TAMPA — Eight weeks into an undefeated season, the 2012 model of Berkeley Prep football has proven sleek and efficient.
It has passed road tests (see 39-23 win at Naples Golden Gate), stress tests (see 24-23 win at Lake Highland Prep), even midterm tests (see 41-19 romp of St. Petersburg Catholic).
Now comes the full diagnostic test. Starting Friday, the bay area learns what really lies beneath the hood of this refurbished Buccaneers team (6-0, 1-0).
“We’ve been tested,” said senior wideout Bubba Olivera, one of a plethora of first-year starting offensive skill players. “But I think these next few weeks are going to be really tough for us to come through and stay consistent with our offense.”
The most stern exam will be administered by Class 3A, District 5 rival Clearwater Central Catholic (5-1, 1-0). The Marauders have dropped their last four to Berkeley, but arrive at Newman Stadium with one-sided wins against 6-1 Tampa Catholic and Class 8A playoff contender Palm Harbor University.
The combined record of Berkeley’s first six foes: 7-32.
“I feel better every week,” Bucs coach Dominick Ciao said of his squad, “but this is a team that we have to play perfect football to get things done. To me, they’re the best team we’ve seen on film.”
If a win Friday provides the Bucs validation, the first six contests have provided affirmation. After graduating every starting offensive skill player, four of his top five tacklers and his kicker from last season’s 12-1 team, Ciao told everyone who’d listen the Bucs still possessed skill and senior leadership.
The proverbial bell cow has been 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior tailback Chris Williams, who has run for 841 yards and 11 TDs in Ciao’s pro-style offense. His predecessor, current Southern California freshman Nelson Agholor, had 767 at this point last season.
On defense, 170-pound senior tackle David Wright (3.5 sacks) leads a revamped line continuing to get solid push. Meantime, sophomore Brad Mayes, who replaced four-year starter Destin Nichols at quarterback, has proven efficient and heady in Ciao’s play-action schemes (762 passing yards, seven TDs, two INTs).
It was the Mayes-Williams tandem that generated a last-gasp scoring drive at Lake Highland in Orlando, culminating with Austin Iglehart’s winning 30-yard field goal with 2:06 to play in a 24-23 victory.
“I think that we have great senior leadership …and we’ve been proud of our football team,” Ciao said. “I think in crucial situations we’ve made big plays with the game on the line and that’s how we’ve gotten to where we’re at.”
Then there’s Olivera, enjoying a breakthrough season at wideout (17 catches, 441 yards, six TDs) despite not playing since his freshman season.
“I think he kind of surprises some of the (defensive) backs,” senior two-way lineman Rob “Biscuit” Paine said. “They haven’t really seen a lot of film on him from last year because there isn’t any.”
A shortstop on the Bucs baseball team, Olivera focused on that sport the past two years in hopes of landing a scholarship offer. When it arrived in July from North Florida, Olivera asked UNF baseball coach Smoke Laval if he had any problems with him playing football his senior year.
When Laval gave his blessing, Olivera approached Ciao, who welcomed him aboard.
“You never not want to play for Coach Ciao, so I felt like I let him down, and I actually let myself down, by not coming out and playing under him,” Olivera said. “Even though I wanted to focus on baseball …I felt like I should’ve played those years.”
Now, this assemblage of old and new seniors, savvy sophomores and clutch kickers must be a little shiftier, a bit steadier, a step quicker into the backfield. CCC enters not only with more seasoning, but atonement on its mind after four years of Buccaneer beat-downs.
Friday, validation meets vengeance.
“It’s going to take an effort that we haven’t given yet,” Ciao said, “and hopefully we’ll rise to the occasion and play perfect football for 48 minutes.”
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.