By Dr. Ken


The October 2018 HELMET NEWS/REFLECTIONS which featured Part One of the Nick Kotys and Coral Gables High School football history certainly stimulated the memories of two individuals the author is acquainted with. Not realizing that one of the two former high school coaches was a South Florida resident as a teenager and high school football player, his vivid memories of the Nick Kotys era certainly emphasized the coaching greatness of this individual, over and above the many awards and accolades Kotys received. He had great familiarity with the ’67 Coral Gables squad and Craig Curry’s role in leading them to national acclaim and he chided me about the column’s title stating, “I can’t believe you mentioned Larry Rentz.” Among the Coral Gables’ greats from that era, Frank Lasky as a New York Giant, Joe Auer who was a star at Florida and played in the AFL and then with two NFL teams, the great Craig Curry, defensive back Neal Colzie, Glenn Cameron who played at Florida and was a first round draft choice of the Bengals leading to an eleven year pro career, and Tom Baily who set numerous rushing records at Florida State before playing four seasons as a running back with the Philadelphia Eagles are perhaps better known and remembered by the casual fan than Rentz.  


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Running back Tom Baily (left) boosted the Florida State offense with receiver Ron Sellers, setting a number of long-standing Seminoles rushing marks


Larry Rentz however, the almost skinny 6’1”, 140 pound quarterback was the focus of the 1963 and ’64 squads that won the first two officially sanctioned Florida High School Athletic Association state championships and certainly ranked among the best squads that Kotys had directed. A marvelous athlete with a running style described by an opponent as “trying to hit a bunch of feathers,” Rentz was exciting and effective on both sides of the ball. Long before Miami was “The U” and the American Football League inserted the Miami Dolphins into the pro football mix, high school football was king and some of Coral Gables’ games drew 40,000 or more to the Orange Bowl. The great sportswriter, editor, author, and film maker Neil Amdur, then with the Miami Herald newspaper was so taken with Rentz’s play that he wrote a poem entitled “There’s No Defense For Larry Rentz” and few in the state of Florida believed the ode to be hyperbole or typical newspaper exaggeration. The all-over-the-field bantam-sized Rentz was the sparkplug for the 1963 and ’64 Coral Gables squads that added the 1964 National High School Championship as named by the National Sports News Service. He was a deserving both-sides-of-the-ball High School All American and to that point in time, Coach Kotys called him “the greatest high school player I have ever coached.”    

As a solid student, it could be said that “almost every school in the nation” recruited Rentz despite his lack of body bulk. The choices were eventually winnowed down to Miami, Florida, and Georgia Tech. Florida locked him up by presenting him with their first ever all-sport athletic scholarship, essentially leaving to Rentz what sport or multiple sports he would choose to play. This decision was made despite the presence of established starter All American Steve Spurrier. Offensively, Rentz was the back-up during the latter’s Heisman award winning ’66 season, also serving as the holder on field goals and PATs. Ever the team player, Larry approached Head Coach Ray Graves and volunteered to play defensive back, knowing that he would see little time at quarterback in Spurrier’s senior season. Defensively he proved himself to be the two-way High School All American he had established himself as, playing an extremely effective safety despite remaining woefully slight of build for a collegiate football player. Entering the ’67 season a national football publication stated it best with, “Rentz looks like a violinist – he’s 6’2” and weighs 147 – but he was a whale of a safetyman in 1966, his sophomore season. If he fails to make it at quarterback, he’ll probably play flanker back (on offense).” He did in fact see action at quarterback, receiver, punter, and defensive back through 1967 on a 6 – 4 Gator squad that had to adapt to the graduation of Heisman winner and Do-It-All quarterback Spurrier.  

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Quarterback, receiver, defensive back, punter, and kick holder Rentz, truly a “multiply skilled player” at Florida 

Despite having established himself as a dependable receiver he was ready to take the quarterback spot when starter Jack Eckdahl was injured in the season’s third contest against LSU. Working closely with offensive backfield coach Fred Pancoast who would later be head coach at both Memphis State and Vanderbilt, Larry was ready. The modest Rentz in later years noted that he “had Larry Smith at tailback, Richard Trapp as a flanker back,…Jim Yarborough at tight end. Hell, all I had to do was hand off to Larry Smith or throw a five yard pass to Richard Trapp and he’d do the rest. So it was pretty simple.” Despite suffering four broken ribs in the season’s seventh game, the very tough Rentz was on the field against Florida State two weeks later. Ending the season with close losses to the Seminoles and then in-state rival Miami dampened the overall record and as Larry stated, “…as a result, the entire season was a disappointment.”  

The 1968 team was saddled with very high expectations and what was predicted to be “The Year Of The Gator.” There was little notice outside of the team of Dr. James Robert Cade, a nephrologist and University of Florida professor and researcher who took players’ blood samples and provided a variety of electrolyte replacement drinks before perfecting his formula for Gatorade!  Less known was his research on helmet improvement as he experimented with variations of padding materials and what were early attempts at developing a “water filled” internal pad system. The disappointing 6 – 3 – 1 season was very much “The Larry Smith Show” on offense as the future Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins fullback earned All American and NFL first round draft choice accolades. Defensively sophomore end and place-kicker Jack Youngblood led the charge and Florida was more than happy to have the future All American and All Pro. The Florida State assistant coach who had evaluated Youngblood determined he was too small to contribute so the soon-to-be-much-larger and stronger player took his skills to the Gators, much to the chagrin of that assistant, Bill Parcells! On both sides of the ball Larry Rentz continued to contribute and remained reliable at quarterback and in the defensive backfield. When Smith was injured against Vanderbilt in the season’s sixth game, the offense hit the skids and the 4 – 1 Gators slumped against SEC opponents leading to their disappointing record. Head Coach Graves was desperate enough to switch his offensive coach (coordinator) and defensive coach to the other’s position and responsibilities going into the Georgia game to try to gain traction. Rentz had commented that he “…had no clue. It was the strangest thing…It was like we were in a daze about the coaching switch. We couldn’t make rhyme or reason out of it. It was a total disaster.” Predictably Georgia won 51 – 0 but the ship was righted and the season closed with victories over Kentucky and Miami!


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The Florida staff knew that if they asked of Rentz, they would receive. He did it all for the Gators


Rentz had decided that he would end his football career at Florida but after being drafted as a defensive back by the San Diego Chargers, felt he should give the professional game a try with the thought that he otherwise might “…end up regretting it…”  He began on the Chargers taxi squad, was activated as a safety, and just as he did at Florida, wound up at flanker after Gary Garrison was injured. With a player’s strike looming for the following season, Larry walked away from football to begin his career in real estate and financial management, one that has been exceptionally successful. Like so many of the Coral Gables High School players influenced by Head Coach Nick Kotys, Larry Rentz learned the life lessons that carried him through high school, collegiate, and a year of professional football and into a life filled with success.