Area Gridiron Stars Honored At The 27th Annual Lou Groza Awards

Palm Beach Central’s Akeem Dent receives the player of the year honors at the Lou Groza Awards Ceremony.

The Palm Beach County Sports Commission hosted the 27th annual Lou Groza Awards on Monday, Dec. 3 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts. Several local gridiron greats were nominated for awards at the prestigious, nationally recognized ceremony.

Both Palm Beach Central and Wellington high schools had nominees. The Bronco football team was nominated for team of the year, while PBCHS senior Tanner Nairn and WHS junior Morgan Suarez were nominated for place kicker of the year. Meanwhile, Bronco Akeem Dent and Wolverine Mark Antony Richards were both up for player of the year.

Nairn’s accolades include racking up 50 straight extra points during the season, including nine in one game, as well as a pair of field goals that decided a 20-12 victory over Palm Bay. “It’s a huge honor,” Nairn said of the nomination.

Suarez was impressed by the star-studded event. “It’s a lot bigger than I thought it would be,” he said. “I have big shoes to fill, with Alex Ng and Logan Robinson.”

Both Ng and Robinson won the place kicker award for Wellington.

The most notable feat for Suarez during the season was in the Wolverines’ final game, where he booted a 57-yard field goal. He also helped propel the Wolverines into the postseason with a 24-13 win against district rival Palm Beach Gardens when Suarez notched four field goals, including a 40-yarder. He regularly crushed kickoffs, forbidding any return.

The Broncos also received a nomination for team of the year. Palm Beach Central doubled their win total this season, finishing 11-2, unbeaten in district play and at home. They won the district for the second straight year, retained the Wellington Cup and made a regional finals appearance. The Broncos also averaged an impressive 42 points per game while giving up less than a touchdown on defense per game.

“It’s just a very blessed feeling; a humbling feeling,” Bronco coach Tino Ierulli said. “There’s a lot of great teams, a lot of great coaches and great players in the county. To have two young men represent Palm Beach Central in our program and our entire team nominated for team of the year is very humbling.”

When it came time for the highly anticipated player of the year award, the hundreds in attendance anxiously awaited to see if the Benjamin School’s Kaiir Elam, Palm Beach Central’s Dent or Wellington’s Richards would walk away with this year’s honor.

After much anticipation, Dent, a Florida State commit, was announced as this year’s winner from among the most competitive trio of athletes in recent years. Dent is a five-star-rated defensive back and received the honor of playing in the upcoming Under Armour All-American Game. He typically shined for the Broncos as a defensive leader, breaking up 12 passes, recording two interceptions and totaling 77 tackles, while sacking the quarterback twice.

Dent also lined up at slot receiver at times during games to contribute to the offense. “It feels really good,” he said. “It’s good that they see me as one of the highly talented players.”

Richards felt honored to be present at the ceremonies and nominated. “For me, it’s not even about me just winning it,” he explained. “At the end of the day, we’re all representing the same area, Palm Beach County, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Richards’ older brother Ahmmon won the player of the year award three years ago as a receiver, but Mark Antony made a name for himself. His all-purpose ability helped the Wolverines into the postseason.

Richards rushed for more than 1,200 yards and collected nearly 1,000 yards receiving. He topped those numbers with more than 1,300 return yards, totaling in excess of 3,600 combined yards. Richards’ longest was a 92-yard touchdown against Palm Beach Gardens. He showed his versatility against Seminole Ridge when he stepped in as quarterback and led a rally for the Wolverines to defeat the district rival 22-21 in the final seconds.

“It’s the dedication, hard work and commitment to our program,” said Wellington coach Tom Abel, the 2014 coach of the year recipient.

Abel believes that this year’s football success is a testament to the talent in the area. “I think it’s amazing,” he said. “Two Wellington schools made the playoffs, so that tells you the talent pool is pretty deep.”

The success shows promise for both teams in the future, and Ierulli believes that the Bronco program is headed in the right direction.

“I think it says a lot, because we were nominated last year as well,” he explained. “It just goes to show you. We’re building a reputable program, and all the hard work, trials and tribulations are starting to come to fruition.”