TAMPA — This past Tuesday night at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Anthony Rhynes was overcome with joy as he received his diploma from Middleton High.
The following day, the happiness intensified. So much so that he began to cry.
“There was so much I went through, and I finally did it,” he said.
The past school year was a roller-coaster ride for Rhynes. After attending four high schools in four years, it was during his senior year at Middleton that Rhynes accomplished all he aspired to be.
Athletically, Rhynes shined in two sports. He made his varsity football debut and ended the 2013 season as Hillsborough County’s leading receiver. According to MaxPreps, Rhynes’ 1,213 receiving yards ranked seventh in the state and in the top 175 in the nation. In track and field, in his first year participating in the sport, Rhynes became a district and county champion and was a bronze medalist at the state level.
Academically, Rhynes made the honor roll twice. Considering he was expelled from Jefferson High the first semester of his junior year and he slipped to a 1.8 GPA, then spent the remainder of the 2012-13 school year at North Tampa Alternative School, a place for students who display a pattern of disruptive behavior, it was a notable turnaround.
“I had to prove to everybody who I am, Rhynes said. “I had to do it for myself.”
Rhynes was cleared to transfer to Middleton leading into his senior year, but it wasn’t until after the football season had started that he became academically eligible to play. Though he missed the preseason and hadn’t played in more than a year, his natural abilities earned him a role as the team’s go-to player.
Through the first five games, though the team went winless, Rhynes accumulated 699 receiving yards with six touchdowns. In Week 6, Rhynes experienced his first victory as a varsity player, leading Middleton with 112 yards and a touchdown in a 26-21 win against rival Blake.
But the celebration was short-lived.
Just hours after the win, Rhynes’ mother, Nothela Walker, was among several patrons struck by gunfire at a Tampa nightclub. The victims were treated at a local hospital. Rhynes said his mother was shot in the back. No arrests have been made in the shooting.
In his next game, on only four catches, Rhynes had 189 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-7 win against Leto.
It had become apparent Rhynes’ natural ability could extend beyond football, and Middleton track coach Derrick Rackard persuaded Rhynes to join his team. After long weekends of running in the sand at local beaches and hours of one-on-one training, Rackard helped mold Rhynes into a champion. Rhynes went on to set school records in the 100 (10.3) and 200 meters (21.5)
“I think he would have been a 10.1 guy if he had any past track knowledge,” Rackard said. “He had that natural ability.”
But just as Rhynes began to perfect his craft as a track star, tragedy struck again. On March 29 at 10:49 a.m., Rhynes’ cousin, Aviance Mosley, was shot and killed during an altercation near West Pine Street and North Fremont Avenue in Tampa. The investigation remains open.
Three days later, Rhynes won the 100 meters at the Hillsborough County Championships.
“I dedicated my first-place win to him,” Rhynes said.
Rhynes was able to raise his GPA to a 2.7. He is being recruited by Bethune-Cookman College and Fort Hayes State University.
His athletic career, it seems, is just beginning.
“It’s never too little, too late,” former Middleton coach Alonzo Ashwood said. “He has nothing but time. He’s just 18. Some people are late bloomers. He has a chance if he does what he needs to do and go to college. He can write his own ticket.”