All-County Flag Football
Player of the Year: Anissa Tuitt (GHS, Sr.)
All-County team: St. Cloud: Angie Rodriguez, Elise Schmidt, Rakela Cummings, Maria Sandoval, Tina Velez . Osceola: Angel Roman. Harmony: Bryn Hudson, Adriana Rodriguez, Reinna Scott, Gracie Moore. Liberty: Annie Beecher. Celebration: Angel Roman. Poinciana: Kayla Russell. Gateway: Gyo Ramos, Melina Trinidad, Kiarra Serrano.
Basketball is Anissa Tuitt’s future.
The recent Gateway High grad is off to Florida Southwestern State College later this summer, where she’s signed a hoops scholarship. A naturally-talented athlete with great bloodlines, she nearly averaged a double-double in points and rebounds the last two years for the Panthers.
It’s serious business for her. So when she switched from the gym indoors to the field outdoors every spring to play flag football, it was a chance for her inner athlete to spring out.
“Playing flag is just fun. When I make plays I’m not stressed about what happens if I don’t,” she said.
Tuitt earned four varsity letters playing both basketball and flag football as a Gateway, but her senior year was special. She made a lot of plays — scoring 25 touchdowns and intercepting 15 passes playing both ways as a receiver and safety — but so did the players around her, making for a special year.
Gateway went 11-3 and for the first time won the Orange Belt Conference championship and played for the district crown.
“Our quarterback (Gyo Ramos) had a great year making plays and getting us receivers the ball,” Tuitt said.
Tuitt’s influence on the Panthers in, far and away, their best flag football season ever, is why she is this year’s Osceola News-Gazette Flag Football Player of the Year.
“It was a really special year,” she said. “When I look back I’m shocked at what we did, but it was because everybody came together and we got confidence because we did what we knew we could do.
“Winning the OBC was a blessing we deserved. We worked so hard as a team and a program.”
Standing 5-10, Tuitt said, along with Coach Travis Hill, that she’d imagine being back in the basketball gym going up for the ball to make receptions or interceptions. It just took a couple years for that mentality to take hold, even though she has a great football reference in her own home — older brother Isaiah Wharton was a four-year varsity Gateway football player, went on to star at Rutgers University, signed a training camp contract with the Minnesota Vikings’ and made the team’s 90-man roster heading into the summer.
“I can always remember how nervous she always was to play,” Hill said. “Funny thing was, is that I knew Anissa when she was younger because I coached for her family with the Osceola Panthers. I remember having a talk with her because she was so frustrated and nervous about not running a route correctly in a game, I had explained to her how to correctly run the route that she was on. I told her not to be nervous but to play as if you are the most dominate player on the field, and I also told her that when the ball is in the air treat it as if it was basketball and get the ball; that ball is yours.
“After that the rest is history, she must have lived by those words or kept them in her head because every year she got better and better and this year I can say became the most dominate player on the field no matter who we played.”
Tuitt said the game finally slowed down for her during her junior year.
“I was like a new me as a player,” she said. “I got more confidence, but I also started drawing more attention by the other teams. But I also started to know when I had a good matchup for me. I really started to like having the ball thrown to me.”
This past season Gateway notched their first-ever wins over Harmony and St. Cloud, the latter a 19-13 overtime game in which Tuitt caught a touchdown pass late to tie it and scored in the overtime to win it.
“We knew St. Cloud was better than us, but it was a crazy game,” she said. “Against Harmony we just played a great game.”
The season, and the flag careers of Tuitt and her fellow seniors, ended with a 19-6 loss to St. Cloud in the District 2A-5 championship game, uncharted waters for the Gateway program.
“I can’t explain that one after we beat them the first time,” she said. “We knew we were a better team than we showed and how we were playing. I was down about that one for a while, but when I think about playing flag football is that it was great while it lasted.”
It was also not-so-serious and fun — which winning often is.