TAMPA — Nature Coast spent the spring tweaking its run-heavy attack to add some wrinkles of spread offense.
If Saturday’s Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament is any indication, the new-look Sharks are in store for a big autumn.
Nature Coast was one of the day’s biggest surprises, earning the top seed in the Pinellas/North Suncoast bracket and finishing its first six games unbeaten before falling to Boca Ciega in the tournament’s semifinals.
“I didn’t expect to be at one loss,” Sharks coach Charles Liggett said. “Dang. We far exceeded (expectations). That’s great for our kids.”
The Sharks beat Boca Ciega and Alonso in pool play, tied Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech and knocked off Hernando and Countryside in the elimination rounds to become the North Suncoast’s top performer.
Wide receiver Jonathan Thomas was one of the tournament’s stars and had one of the day’s biggest highlights. The junior, who already holds offers from UMass and Toledo, made a bobbling catch in the end zone and snared the conversion on the next play to tie Tampa Bay Tech just before the final whistle.
“He got better as the day went on, I think,” Liggett said.
Nature Coast broke in new quarterback Jamison Carnegie, a sophomore who played JV last season, and got big plays from DeShawn Smith, Rohan Blackwood and Sedrick Burkes. The offensive explosion gives even more confidence to Nature Coast, which can match its skill players with one of the North Suncoast’s top defenses.
“Now we know that we can play with the best of the best,” Thomas said. “As soon as we put the pads on, it’ll be on.”
BULLDOGS BREAK IN: Zephyrhills’ offseason got off to a rough start when quarterback Mikey Smith left the program after a 1,200-yard sophomore season. His departure left an opening Saturday for sophomore Jarcques Meza.
“Meza had a great spring,” Bulldogs coach Reggie Roberts said. “He and Mikey were neck and neck. I hate losing Mikey because he was a really good kid, but I’m happy we still have Jarcques Meza.”
Zephyrhills doesn’t participate in the North Suncoast’s weekly 7-on-7 league, and Meza didn’t throw with the team all week until he showed up at Jefferson.
Although his Bulldogs lost in the first elimination round, they displayed some grit during pool play. In the final 30 seconds against Countryside, Meza hit senior Kayel Oppenheimer for the winning catch in an 18-12 victory.
“When you get in those kinds of situations where you face adversity, those kinds of situations make you better and give you confidence,” Roberts said.
Meza will battle with Wesley Chapel transfer Ty Tanner, junior Tyler Kirby and senior Devin Brockington for the starting job in the fall.
PIRATES, LEOPARDS OUT EARLY: Pasco and Hernando were both knocked out in the first elimination round. Jeremiah Jackson had a highlight for the winless Leopards by scoring an early touchdown in their loss to rival Nature Coast.
Pasco got a boost with the return of athlete Malik Johns, although the Division-I recruit was still hobbled by an ankle injury. The Pirates beat Tampa Catholic in pool play and lost to Armwood and Plant before being upset by Dixie Hollins.