ST. PETERSBURG — Just one conversation with Ja’Vonta “Jay” Trotter and you’ll be convinced that he believes what he believes. When he says that the Gibbs High School football program will return to the school’s winning tradition, you sense that you are talking to a man who has conviction, faith and a plan.
The winning tradition at Gibbs dates back to the late 1960s and is a rich history. More specifically, the football program garnered the likes two-time Super Bowl champion Glenn Edwards; Melvin Rogers, who played several years with the San Diego Chargers and Shaun King, former quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The hall of fame wall in the Gladiator gymnasium list an all-star cast of athletes who have worn the blue and gold. More history will be added this season when new head football coach Trotter takes the helm of this historic program.
“Becoming Gibbs’ head football coach is a dream come true. It’s an awesome feeling, and it’s much bigger than the football program,” said Coach Trotter.
Trotter is convinced that he has been given the assignment to help change the lives of young men and the community in which they live through the football program.
Trotter grew up in St. Petersburg, graduating in 2008 from The Boca Ciega High where he excelled in football and track. As a senior, he was named to the All-Pinellas Team as a utility player. He was also a member of the All-Suncoast Team as a kick returner and selected the MVP of the Pinellas All-Star Football Classic.
He went on to Murray State University in Kentucky where he played wide receiver and kick returner for the Racers, graduating in 2013.
Although he is not a Gibbs High graduate, he is aware of the community’s pride surrounding the school. In 1927, Gibbs became the county’s first public secondary school for African Americans. In 1967, Gibbs winning ways included a state basketball championship. Then, in 1970, public schools in Florida were integrated, and Gibbs became culturally diversified.
In the last few years, the Gladiator football program has fallen on hard times. They’ve lost more games than they’ve won, the number of players coming out for the team has been low, and the game attendance has been lower than usual. These are all signs of a struggling program and uncommon compared with years past.
Trotter has plans to turn that around. There has already been an increase in the number of players coming out for the team. He is experiencing buy-in from the players, coaches and a supportive leadership staff.
He plans to shift the program and practices to resemble a college atmosphere, believing that he can with help from everyone involved.
“Coach Trotter has hit the ground running and he has the players on point,” said Beverly Wimberly, mother of a senior football player.
Last Friday, the team got off to a good start by defeating Hillsborough County’s Middleton Tigers in a preseason classic in Tampa. Middleton carries a similar distinction in Hillsborough County, being the first high school for African Americans when it opened in 1934.
Coach Trotter is a man of conviction, and his faith is on full display. One conversation with him and you’ll leave excited about what’s to come.
The historical significance of Gibbs High School is well-documented. The traditions and winning ways are memories the community hold on to and envision the return of soon.
To reach Dexter McCree, email firstname.lastname@example.org