IT'S SUPER BOWL WEEK, AND A TRADITION CONTINUES...
In addition to all the commercial and other hype that surrounds the NFL's championship game, it seems as though another tradition has begun: Being able to watch players from Lakeland --- and, more specifically, Kathleen High School in the western area of town --- play for bragging rights and the Super Bowl ring for themselves, not to mention their team's own Vince Lombardi Trophy.
This year, it will be Chicago Bears tight end Desmond Clark representing Lakeland. He will be the sixth player from here, and the fifth Kathleen graduate, to play in the big game. Of course, playing for the title so close to home in Miami's Dolphin Stadium has to be an extra incentive going into Sunday's main event.
The others Kathleen Red Devils to make it to the Super Bowl:
Kenny Gant - "The Shark" was a catalyst for the Dallas Cowboys' special teams returning kicks in the early 1990s. Gant played in the Cowboys in their 52-17 Super Bowl XXVII win over the Buffalo Bills as well as their 30-13 win the following year in Super Bowl XXVIII. He was acquired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent in 1995 but only played sparingly as a safety for head coaches Sam Wyche and Tony Dungy before being released during the 1997 season. Unfortunately, the link at his name only highlights his Buccaneer years, and is the closest thing to a biography you'll find on the Internet.
Ray Lewis - Probably the best known NFL player to come out of Polk County, he led the Baltimore Ravens to victory in Super Bowl XXXV (played in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium) over the New York Giants and became the first linebacker to win the championship game's Most Valuable Player award in 20 years. The Bartow native and former University of Miami Hurricane is still playing with the Ravens, and with his accomplishments should take him to induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ray Lewis Official Website
Freddie Lee Mitchell - Played much of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles and participated in Super Bowl XXXIX, which the Eagles lost a heartbreaker to the New England Patriots 24-21. Probably better known for sparking a controveresy during Super Bowl week in which, during an interview with ESPN's Dan Patrick, he intentionally misidentified the numbers of the Patriot secondary and called out New England safety Rodney Harrison. Played college ball at UCLA. At last report, Mitchell was doing substitute teaching at a high school in Indiana.
Ronnie Smith - Played wide receiver during the late 1970s/early 1980s for the Rams (then still in Los Angeles), Chargers, and Eagles. He particiapated as a member of the Rams in their 31-19 loss to the Terry Bradshaw-led Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. Unfortunately, no bio is available online.
For all of Lakeland High School's successes over the years on the gridiron, it has provided only one player for the Super Bowl. Rod Smart is probably best known for his season with the Las Vegas Outlaws of the short-lived XFL, where he wore a jersey with "He Hate Me" on the back. Smart played in Super Bowl XXXVII as a kick returner/running back for the Carolina Panthers, who lost to New England 32-29.