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East County Wednesday, Jun. 8, 2016 4 years ago

Hit or Miss: Jen Blanco

Braden River's No. 4 cleared to return to the backfield.
by: Jen Blanco Sports Editor

He is back. 

Pirate Nation has patiently been waiting to hear those three little words since junior running back Raymond Thomas tore his ACL and meniscus during Braden River’s district-clinching victory over Palmetto last October, ending his season. 

At the time, Thomas was averaging 8.4 yards per carry, already had 15 rushing touchdowns and only needed 206 yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark. 

One of Thomas’ touchdowns came on the Pirates' opening series against Palmetto. He was injured on Braden River’s next possession. 

It’s hard to watch a player go down under any circumstance, and when I saw Thomas go down in the first quarter of the game, I knew it wasn't a minor tweak. 

After watching him spend the remainder of the game on crutches with ice wrapped around his knee, it was apparent Thomas wouldn’t be running on the field anytime soon. 

Thomas had patella tendon surgery to repair his knee two weeks later; and since then, it has been a tedious recovery. 

“The toughest part had to be when I first started running,” Thomas said. “I had to learn to walk again, so imagine how I was running?” 

Thomas didn't have a specific timetable for his return. He was simply trying to take it one day at a time. 

"I was being patient for the first time," Thomas said. 

On May 31, after six months of rehabilitation at Sarasota Orthopedic Associates and the school, the Pirates’ most dynamic playmaker was cleared to return to full contact action. 

Five days prior to his return, Thomas picked up his first offer from the University of Northern Iowa, where head coach Curt Bradley and offensive coordinator Eric Sanders both played.

The regular season won’t officially kick off for almost three months, but with the final piece of the Pirates' three-headed, running monster back on the field, Braden River has to feel pretty good about what’s to come. 

Thomas isn't nervous about returning to the field or the possibility of getting hit again. He's ready and Pirate Nation is more than ready to welcome him back. 

“Being back on the field, I’m looking forward to scoring touchdowns and helping the team,” Thomas said. “But most importantly, i like being around my brothers knowing that they have my back 100%.” 


It’s hard to believe the same crop of athletes that I first started covering when they were 10 years old are now high school graduates. 

Where does the time go? 

I still remember meeting many of them for the first time. For some, such as Tyler Dyson, Kyle Thoma and Matt Ambrosino, it was on the diamond during the heat of Little League All-Star season. For others, such as Justin Fischer and Julia Ortiz, it was on the sidelines as ball boys and girls while their older siblings starred on the field. 

I’ve watched them overcome adversity and develop into champions. I’ve been fortunate enough share in their milestones and capture their finest moments. 

It’s been a pleasure watching them develop not only athletically but individually as well. Whether they are off to play at the collegiate level or moving on to the next phase of life, I wish them nothing but the best. 

Congratulations to the Class of 2016! 


Amy Whittington has found another niche, golf fitness 

The longtime personal trainer and owner of Drive Fitness and Performance in Lakewood Ranch, started golfing a little more than a year ago and quickly realized she wasn’t going to get better just by playing a couple rounds a week. 

It was all about athleticism. 

Looking to bring her fitness knowledge to the green, Whittington received her Titleist Performance Institute fitness certification and has since created a golf fitness program designed to help golfers become stronger, more balanced and less prone to injury. 

Through a 15-minute screening of small movement patterns, Whittington is able to assess, evaluate and determine a player’s limitations. She then takes that information and with the aid of TPI certified sports chiropractor Christian Carson and golf instructor Jon Bullas, is able to correct any inefficiencies through a specific exercise program. 

Training sessions are tailored to each individual golfer and his or her limitations. By training players to feel the correct movements, it will make their swing more efficient and ultimately improve ball control. 

“There’s nobody else that really does it,” Whittington said. “What we do is pretty cool and it’s something you don’t find anywhere else.” 

Golf fitness is one of five segments under the Drive Fitness and Performance umbrella, which also includes triathlon testing and training, corporate fitness, personal training and youth performance. 

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