I remember when Tyler was a little guy; he's all grown up," said Weeki Wachee's third-year mentor Mark Lee. "He's a tremendous student of the game. He was a great high school football player and one of the most unselfish football players you'll ever meet. He never accepted the credit, spreading the wealth among his teammates - that says something about his status as Springstead's leader on the field."
"Tyler's stats are right there," detailed former Nature Coast Technical head coach Charles Liggett. "He became a solid, all-round player. There isn't much he couldn't do between the lines."
"I was kinda shocked when I first heard the news (of being named POY)," admitted the 18-year-old Mahla. "Knowing how hard this team worked made this season very gratifying. I know I couldn't have done it without my coaches, my teammates and my family."
Oddly, the Eagles opened and closed with blowout losses.
The 38th season-opener at the Citrus Bowl was all Golden Hurricanes, 42-14. It was 42-0 before SHS scored two late touchdowns.
"After Week 1, I was mostly disappointed with myself," recalled Mahla. "We learned from Coach (Bill) Vonada was to take it one week at a time - that's what he always stressed. No one panicked after that first game."
On what stood out over the ensuing 11-game win skein, "It was amazing how many times our defense put us in great field position," reminded Mahla.
"Offensively, the pass over the middle to Webbie (Kevin Bedford) for the winning touchdown against Sunlake really stands out.
"The togetherness we all had when Gainesville came to town (for a regional semifinal) was something I can't forget," added Mahla. "Those guys had never lost to anyone from Hernando County. That night we all had each other's back."
The amazing over-the-shoulder toss on a fake field goal to placekicker Tyler Toth for a touchdown against Hernando raised the decibel level considerably at Booster Stadium.
"It surprised Hernando, that's for sure," recalled Mahla. "We'd practiced that play every week. Every time, Tyler would catch it. I had played with Tyler since the Screaming Eagles days at Veterans Memorial Park. It was a beautifully executed play - it's one I'll never forget."
Mahla consistently complimented his O-line - Hunter Hramika, James Kern, Austin Hampton, Jameson Peppe and Mike Miara.
"There's no doubt, those guys were a huge part of our success," emphasized Mahla. "How else do you have two backs go over 1,100 yards? Pressure makes diamonds. I was always on those guys to do things better. The fun part was watching them come together. For all the things that happened with this team, I can't thank those guys enough."
Running the veer option, Mahla helped himself to a county-best 1,240 rushing yards on 204 carries and a school-record 18 rushing touchdowns.
The first part of the triple option is the most crucial with the exchange mesh with junior fullback Daniel Wright.
Wright carried the football a county-high 214 times for 1,186 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Dan and I have a close relationship. We've played ball together since we were both 7 years old," explained Mahla. "He knows how our system runs - we keep feeding whoever's the hottest.
"Without a doubt, I wouldn't trade our backfield for anyone else's. Webbie has 4.4-type speed and Latavious (Hannah) makes things look so easy 'cause he glides. In space both those guys complement Daniel and I real well."
Though Mahla attempted fewer passes, completed fewer passes, and threw for fewer yards than the previous season - he never blamed the lack of production on his receiving corps: tight end Tyler Anderson and wide receivers Joey Jeffords and Brandon Geiger.
"Anderson was the best blocking tight end I've ever seen," detailed Mahla. "Geiger was a possession-type receiver and though Joey does not have that pure speed, he makes up for it with sure-handed abilities and a tremendous knowledge of the game."
Over his prep career, Mahla competed over 54 percent of his passes (216 of 396), hurling 19 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 2,663 yards.
"A lot of credit belongs to Coach Cup," said Mahla in reference to offensive coordinator Dustin Kupcik. "He had me excited about the schemes were going to use since the spring.
"I also had very strong relationship with Coach (John) Hogeland. He was a former quarterback here and understands a lot of what I was going through," Mahla said. "He acted as a best friend and adviser. It was like having a big brother on the sideline."
On special teams, Mahla gave a shout out to long snapper Malcolm Fitts.
"Malcolm was a tremendous long snapper," said Mahla. "He's often overlooked. He'd snap the ball and usually be the first guy in on a tackle."
Mahla did not accept the notion this was his team.
"I didn't feel it was," he replied. "Yeah, I had a huge role. Coach Vonada deserves the credit into honing me into an option quarterback."
Mahla chose this year's playoff wins as his defining moments.
"There's nothing like winning two playoff games. The intensity level before both of those games was electric," recalled Mahla. "We definitely went in as the underdogs in both games. I think the reason why we won was we were a little bit hungrier; we wanted to continue playing."
In the season-ending lopsided 41-0 loss to eventual 6A state runner-up Seffner-Armwood, "Coach Vonada instilled in us not make excuses," he said. "We all have to own up for what happened that night.
"Their whole team was fast and just got after it," he added. "And defensively, they were ferocious in getting to the football."
Mahla, who carries a 2.5 grade point average, would like to study sports medicine in college.
"I'd like to play at the next level. I'm willing to give everything I've got," he said.
Before deciding on his next school, Mahla paused a moment to give thanks.
"My chiropractor (Dominick Tinari) made me more aware of my body and really helped me recover from a sore shoulder," Mahla said. "Without Coach Cup or Coach Garofano, I wouldn't be where I am today.
"I have to give love to my mom for dealing with my nasty pants and taking me here and there for football," added Mahla. "And to my dad and my brother, who toughened me up for football.
"I'd like to thank God. His blessings have allowed me to be successful. And I have to credit Coach Vonada," Mahla added. "He's the one who built teams here with men of character. He's the one who inspired me to be a better man."
By the numbers: Springstead's Tyler Mahla (2010-13)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR ATT COMP .PCT YDS TD INT
2010 007 03 .429 031 01 00
2011 139 80 .576 947 05 06
2012 128 69 .539 880 07 06
2013 122 64 .525 805 06 07
TOTALS 396 216 .545 2,663 19 19
YEAR ATT YDS AVG. TD LG
2010 005 033 6.60 00 16
2011 118 445 3.77 07 66*
2012 139 767 5.52 09 64
2013 204 1,240 6.08 18# 78*
TOTALS 466 2,485 5.33 34 78*
YEAR REP YDS YPC TD LG
2012 02 45 22.5 00 28
YEAR TD PAT 2-PT. FG SF TP
2011^ 07 0 0/1 0 0 42
2012^ 09 0 0 0 0 54
2013^$% 18# 0 0/1 0 0 108
TOTALS 34 0 0/2 0 0 204
^ Denotes All-County selection.
$ Denotes Hernando Today Player of the Year.
% Denotes FACA District 10 Player of the Year.