Three Matanzas football players who signed national letters of intent on Feb. 7 were just the beginning for the Pirates’ senior class, coach Matt Forrest said.
Defensive end Zack O’Gwynn signed with Culver-Stockton College of Canton, Missouri. Sho’Marion Gaines signed with Warner University in Lake Wales. And Andre Andrews signed with Jacksonville Community Christian College.
“I’m excited for those guys,” Forrest said. “We're obviously going to have a lot more sign in the coming weeks and months, and they're just kind of weighing their options and taking the time with the whole process. But these three guys found a home quickly. And that's the biggest thing, is to find a place where you fit in.”
O’Gwynn, who had a breakout senior season with 19 tackles for loss and nine sacks, said he sent film to every college he could and Culver-Stockton, an NAIA team, showed interest.
“Then I saw that an NFL player went there, Andrew Rupcich who is an offensive tackle with the Tennessee Titans. I figured if I put on some weight in college and work my butt off, I could get there too,” O’Gwynn said.
That plan worked for him in high school. O’Gwynn never played football before his freshman year at Matanzas. When he arrived at school, he was “a skinny 135-pound kid,” Forrest said. As a junior, he became a varsity starter. O’Gwynn is now 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.
“To see him grow in his football journey and to see him grow culturally was awesome,” Forrest said.
Probably no one on the team has shown more personal growth than Gaines over the past four years. He always showed talent on the field but didn’t always make the best decisions off the field, Forrest said.
“He was just making some very immature mistakes, just associating with maybe the wrong people or being at the wrong place, wrong time,” Forrest said.
Gaines moved to Texas for his junior football season and brought his grades up, achieving a 3.5 grade point average, Forrest said. When Gaines came back for winter semester, he was a different person, Forrest said.
“I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life,” Gaines said. “But when I came back in January (2023), I had a different mindset. I wanted to be better and I wanted to do something in life.”
Gaines played offense, defense and special teams for the Pirates. He’ll play safety at Warner, an NAIA program. He was recruited by Warner running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Dwayne “Snap” Wood, who is a former offensive coordinator at New Smyrna Beach, DeLand and Mainland high schools. Gaines said he met Wood during a spring-break 7-on-7 competition last year and they have been talking back and forth ever since.
To see (Sho'Marion Gaines) really buying in and becoming the young man he is right now, there's no doubt he's going to get a degree and play four good years of football. We're very proud of how he's going to represent us going forward.”
— MATT FORREST, Matanzas football coach
“Playing in our program is not an easy thing to do,” Forrest said. “There’s a lot of work on and off the field, being your best self not only on the football field and the weight room, but also out in the community. And to see (Gaines) really buying in and becoming the young man he is right now, there's no doubt he's going to get a degree and play four good years of football. We're very proud of how he's going to represent us going forward.”
Andrews led the Pirates with 35 catches for 493 yards and five touchdowns after transferring from St. Augustine High School. Jacksonville Community Christian plays an independent junior college schedule.
“It’s close to home, and I wanted to stay with family a little longer,” he said.
“That's going to be a good spot for ’Dre to go continue his education and have an opportunity to move on from there after two years,” Forrest said.