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Peak Performers

These seven impressive high school athletes are ready for the spotlight this winter. Plus, take a look at

Dariq Whitehead, Montverde Academy boys basketball

A senior guard, Whitehead was a key piece of a team that went 24-1 and was crowned the GEICO national champion last year. One of the top recruits in the country because of his elite play on both ends of the floor, the New Jersey native will continue his career at Duke.

OFM: Every season comes with high expectations for Montverde. Are you excited for your senior season and do you think you can compete for a national championship again?

DW: Definitely. I’m definitely excited and I feel like we have a great group of guys. We had the RJ Barretts and the Cade Cunninghams [in the past], and I feel this could be the year I can say I took a team to a national championship. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.

OFM: Those players you mentioned are of course in the NBA now. Did you learn a lot from being around them when you were younger?

DW: I really did. They taught me a lot not just on the court but about being a leader. [It helped] seeing how they took guys under their wing and made sure they learned the ropes and understood everything they were doing at Montverde each day. They made the players around them better.

OFM: I’m sure it was a difficult decision when you first moved from New Jersey to Florida to attend Montverde, but looking back do you feel it helped you grow as a player and a person?

DW: I thank my mom for that all the time. I didn’t see it as much; I didn’t see the vision she had for me because I was young and I just wanted to play. It just didn’t sit right with me. But now when I look back on it, I’ve had a chance to see really good basketball players who are now pros and learn the game more. That was the biggest thing—I learned how to play the game. Instead of being someone who plays basketball I became a basketball player. That’s what I think coach [Kevin] Boyle and my mom wanted for me.

OFM: What has been the best part about living in Florida and what do you miss the most about home?

DW: The best part about Florida is there’s definitely a lot to do here, but the thing I miss the most about home is the weather. I’m not used to it being so hot. That’s the only thing I would give Florida a minus for, that it’s always so hot. Besides that, Florida is great and there’s a lot of stuff to do. When my family comes down we have a ball going to all the parks and stuff like that.

OFM: Obviously, Duke is one of the premier programs in the country, but what specifically did you like about it that made you commit?

DW: They had a plan for me. Other schools had a plan but not like Duke did. … We not only have the No. 1 class coming in but they offered guys who they felt could fit and play together. That’s what stood out the most, seeing how much effort coach [Jon] Scheyer put into making sure his first year of guys played well together and making sure it was a team that could come in and get the job done. They didn’t just offer every kid in the country.

OFM: You will be part of the first team at Duke following the retirement of Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski. Do you think it will be a challenge for the program?

DW: Absolutely not, I don’t see it as a challenge. Coach [Jon] Scheyer has been around Coach K, he learned the ropes from him and I feel like he’s going to come in and keep Duke on the map. Duke is going to continue to be Duke no matter what.

OFM: I know you recently attended Duke’s version of Midnight Madness to kick off its season. What was it like being inside a packed Cameron Indoor Stadium?

DW: Honestly, that was one of the craziest basketball environments I’ve ever seen in my life, just seeing all those people, how dedicated the Duke fans are how much pride they take in saying they’re a Duke fan.

OFM: Was it important to you to go to college or did you seriously consider skipping school to play in the NBA G League?

DW: The G League [offer] came a day before I committed, so me and my family had more time to think on college, especially with the NIL [name, image and likeness] coming into effect. We had more time to think about college, whereas we didn’t have much time to think about the G League offer. We went with what we knew and with all the plans we had put into effect, we felt this was the safest route for me to take.

OFM: I’m sure the NBA has been a longtime goal of yours. What do you need to do to get ready for that level?

DW: Coming from high school and college to the NBA, I really think the biggest thing is the change of speed and the physicality. Those are the biggest things but I feel [I can work on] everything: playmaking, defense, I have to shoot the ball better than I’m shooting it, basketball IQ and learning the game.

OFM: Who are some guys you admire and try to model your game after?

DW: I watch film on a lot of guys, like Devin Booker and R.J. Barrett since he came from here. I watch Kyrie Irving and a lot of guys from the Jersey area and those are the guys I see myself in. I want to follow in their footsteps.

OFM: Your brother Tahir was a longtime NFL linebacker. Has he helped prepare you for what’s to come in college and the pros?

DW: He definitely has. He talks to me about it all the time—what it’s like to be a pro, taking care of your body, the business side that comes with it. He teaches me everything in that aspect.

OFM: Did he ever try to get you out on the football field?

DW: He never actually forced me to play football. My brother pretty much let me pick and just supported me with whatever decision I made.

OFM: What do you like to do away from the basketball court?

DW: Away from basketball I like to chill with family, hang with friends, watch movies, things like that. I play 2K and Madden but I don’t really play video games too much.

OFM: What was it like on NBA Draft night this past summer when Montverde set a record by having seven players chosen in the same draft, including your former teammate Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick?

DW: It was actually crazy. Before that I didn’t think about it much, but on draft night I was sitting in the living room watching it and it was crazy being that I was playing with those guys two years ago. Hearing all their names getting called and seeing them walk on stage to fulfill their dreams just made me want to work that much harder so I can be there in the next few years.

Kailey Rees, Freedom girls wrestling

Rees, a senior, has a long list of accomplishments at the state and national levels. Last year she went undefeated and captured a state championship during the high school girls season while also becoming the first girl to win the boys 3A district title. She is a 12-time All-American who has won numerous national tournaments and is currently ranked 11th in the nation in the 122-pound weight class.

OFM: I know you had a busy offseason, but now that you senior high school season is here, are you excited to see what you can accomplish?

KR: I’m feeling really good about the season, not just because it’s my senior year but because I’ve been putting in a lot of work in the offseason. I competed in offseason tournaments and my coaches have been doing extra work with me, so I feel like I’m going to go into this season and just kill it.

OFM: Do you have any particular goals for this season?

KR: For the high school season I want to go undefeated again like I did last year and of course I want to be a Florida girls sanctioned high school state champ, because we got sanctioned this year and that would be cool for me. Those are my main goals.

OFM: It was touch and go for a while on whether girls wrestling would get sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association and given its own official state tournament. Now that it has happened, do you think it shows how far the sport has come?

KR: To me that was a really big step for Florida. I’ve been wrestling for a while so every time I see a state get sanctioned for women’s wrestling it’s just another step closer for us getting those equal opportunities to what the boys have in the sport. When Florida finally got sanctioned, I felt like it was a step for all the girls putting in work and we finally got that real state championship.

OFM: Do you encourage other girls to give wrestling a try?

KR: Yes. I tell all girls that they should at least try it, because you don’t know if you’re going to be good at it until you step on the mat and give it a go. It absolutely changed my life so I like to give opportunities to other girls and hopefully change their life.

OFM: How did you get started in the first place?

KR: I was 7 when I started. All my brothers wrestled when I lived in Colorado so one day my dad asked me if I wanted to wrestle. So I figured I might as well try it, and I’ve been wrestling for going on 10 years now.

OFM: What did you like about it? Was it appealing that you’re all alone on the mat and everything is up to you?

KR: Yeah, I really liked that and that you have to put so much work into it. It’s you out there on the mat and you can’t rely on a team member. It made me want to work harder, and back then it was just fun for me. I wasn’t competing nationally like I am now. I just wanted to keep going out there and beat up people. At that time I could only wrestle boys, so I thought it was fun to wrestle the boys and beat them up. That was fun to me. But also, you always have to put the work in if you want to be the best. That’s what really appeals to me, because I want to be the best and I’m going to keep putting in the work until I am the best.

OFM: How many brothers do you have?

KR: Three. Two of them are older and one is younger. The two older ones really had a big effect on me wrestling.

OFM: You often travel the country to compete against the best in national tournaments. What do you take from those experiences?

KR: We go anywhere for good competition. I love wrestling in the state of Florida but sometimes I need better competition that’s out there. My goals are bigger than a state championship. I want to wrestle the best of the best so it can be proven that I’m able to compete with them. Traveling has given me way better competition and it’s made me better physically and mentally, because you have to be able to hang on that level. Those girls are putting in the same work you’re putting in.

OFM: You’re currently ranked 11th in the country in your weight class. Does that mean a lot to you or do you try not to pay attention?

KR: The first time I got ranked was last year. I always wanted to be ranked because to me that was like I’m one of the top 25 wrestlers in the nation. The first time I got ranked I was 15th and I was completely wowed, and now I’m sitting at No. 11. I don’t give a lot of attention to them because rankings are just rankings. Yes they’re cool, but anybody can go out there and get beat. It just shows me that I’m able to compete with all those girls out there.

OFM: One of your teammates is also nationally ranked. Do you bring out the best in each other?

KR: I do believe that me and Camrin really do bring out the best in each other. We’re the two girls in there who compete nationally and that’s good to be able to travel with your teammate, have her as a warmup partner and be there for support. We push each other and bring out the best in each other, especially wrestling wise.

OFM: What did it mean to wrestle in the boys individual district tournament and take first in your weight class?

KR: I was just going out there to wrestle. Of course I had winning a district title in my mind and I really wanted it. But I was wrestling the boys to get better, have fun and whatever happened, happened. I wanted to be the first-ever girl in 3A to win districts, so when I won that I was completely baffled. I couldn’t believe that I made history for Florida and for girls. I worked my butt off to be able to do that and even though I was just having fun with the boys, it really felt good to know that a girl was there and won that title.

OFM: Do the boys get mad when they lose to a girl, or do they know who you are by now and just respect you as a wrestler?

KR: Some of the boys still get mad that a girl went out there and beat them. But a lot of them are really supportive. A lot of them do know who I am and I just go out there and wrestle my best. Even if I do lose to the good ones, they’ll say, ‘Good job. At least you’re out here competing with us and giving it your best.’

OFM: Do you know what you’re doing next year?

KR: I’m hopefully going to be wrestling for the University of Iowa on their women’s team. It started in 2016 when I got to watch the Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena. At that point, my whole vision of what I wanted to do came to life and that’s when I became a really big Hawkeye fan. I kept hearing about them and I just followed them. I knew that’s where I wanted to be. Until a month ago, they didn’t have a women’s wrestling team but they announced that they’re going to be getting one and I was astonished. I couldn’t believe it was really happening, especially because we didn’t know if it was going to happen this year.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study in college?

KR: I want to be a physical therapist, so I want to study anything like exercise science or kinesiology.

OFM: What are your other hobbies when you take a break from wrestling?

KR: I like to go fishing and I really like being outside. Nature is nice and calming. I like going on bike rides and I like hanging out with my family. Family time is really important, especially because we’re always wrestling and it’s hard to just hang out.

OFM: How old were you when you moved to Florida?

KR: It was my sophomore year so I think I was 15. It’s been really nice coming to Freedom, especially for wrestling because they’ve really pushed me. Even though it is hot here all the time and rains, I do miss my cold weather sometimes. But it’s nice being about 40 minutes from the beach and being able to pick up and go.

OFM: Did you live in Colorado your whole life before that?

KR: I lived in Colorado about 10 years and then I moved to Georgia for my seventh grade year.

Ernest Udeh, Dr. Phillips boys basketball

A 6-10 forward/center, Udeh helped lead Dr. Phillips to a 24-3 record and the 7A state championship last year. One of the top big men recruits in the country thanks to his rebounding, rim protection and ability to finish, he recently committed to Kansas.

OFM: How does it feel to have your college decision out of the way? Were you enjoying the recruiting process or are you relieved it’s over?

EU: It’s a mix of both. Of course I enjoyed the process; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that not many guys get to experience. On the other end, I have no concerns now about what my future holds and where I’m going so now I can just focus on the season.

OFM: With your two finalists, Kansas and UCLA, you really couldn’t go wrong. What pushed Kansas over the top?

EU: Both places were great when it comes to basketball and the things they said they could do for me and I could do for them. It was really neck and neck, to be honest. I just felt so comfortable at Kansas; I’m not trying to bring UCLA down or anything, but basketball was invented [at Kansas]. It’s a whole different type of environment from my perspective.

OFM: Allen Fieldhouse has to be one of the best venues in college basketball. Are you excited to play there?

EU: Yes, I am. Walking through it, there’s so much history there. They have the original paper that [basketball inventor James] Naismith wrote the rules on and so much rich history.

OFM: There have been a lot of great big men to come through Kansas over the years. Have you thought about that and are you a fan of any of those guys?

EU: Of course, 100%. Being involved with a lot of schools in this program, I noticed Udoka [Azubuike’s] jersey was at a certain place we played one time. I respected his athleticism and stuff like that. Joel Embiid, everyone likes him. He’s a great player in the league. With those two guys as examples … you couldn’t really ignore that they came through the program. Those two guys are great dudes.

OFM: Last year was obviously a special season for your high school team. What stands out when you look back on it?

EU: Honestly, just how we proved a lot of people wrong. My sophomore year we came up short at regionals to Ocoee, and we [acted like] we weren’t even supposed to be there in the first place. We realized we were that close to winning it that year, so we came back my junior year with a different mentality. We had a lot of doubters and we proved them wrong. We still have something to prove even now, that we can compete for a national championship. That’s the next step. We don’t really like to settle on past goals that we’ve accomplished, we always like to move forward.

OFM: It’s a pretty challenging schedule this year. Is that something you’re embracing?

EU: Of course, 1,000%. We went through this whole offseason in summer and AAU playing all the competition that we’ll face this winter in high school, so there’s no pressure, no doubt or anything. Two of the guys who were with me this summer are on my high school team so there’s no pressure at all.

OFM: What do you think is the best trait that you bring to the table as a basketball player?

EU: Just my ability to always put in the work and get down and get after it. … How much I love the game and how much I’m willing to put into it, day in and day out, I’d say is the biggest thing that separates me from other players.

OFM: What are your interests away from the basketball court?

EU: Honestly, if I’m not playing I’m watching basketball clips [laughs]. I tell people all the time, you can always learn something new from watching basketball every single day. … I also like watching TV shows where you have to sit through such-and-such and figure out what’s going on, and then there’s a big plot reveal or twist at the end. I really enjoy those kinds of things.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

EU: Yes sir, I was born and raised in Orlando. It’s a perfect balance here. In this country there are so many different cities, some are really industrial and others are more rural with farmland. I feel like Orlando is not too much of either/or. … If you to find something to do it’s not hard to find, but at the same time there aren’t too many distractions.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study at Kansas?

EU: Business. From a really young age I’ve always been interested in that. I’m kind of a creative guy … and I thought with me being a hardworking guy, business marketing would be a good fit.

OFM: Ultimately, I’m sure your goal is to get to the NBA. Has that been a longtime goal?

EU: Of course. I first noticed the game of basketball when LeBron [James] went to the [Miami] Heat. I remember seeing him on TV, doing what he did. I looked at my mom and said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ She handed me a [ball] and here I am today.


Kaitlyn Clark, Foundation Academy girls soccer

Clark, a junior forward, started her high school career at Foundation before transferring to Bishop Moore last year and compiling 23 goals and 11 assists for a team that reached the state semifinals. Now one of the area’s most dangerous offensive players is back at Foundation and poised for a big season.

OFM: How does it feel to be back at Foundation after spending last year at Bishop Moore?

KC: It’s very exciting to be back. I have a lot of close friends here and I kind of meshed right back in. I love the staff here and the coaches and everyone was very welcoming and glad to see me back.

OFM: You had a successful season individually and with your team at Bishop Moore. What did you take out of the experience?

KC: It was a really great experience and I was happy to be able to compete. I had such amazing chemistry and I loved the girls on that team. We did very well and we did go very far, and I’m proud of everything we accomplished. I really enjoyed playing there.

OFM: What’s your outlook for this season?

KC: We’re expecting to win districts this year and we’re hoping to go on and compete at regionals. I’m just going to do everything in my power to help us accomplish that. I know all the girls on our team are very motivated and we all want to win and compete as far as we are able to.

OFM: Did you get started in soccer at a young age?

KC: Yes. My mom played soccer and I was thrown into it when I was 4.

OFM: I know your mom played at Florida State. Has she been a big influence on you?

KC: Yes. My parents are very supportive and they do everything they can to help me with soccer.

OFM: Does your mom still get out there and kick the ball around with you?

KC: Oh, yes [laughs]. She’s very competitive—probably more competitive than me, even though we like to debate about that. We’ve had times when we played parents versus kids in scrimmages, and she has outright slide tackled me before. She goes hard and she’s still got it.

OFM: Did you develop your goal scoring skills pretty early?

KC: Yeah, I’ve always played an attacking position whether that’s center forward or a winger. That’s just where I was put when I was young and I’ve developed the skills to continue to play there.

OFM: Would you rather score a goal yourself or set up a teammate for a goal?

KC: It doesn’t matter to me whether I score or assist. I just do whatever I can to help our team as a whole be successful. That’s my main priority, for our team to go as far as we can and for me to be able to help our team.

OFM: Have you started thinking about college yet?

KC: I’m not super into that yet but I have talked to my coaches about getting into that whole process. It would be absolutely amazing to play at that level and I’m looking into it and making it happen.

OFM: What else do you like to do when you’re not playing soccer?

KC: I love to hang out with my friends and I love to be outside in general. I love being in nature, so I go on trail walks or ride my bike or hang out with my friends outside. I like to travel and go to the beach for a day or go to springs for a day. I also love movies.

OFM: What are some of your favorite movies?

KC: I love the movie Flipped. It’s about this boy and girl growing up as friends and the girl likes the boy but he doesn’t like her. They’re neighbors and it’s this whole story about them. Then the classic movies that my mom and I love are Grease and The Proposal.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

KC: Yes, I have. I think Florida is a really fun experience because you have the beach, you have the lakes, you have Disney, you have Universal. There’s always so much happening here. It’s a vacation spot but it’s also your backyard, so you’re able to do so much here. I also love the weather. I’m not a huge fan of the cold, so Florida is perfect for that with the sunny weather 24/7. I would rather take the hot over the cold.

OFM: Do you like to watch soccer, like the U.S. women’s national team?

KC: I’m not as much into the Euro leagues or MLS but I do like to watch the women’s national team play. I love Julie Ertz because I think she’s such a strong player and her personality is amazing on and off the field. I also love Carli Lloyd. I think they’re both amazing leaders and I love their character.


Shane Wright, Trinity Prep boys soccer

A junior goalie, Wright recorded 11 shutouts last year to help Trinity Prep post a 17-2-1 record with its first district title since 2011 as well as a regional championship. He will be counted on to anchor the defense once again this winter.

OFM: Last year was a special one for your team as you won your first district championship in a while. What do you think about first when you look back on the season?

SW: [Districts] was a lot of fun to be a part of, but personally I think the highlight was the regional final. We all played together as a team, we played really well and it went into overtime, so it was exciting. It was just awesome to be a part of.

OFM: Looking ahead to this season, do you think you’ll be able to build on that success?

SW: Absolutely. We lost Charles Ahl, which obviously sucks, because he’s an incredible player. But we’ve got a lot of guys coming back and the new kids are going to do their best to fill in the spots, and a lot of them are pretty good players. So I think we’ll be looking good this year.

OFM: Was that your first season of varsity soccer?

SW: I was at Timber Creek my freshman year and I played varsity there, and then I transferred last year so it was my first varsity season at Trinity.

OFM: Obviously, it was a smooth transition to a new team. Did you feel like you fit in right away?

SW: It was a little bit different but I was just doing my thing and playing soccer. I got to know a lot of guys on the team and they were all really nice. That helped a lot with getting to know people.

OFM: Do you play any other sports at Trinity?

SW: I also kick for the football team. This is my first year doing that.

OFM: How different is it kicking a football compared to a soccer ball?

SW: The technique is somewhat similar but it’s a little different. When I’m kicking a soccer ball, it’s just a natural thing now. I can hit the ball and barely think about it and it just goes where I tell my body to put it. With football, I really have to think about it and stay focused on my follow-through to make sure I’m hitting the ball the way I’m supposed to. That part of it is hard so I’m practicing it and trying to get the technique down. It’s something that I enjoy.

OFM: Have you had any field goal attempts in games?

SW: I got one in the third game of the season I believe. It was 35 yards and I made it. I’ve had extra points, and the other week I had two field goal attempts: One was 49 yards and it got blocked … and I also had a 47-yarder that I missed right by about 2 feet, but it had more than enough distance.

OFM: What’s the longest field goal you’ve made?

SW: I’ve made a 61-yarder [at practice]. I’m trying to get better because when I have the wind I can hit the ball good. I just need to practice more.

OFM: Which sport would you like to focus on in college?

SW: My goal is to play soccer in college. That’s what I want to do and if I can play after that, I would love to. But I want to make sure that I get into a good school and I also want to make sure I’m having fun with it. If I’m playing soccer I don’t want it to feel like a job.

OFM: How do you like to spend your free time away from sports?

SW: I really like hanging out with friends. I actually have an interview for a job tomorrow so hopefully I get that and start making some money. That’s mostly it. Between school, soccer, football, hanging out with friends and this job I’m about to get, I don’t have much time to play video games and do a lot of that stuff that other kids get to do.

OFM: Have you always lived in Florida?

SW: I have, yes. I was born in Lakeland and then when I was 2 or 3, we moved to Orlando and we’ve been here ever since. The weather is awesome and it’s perfect for soccer, because I don’t have to worry about it being negative 5 degrees or snowing 2 feet. There’s a lot of people here who enjoy playing soccer and enjoy sports. It’s like a community here and I get to play, have fun and meet more people.

Nyla Harris, Lake Highland Prep girls basketball

A senior forward, Harris averaged 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last year to help carry Lake Highland Prep to its second straight state title and a berth at the GEICO Nationals. One of the top recruits in the country, she is committed to Louisville.

OFM: Are you looking forward to following up a memorable season from last year?

NH: I’m pretty excited, to be honest. I think last year, [losing] at GEICO gave us a type of encouragement in a way and got us ready for this season. We want to prove everyone wrong. The biggest thing for us this upcoming season is perseverance and making sure we’re on the right track and that we have no distractions.

OFM: It’s a special group that you have coming back. Do you feel like chemistry is big for this team?

NH: Yes. We just lost one player so I don’t think it’s going to get in the way of our chemistry. We’ve been together for a long time, since my sophomore year. I don’t think chemistry will be a problem for us.

OFM: Do you and Stefanie have a good rapport on the court?

NH: Yes. We play off each other, to be honest. She has good energy, I have good energy. We have to be on the same page because the team really relies on us to bring it every night. I think the special bond me and Stef have comes from experience. We played together on the same AAU team before I left since my eighth grade year. We’ve played together for quite a long time and we feed off each other.

OFM: You do a lot of things well, but is rebounding what you enjoy most?

NH: I wouldn’t say I enjoy it [laughs]. It’s just a special trait that I have in my game, being able to bounce off the floor all the time. It gets tiring but it’s something that a lot of people don’t do and a lot of people can’t do for the whole game. To do that for a long time is special for me and immediately distinguishes me from other people. Everyone can score, everyone can do the big stuff, but I feel like the small stuff you do really separates you from other people.

OFM: Your team has a challenging schedule again. What game are you most looking forward to?

NH: I haven’t seen the schedule yet, but for right now I would definitely say the Montverde game. I think that game is definitely the most talked about in our town and our city when it comes to girls basketball. They got a few recruits in so it brings attention, and with us having really good players, everyone knows it’s going to be a good game. That’s definitely a game I’m looking forward to.

OFM: There will be a good matchup for you in that game with Janiah Barker.

NH: Definitely. I played her my 10th grade year. Everyone thought she was going to drop 30 on me but she really dropped two points. I think that’s the most exciting part, proving people wrong and letting them know that a ranking doesn’t matter. All that matters is showing up that day.

OFM: Did you watch the recent WNBA Finals?

NH: Yes, I did. I wanted the Chicago Sky to win so I was happy. Actually, an [alumna] from the school I’ve committed to, Dana [Evans], won a championship in her first year there, which is crazy. I’m proud of her, proud of the team and proud of Candace [Parker]. She wanted it very badly for the whole team and for herself.

OFM: Is playing in the WNBA something you’re shooting for, or are you trying not to think about that yet?

NH: I want to play in the WNBA, I really do. But the special thing about me is that basketball isn’t the only thing I dwell on. I have other things that I bring to the table. I’m a very talkative, social person, so the WNBA is not just it for me. I could go on to some kind of ESPN broadcasting or model for certain sports brands. There are many things out there for me, but I would love to participate in the WNBA when that time comes around. If I get the opportunity, I’ll take it.

OFM: Do you know what you want to study at Louisville?

NH: I’m majoring in broadcasting and communications, particularly working in the ACC studio and working on any type of sports games. I’ve known I wanted to do that since my freshman year.

OFM: Louisville made it to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Was that part of the appeal for you, trying to play for a national championship?

NH: Yes, but I would say the biggest thing was coach [Jeff] Walz. He’s a great coach, everyone speaks highly of him and I haven’t heard anyone say a bad thing about him. I think everybody knows he has a goal in mind and he’s going to do whatever he can for his players to succeed and be happy. He never shortchanges a player, he treats every player fair. He’s probably only had one or two players transfer from his program. … The team chemistry is ridiculous and after taking my official [visit] I definitely saw why Louisville is Louisville. No other school brings to the table what they bring to the table. Overall, I’m just excited to get recruited, commit somewhere and get a scholarship.

OFM: What do you think you’re going to miss about Florida when you’re at college, other than family and friends?

NH: The atmosphere of knowing where I’m going. It’s a new place and new people, so I’m going to miss the feel of Orlando being home. I’m going to miss my coaches that I’ve had for a while like coach Al [Honor]. My family will be the biggest thing but that’s what Louisville does a good job of, making sure you feel that family energy.

OFM: What are some of your hobbies away from the basketball court?

NH: To be honest with you, sleeping. Most athletes would understand that. We really are active day and night. I don’t get home until around 7 o’clock and when the season starts, probably around 8 o’clock because I like to get extra work in after practice. So sleeping is the biggest thing for me and binge watching my favorite shows. Right now I’m watching You season three on Netflix. … It’s very interesting and I really like it.

Joe Gonzalez, Winter Park boys wrestling

Gonzalez, a senior, is coming off a remarkable junior season in which he captured the 145-pound state championship. He also earned district and regional titles on his way to an undefeated 19-0 record.

OFM: What are your expectations for the upcoming season?

JG: I expect to win districts, regionals and states again. Right now I’m ranked No. 1 at 145 and 152, so I should be doing well in state.

OFM: Winning states is the pinnacle for high school wrestling. What did it mean to you to accomplish that feat last year?

JG: It meant a lot because I didn’t get to wrestle my sophomore year and I came up short my freshman year. I trained really hard to make it to states and do what I had to do to win. … It was a total adrenaline rush and it felt great.

OFM: Were you confident going into the final?

JG: I was pretty confident. I watched the kid’s tape and I saw all of his mistakes. I knew what I could do and I put it all on the mat.

OFM: What’s it like to have your brother James on the team? Are you workout partners?

JG: Yes. Whenever we’re in the Winter Park wrestling room, we usually pair up and usually we work out together all the time. It’s amazing to have my little brother on the team so I can teach him everything I know and help him get better. He’s going to surprise a lot of people this year. He made it to states last year but kind of let the spotlight get to him a little bit. He had never wrestled in the spotlight like that before, so he didn’t wrestle up to his potential. This year will be different.

OFM: Are you still trying to decide between wrestling 145 or 152 this season?

JG: I’m still trying to decide that. I’m probably going to go 52. I’m a lot bigger than last season, not weight wise but muscle wise.

OFM: How did you and your brother first get into the sport? Were you young when you started?

JG: I started when I was 8 and my brother started when he was 11. It’s a funny story: I’ve been boxing since I was 3, and I did karate from 6 to 8 and jiu-jitsu from 6 to 8. So I had all the standup fighting stuff, but when it came to the ground I didn’t know anything except being on my back. So I was sparring MMA one day and a kid who knew judo ended up taking me down a bunch of times. No matter how good my hands or feet were, or even my jiu-jitsu, I was just no match for that aspect of his game. So my dad put me into wrestling after that to teach me how to defend the takedown. We didn’t really expect to get this far, get this competitive or even go to a tournament. But after my first tournament when I was about 9 years old, I think my dad realized I had a little bit of natural talent and I might as well keep going with it.

OFM: Do you see yourself wrestling at the next level now?

JG: Of course, yeah. Right now I’m looking at a few colleges. It’s going a little slow because of school and COVID, but I’m looking at some D-I and D-II colleges and seeing what’s the best option for me.

OFM: Do you still do the other disciplines?

JG: During the season I try to stick with wrestling, but the minute the season ends, and even a little bit before the preseason, I do MMA.

OFM: Who are the boxers or MMA fighters you like to watch?

JG: As far as boxing, of course back in the day there’s Mike Tyson and I like to go back and watch his fights. A lot of the UFC fighters go to my gym, Fusion X-Cel: Philip Rowe, Mike Perry, Jacare Souza. They train over there so I kind of watch them. Of course, Conor McGregor is all over TV. I think he should just retire, to be honest. He’s rich so there’s no point to keep fighting. He’s married, he has kids, so he should retire and invest his money.

OFM: What are some of your other interests?

JG: Honestly, wrestling is a year-round sport. When I’m not taking wrestling seriously, I’m taking MMA seriously. Sometimes on the weekends I go out with friends or family and do little stuff but I don’t have a lot of free time.

OFM: Do you like growing up in Florida?

JG: Yeah, Florida is the best state. I’ve been to a lot of other states and Florida is one of the more free states. You get to do a lot of the stuff that you can’t do in other states. We have a lot of beaches, Sea World. When I was a toddler I lived in Buffalo, New York, but pretty much my whole life I’ve been in Florida.


OFM star watch winter 2021-22

Boys basketball

Denzel Aberdeen, Dr. Phillips: A senior combo guard, Aberdeen scored more than 18 points per game last year for the 7A state champions. He will continue his career at Florida.

Jared Berry, Lake Highland Prep: Berry has started every game since his freshman year and will be aiming for his fourth straight district title this winter. Last season, he shot 38% from 3-point range and averaged 18 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He is receiving college interest from Campbell, Embry-Riddle and others.

A.J. Brown, Orlando Christian Prep: A senior shooting guard, Brown led the Warriors in scoring last year at 14.4 points per game to go with 5 rebounds as they claimed their fourth state championship in five seasons. He is committed to Ohio.

Evan Chioli, The First Academy: A 6-1 senior guard, Chioli has been part of the program since middle school and is primed for a huge final season. He will be counted on as a consistent scorer for a team looking to build on last year’s 15-9 campaign.

E.J. James, Olympia: James, a junior point guard, impacts a game in many ways, as evidenced by his averages of 14.5 points, 3.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2 steals last year. Also a starter on the E1T1 travel team that is nationally known for playing on the Nike EYBL circuit, James has offers from Georgetown and Florida Gulf Coast.

Ven-Allen Lubin, Orlando Christian Prep: An athletic, 6-foot-8 power forward, Lubin helped Orlando Christian Prep go 27-0 last season, extending its winning streak to 47 over the past two years. His top college choices include Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame, Clemson, Alabama, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

Jayden Williams, Windermere Prep: Williams, a senior shooting guard, poured in 16.3 points per game last year to help Windermere Prep finish with a 16-6 record. He holds the school record for 3-pointers made in a season and is headed to Dartmouth.

Girls basketball

Janiah Barker, Montverde Academy: A 6-2 forward who is a perimeter threat, handles the ball well and dominates on the boards, Barker is the No. 3 recruit in the country according to ESPN. She recently committed to Georgia.

Sophya Barreiro, Colonial: Described as an extra coach on the floor, this junior point guard has a high basketball IQ and puts in the work at both ends of the floor. She averaged 7.2 points, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals last year as Colonial reached the regional semifinals.

Ajalon Gillard, West Orange: Gillard, a senior who can play either guard spot, has a sensational handle, a quick first step and 3-point range. She is committed to Florida Atlantic.

Stefanie Ingram, Lake Highland Prep: A senior guard, Ingram helps elevate the play of those around her with her team-first attitude. The UCF commit averaged 9.5 points and 4.5 rebounds and led Lake Highland Prep in assists and steals as the Highlanders repeated as state champs.

Hannah Kohn, Hagerty: Kohn led The Master’s Academy with 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last year as a sophomore and is primed for a big season at her new school. This summer, she was the only rising junior on the Hoops Dream Elite U17 team, which went 14-3 on the Adidas travel circuit.

Maria Newman, The Master’s Academy: Newman flashed a ton of potential as a freshman last year for a team that went 17-8. She averaged 6.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists and will look to become a go-to scorer as a sophomore.

Carmen Richardson, Colonial: Richardson, a sophomore guard, had quite an impact as a freshman with her terrific defense and versatility on offense. She averaged 8.5 points to go with 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Metro Conference champions.

Boys soccer

Lorenzo Amaral, Oviedo: Amaral has an outstanding work ethic in the classroom and the soccer field—he has a 3.8 GPA and trains every day with the hopes of becoming a professional someday. As a sophomore last year, he netted 18 goals to go with eight assists to earn all-Seminole County honors. Amaral plays club soccer for the Florida Kraze and is being recruited by a number of Division I schools. 

Luis Carlos Cruz, Cypress Creek: Last year was Cruz’s first year in the United States after moving from Venezuela, and he had an impact right away on the field. The center back anchored a defense that posted 13 clean sheets and contributed two goals on offense. He currently has a 3.8 GPA.

Parker Davis, Windermere Prep: Davis started every game in his freshman season and was an instrumental part of a team that went 10-3-1, reached its first district final in six years and advanced to regionals for the second year in a row. He finished with seven goals and 17 assists and was named Windermere Prep Freshman Male Athlete of the Year.

Wesley Seneff, Lake Highland Prep: Seneff, a senior center back, has been a key player since he was a freshman, when he played a big part in Lake Highland Prep’s state championship. A two-year captain, he aspires to play at the next level and is being recruited by several colleges.

AJ Simmonds, The First Academy: A senior captain, Simmonds is a top scorer who is also adept at setting up his teammates for goals. The First Academy coaching staff calls him the heart and soul of the team.

Girls soccer

Amanda Waggoner, Oviedo: A senior goalie, Waggoner allowed just nine goals last season as she led Oviedo to a 15-2-1 record. She will continue her career at Belmont.

Boys wrestling

Brandon Cody, The Master’s Academy: Cody, a sophomore 132-pounder, compiled a 44-7 record last year and placed fourth in the state in his weight class. A Greco state champion and Fargo National All-American, his dedication to success on and off the mat is unparalleled, according to coach Raun Jessee.

Trenton Dominguez, Timber Creek: A senior 106-pounder, Dominguez is a two-time state placewinner who has 120 wins and 53 falls in his stellar career. He went 42-10 with a district title and placed sixth in the state last year.

Girls wrestling

Juliana Diaz, Dr. Phillips: Currently ranked fifth in the country in the 117-pound weight class, this senior is a three-time state finalist and two-time state champion who went undefeated as a junior. Diaz has twice been named a national dual team All-American and placed fifth at the USA Wrestling All-American Recruiting Showcase.

Cameron Galvin, Freedom: Galvin, ranked 18th in the country at 117 pounds, placed third at the 2021 state championships and second at the freestyle state championships. She also finished sixth at the Folkstyle Nationals and went undefeated at the AAU Scholastic Duals. She has a 4.9 GPA.