Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Senior class leads Cardinal Mooney football to state title win

The Cougars got key contributions from several members of the class against Trinity Catholic.

Cardinal Mooney High football celebrates its first state championship since 1972.
Cardinal Mooney High football celebrates its first state championship since 1972.
Courtesy image
  • Sarasota
  • Sports
  • Share

Cardinal Mooney High football players, fans and alumni have been waiting since 1972 to celebrate a state championship. 

They can now let it all out. 

The Cougars (12-2) won the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 1S state championship game Dec. 8 at Bragg Memorial Stadium in Tallahassee, outlasting Trinity Catholic (6-8) 31-27 in a game that came down to the final seconds.

The Cougars got there because of contributions from all levels of their roster, but its senior class made a particularly strong impact. Against Trinity Catholic, seniors Zeshon Casimir (13) and George Leibold (8) led the team in tackles. Senior running back Carson Beach had 19 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown. And senior quarterback Michael Valentino made the most important play of the season, connecting with junior wide receiver/defensive back Chris McCorkle on a 39-yard touchdown pass to take a 31-27 lead with less than a minute remaining in the game. 

Cardinal Mooney senior quarterback Michael Valentino dashes upfield.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

A few months ago, it seemed unlikely Valentino would be playing football at all right now. 

Valentino, who transferred to Mooney from Charlotte High over the offseason, suffered four broken ribs in a 35-7 loss to Riverview High on Sept. 12. The broken ribs collapsed his lung. Valentino spent a week in the hospital, a tube supporting his lung until it healed. 

Once out of the hospital, Valentino met with doctors about his ribs. At first, the news was not what he wanted to hear: They advised him to sit out the rest of the season. Valentino didn't like that answer, so he decided to seek out a second opinion, then another. All the while, his ribs began healing. 

Eventually, Valentino was told he could return Oct. 27 against SmartEn Sports Academy. Valentino threw just two passes in that game, but he completed both for 73 yards and a touchdown. Over the next few weeks, Mooney would slowly integrate Valentino back into the offense, splitting time under center with sophomore Devin Mignery, who played well in Valentino's absence. 

Valentino did so despite not feeling close to his best. 

"There's still discomfort in throwing and in running," Valentino said. "If I get hit it, it doesn't feel great at all. It definitely has not been perfect but, you know, it had me able to play, which was the ultimate blessing."  

Valentino's play increased as the postseason went along. Against Trinity Christian, he threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner to McCorkle. Mignery threw for 138 yards and a touchdown. 

Valentino said he's got some scar tissue to clean up this offseason, so his rehabilitation is not done yet. But winning the last high school game of his career with his teammates made the pain worth the effort. 

"I'd be lying if I said it was easy," Valentino said. "But I wanted to play with my guys. I'm blessed. I'm happy. I can't complain." 

Cardinal Mooney High football seniors Chris McCorkle, Chase Edens and Michael Valentino celebrate their 31-27 win over Trinity Catholic in Tallahassee.
Courtesy image

Mooney Head Coach Jared Clark had words of affection for Valentino and the entire senior class. Clark took over the program four years ago, when some members of the class first came to the Cougars as freshmen. That year, Mooney finished 2-7. It was not the season Clark or his players wanted. 

"As a freshman, it is easy to get discouraged by that," Clark said. "It can affect the way you feel about the game, the way you feel about the team. But man, those guys were some high character guys."

Guys like Leibold, Beach, linebacker Jacob Brown and offensive lineman Will Mackinnon, all of whom became major contributors and never let their commitment to the program waiver. Then, over the next few seasons, came high-impact transfers like defensive backs Teddy Foster and Zeshon Casimir and wide receiver Zy'marion Lang — and Valentino. Under Clark's culture, they mixed with the home-grown players like they were home-grown themselves. There were never any locker room divisions, Clark said. These guys just wanted to win. Even against Trinity Catholic, when the team made some mistakes to let an early 21-7 lead momentarily slip away, there was never any finger-pointing, Clark said. They instead focused on what they needed to do to close out the win. 

Cardinal Mooney's Jared Clark is entering his fourth season as the Cougars' head coach.
File photo

"They worked their tails off this season," Clark said. "I think we worked harder and harder and got better and better throughout the year. And then we peaked at the right time." 

Clark, an alumnus of the school, said the magnitude of the accomplishment still has not fully hit him.

"Since I was 13, 14 years old, I've dreamt of winning a state championship," Clark said. "A lot of guys I went to high school with were at the game, and we were talking about it. We have been wanting something like this for 20-plus years." 

The next time Cardinal Mooney takes the football field, many of these players will be gone. But Clark and his staff are excited for the future. A smaller, though talented, junior class will pave the way for a larger sophomore class brimming with potential. Clark said his mind has already drifted with thoughts of the 2024 team a few times — that's simply how coaches are wired. 

But he'll allowed himself and his team to enjoy that they have accomplished for at least few more days before turning the page. 

"I'm just proud of how everyone believed in one another," Clark said. "They trusted in their teammates and trusted in their coaches. They believed that they were going to go out there and be successful."



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

Latest News