By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Dee Hicks was in the stands watching the Charlotte High School football team during its run to the state semifinals in 2002.
You’ll have to forgive him for not remembering any of the games, though. Hicks was only 4 at the time.
But he was watching that year as quarterback Justin Midgett led the Tarpons to one of the most successful seasons in school history, winning a regional championship and coming one win away from playing for a state title.
Fast forward to 2016.
Hicks isn’t in the stands anymore. He’s the Tarpons’ quarterback, who just won his own regional championship that put he and his teammates against Miami Carol City tonight in the state semifinals for the first time since that 2002 season.
“It’s crazy now that I’m the quarterback and I’m with the team and we’re doing it,” Hicks said. “I grew up a Charlotte High fan. It means a lot.”
Following the 27-24 double-overtime win in the regional finals against Fort Myers last week, Midgett, had a message for Hicks from his teammates from back in 2002.
“As soon as we won (on Friday), those guys were texting me and telling me to welcome (the 2016 team) to the club,” saaid Midgett, now a running backs and wide receivers coach with the Tarpons. “There’s only a couple of teams who have been this far. Welcome to the club.”
Midgett, Hicks and “Boo Boo” Weaver from the 1970 team are the only three students in Charlotte’s history who can say they quarterbacked a team that won a regional championship.
To Hicks, that doesn’t mean much: “I don’t even pay attention to that. My team helped me get there. They did a tremendous job staying in the game,” he said.
Even though comparisons will be made between the 2016 and 2002 teams because of what they accomplished, the teams were quite different on the field.
Offensively, the 2002 team was more of a traditional passing team versus what Hicks and the 2016 Tarpons do. Hicks is a threat with his legs, while Midgett was a pocket passer.
“He’s probably the best quarterback we’ve ever had play here, and we’ve really had some good ones,” Coach Binky Waldrop said.
Midgett had weapons like Ryan Voss, Shawn Dume, Joe Scola and Ryan Carroll. In 2016, the biggest fire power comes in the ground game.
“We didn’t have a Maleek Williams or a D’Vonte Price,” Midgett said.
Now as a coach, Midgett hopes his experiences in this situation can help act as a learning tool for the current team. He says he remembers his team overlooking Tampa Jefferson in the state semifinals because of how close the championship was.
“It really stuck with me as a lesson to not look to far ahead,” Midgett said. “Focus each week, and each game. That’s something we can impress upon the kids. ‘You can’t get too far ahead of yourself. We’re not in the state championship yet. This is the final four. This is the game we need to play. This is the game we need to win.’”
Both Hicks and Midgett are now in different roles than they were in 2002, and they both hope this time around has a different outcome, as well.
Carol City (9-3) at Charlotte (12-0)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: Carol City 34, Mainland 7; Charlotte 27, Fort Myers 24.
Players to watch: Carol City: Lorenzo Floyd (So., QB), Cam Davis (Jr., RB), Kevaughn Dingle (Sr., WR). Charlotte: Dee Hicks (Sr., QB), Maleek Williams (Sr., RB), D’Vonte Price (Sr., ATH).
What to expect: Charlotte’s toughest challenge yet comes in a home game against the vistors from Miami. Don’t let the three losses for the Chiefs fool you. They’ve lost to some very good teams, and they’ve beaten some even better teams to get here. Both teams have fast, high-powered offenses, but look for the defenses to make their impact in this one. The Tarpons have displayed the ability to come back in games after being shut down early. If they do so tonight, don’t expect them to just give in.
Venice (12-0) at St. Thomas Aquinas (10-2)
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Last week: St. Thomas 50, Mater Academy 10; Venice 43, East Lake 14.
Players to watch: St. Thomas Aquinas: Jake Allen (Sr., QB), Mike Epstein (Sr., QB). Venice: Court Doss (Jr., RB), Bryce Carpenter (Jr., QB).
What to expect: St. Thomas is a national powerhouse, and Venice will certainly have its hands full with the Raiders. This should be a great game. These two teams are fairly evenly matched, with St. Thomas maybe holding a slight edge. Both teams have a state title in their sights, and these are the kinds of games you have to win to get there.