Five greatest Gainesville athletes who stiffed the Gators

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

No matter how many fish you catch, you always remember the big one that got away.

If athletes were fish, Gainesville would have been a pretty plentiful pond over the years. A lot of fish were hooked by the big local angler, a.k.a. the U of Florida.

But the Gators couldn't catch 'em all.

A few really big ones swam south and signed with the notorious U of M. That may gall some people in Gainesville, but they can still take pride in home-towners made good.

It's like Tom Petty leaving Gainesville for L.A. in 1974 to sign with Shelter Records. Some things are just meant to be.

Here are the five Gainesville high school fish who left town and made the biggest splashes at other schools.

Hurricanes receiver Lamar Thomas (36) celebrating on the field with teammates after the victory over the Texas Longhorns 46-3 at the 1991 Cotton Bowl.

5. Lamar Thomas, wide receiver, Buchholz 1988 - Miami.

Thomas was one of the best all-around athletes in Gainesville history, making All-State in football and basketball and also lettering in track and baseball. He was also loquacious and self-assured, which might help explain why he chose Jimmy Johnson's program over Galen Hall's.

The Hurricanes famous for A) winning, and B) trash talking. If anything, B became more pronounced after Dennis Erickson replaced Johnson in 1989. Thomas thrived at UM, leaving school as its all-time leader in receptions.

But for all his accomplishments, Thomas might be best remembered for the 1993 national championship game.

After dissing Alabama's defenders before the game, Thomas caught a pass and was heading for the end zone, only to be run down by cornerback George Teague. He not only caught the speedy Thomas, Teague stole the ball out of his hands.

The play was nullified by a penalty, but "The Strip" demoralized Miami and sparked the Tide to a 34-13 upset.

University of North Carolina pitcher Andrew Miller was a stand out at Buchholz High School. He was in town with the Tar Heels for the NCAA tournament in 2005.

4. Andrew Miller, pitcher, Buchholz 2003 - North Carolina.

It almost wasn't fair when Miller took the mound for the Bobcats. He was lanky 6-foot-7 lefty with a 93 mph fastball.

The Gatorade Player of the Year could have signed anywhere, including with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who drafted him in the third round. But he left all the pro and amateur offers from state teams and headed to North Carolina.

College hitters didn't do much better facing Miller than Gainesville high-schoolers did. Miller won 27 games, struck out 325 batters, was named Baseball America National Player of the Year and was selected No. 6 overall in the 2006 draft by Detroit.

Miller struggled with his control as a starter early in his career, but blossomed as a reliever. He was MVP in the 2016 ALCS and is a two-time All-Star. Seventeen years after graduating from Buchholz, he's still mowing down batters for the Cardinals.

P.K. Yonge's Niya Johnson played for the FHSAA champions in 2010.

3. Niya Johnson, point guard P.K. Yonge 2012 - Baylor

This was the biggest one that got away from the UF women's basketball program, which could have used her. Johnson led the Blue Wave to two state titles. People still talk about her 49-point performance in an 85-77 upset of Class 7A No. 1 Buchholz in 2012.

That's the kind of thing that gets the interest of college basketball's finest factories. Johnson left Gainesville for Waco, Texas, and powerhouse Baylor. She played for four Big 12 title teams, won a national championship and became one of only five Division 1 players to have 900 assists and 500 rebounds.

"I’ve never seen a kid who could do it all,” her coach at P.K. Yonge, Willie Powers, told the Sun in 2016. “She could score, pass and rebound and was so unselfish. Sometimes I had to get on her for being too unselfish. She is definitely one of the best to ever come from around here.”

New England defensive back Fred Marion tries to keep Chicago fullback Matt Suhey from the end zone during Super Bowl XX in New Orleans, Jan. 26, 1986.

2. Fred Marion, safety, Buchholz 1978 - Miami.

The Gators were in the death throes of the Doug Dickey era, going 4-7 in 1978. But unlike when Thomas showed up in Coral Gables a decade later, Miami wasn't a fearsome force when Marion signed out of Buchholz.

 Lou Saban (not to be confused with Nick) went 6-5 in the 1978 and was replaced by Howard Schnellenberger. The pipe-smoking Schnellenberger began laying the groundwork for a dynasty, and Marion was a major piece.

He was a consensus All-American and set the school record with 16 interceptions. New England drafted him in the fifth round of the 1982 draft, and Marion was an All-Pro Bowl three years later.

He played nine NFL seasons, intercepted 29 passes and was named to the Patriots' 50th Anniversary Team in 2009, alongside players like Tom Brady, Andre Tippett and John Hannah.

Former Miami running back Clinton Portis walks onto the field before a game against Florida on Aug. 24, 2019, in Orlando.

1. Clinton Portis, running back, Gainesville High 1999 - Miami.

What is it with Miami and Alachua County? Portis rushed for 2,036 yards as a senior and was on the state-record 400-meter relay team for the Purple Hurricanes. He chose Miami over Oklahoma State and Maryland. Nothing against the Gators, he said.

"I'm a Gator fan," Portis once said, "but the feeling, I just knew it was right when I went on my visit (to UM)."

You can't argue with the results. Portis started as a freshman and gained 147 yards in his first game. In three seasons, he rushed for 2,523 yards, had 14 100-yard games and won a national championship.

Portis turned pro after his junior season and was taken in the second round of the 2002 draft by Denver. He gained 1,508 yards and scored 17 touchdowns and was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Two years later, he was part of a mega-trade to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey went on to a Hall of Fame, but Portis didn't do too badly. He made two Pro Bowls, gained 9,923 yards and scored 75 touchdowns.

Now that's a hometown guy made good, even if he didn't stay home.