NICEVILLE — Tyre McCants set the tone for Niceville’s 2013 campaign on the very first play of the season.
McCants, Niceville’s 6-foot-1, 202-pound senior playmaker, fielded the season’s opening kick against Rutherford and then headed upfield, making one move at the 20-yard line before sprinting 97 yards for a touchdown. The lightning bolt of a play kick-started Niceville’s run to the Class 7A championship game, and it cemented McCants as one of the most electrifying players in Northwest Florida.
“Whenever I’m out there, wherever I’m playing, I just try to make plays for my team,” said McCants. “When you’re able to score on a long play like that and give your team momentum, it’s an awesome feeling.”
It’s a feeling McCants has grown accustomed to. A preseason Dandy Dozen member, McCants had three kick returns of 95-plus yards in 2013 and six scoring plays of more than 80 yards. For that explosiveness as well as his ability to perform at nearly any position on the field, McCants has been named the 2013 Daily News Large School Player of the Year.
“If anybody deserves it, he does,” said Niceville head coach John Hicks. “He’s a hard worker, a guy that we could depend on every week. You just look at what he did for us, he did so much. He played well at running back for us, at defensive back. We used him at quarterback. … And all of that is on top of what he can do at his natural position of receiver. He’s very unique.”
Perhaps no game showed off McCants’ value to the Eagles more than Niceville’s 28-21 win at Fort Walton Beach. With senior QB Ashton Hooker, also a strong candidate for Player of the Year honors, out due to injury and Niceville’s offense struggling, McCants put the Eagles on his back, playing four positions to help Niceville escape with the win. He accounted for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns, the final score a highlight reel-worthy 58-yard run that featured three broken tackles, a spin move in traffic and a stiff-arm of a Viking defender that led to the eventual touchdown.
His performance was so convincing that Fort Walton Beach head coach Mike Owens marveled at McCants after the game.
“I thought we battled them and played them fairly even, they just had No. 7,” said Owens. “He is a heck of a player.”
Outings like that were commonplace for McCants this season, as he finished the year with 1,889 total yards and 18 touchdowns. The versatile McCants rushed for 535 yards and eight TDs; added 55 catches for 798 yards along with eight more scores; and totaled 556 kick return yards on 14 chances, good for an average of 40 yards per touch.
“It’s not just that you could put him at multiple positions, it’s the fact that he played so well at all of them,” said Hicks. “We’ve had players before that we’ve tried to put in the wildcat formation to take advantage of their speed, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t work. With Tyre, we could put him at wide receiver, quarterback, running back. …Wherever we put him, he was good.
“That shows you how special he is, and how hard he works.”
College Football Beckons
A week removed from playing his last game at Niceville, McCants has plenty of football games in his future. One of the most sought-after college football prospects in the Panhandle, McCants has 16 Division I scholarship offers from schools like Louisville, Georgia Tech and South Florida. He plans January visits to Georgia Tech and USF, and he’s also receiving significant interest from Florida and Florida State.
“I will take my visits in January and stay in contact with as many coaches as I can,” said McCants, who carries a 2.8 grade point average and has already fully qualified academically. “Then my family and I will make the decision on which school is the best fit.”
Until that decision is made, McCants stands tall as the top player in the Daily News coverage area, and he is already looking back fondly at a season that saw the Eagles reach Orlando for the first time since 2009.
“It was a special year,” said McCants. “After we lost the state final, it hurt for a little while. But by the time we got back to the team hotel, I think we all realized that just getting there was an accomplishment. I’m proud of what we did. I’ll never forget this season.”
By Brandon Walker | Daily News
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