We’re rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams in the area. Today we look at the smallest district in the Tampa Bay area.
Jesuit cruised to a 2-0 record last year against undermanned Spoto and Middleton, prompting the question: Really, a three-team district? Yeah, we agree; time for this atrocity to go bye-bye. Not much should change in 5A-9 this season, though the Spartans are certainly improved enough to finish with a .500 record as it heads into the playoffs. The gap between Middleton and the Jesuit/Spoto tandem has widened.
Jesuit is the clear favorite. The Tigers are strong up front on the offensive line, return two experienced quarterbacks and two running backs, each with the potential to go over 1,000 yards. Their power rushing attack is more than anyone in the district has been able to handle the past few years, and that shouldn’t change. Defensively, they are excellent, with sure-tackling linebackers and solid cover guys. It’s hard to imagine the Tigers not making the playoffs.
Next in line
Now, forget everything we just told you and let us issue a warning: do not sleep on Spoto. Sure, the Spartans have been no match for Jesuit the past three seasons, losing 49-16 last year, and 45-0 and 38-22 the previous two years. But the Spartans are more athletic than in the past, and more importantly, bigger and faster on both sides of the ball. Coach Dale Caparaso thinks his team may have the right defenders to slow down Jesuit’s smash-mouth attack, and an offense with a loaded backfield running behind a trio of 300-pound blockers that is explosive enough to counter and take advantage. At the least, we expect Spoto to be much more competitive in their showdown.
We’re not going to pretend that Middleton has a chance to upset Jesuit, but if you want to make a case for a runnerup spot, how about this: Spoto has to avoid injuries and a tough early-season schedule (it plays five playoff teams) before meeting the Tigers in Week 10. A lot can happen between the start of the season and the end of it. (But we’d still bet our editor’s mortgage on a Jesuit-Spoto-Middleton straight trifecta).
0 Point-after kicks and field goals made by Spoto last season.
2 100-plus tacklers for Jesuit that return: Nick Mosco (107) and James Vrionis (104)
22 Straight district wins for Jesuit dating to 2009
96 and 1,671 Catches and yards returning in the receiving game for Spoto
8 Players on Spoto who had at least one interception last year
1,298 Combined yards by Jesuit RBs Kevin Newman and Malik Davis, who both return
10 Passes defended by Spoto’s Jesse Holmes last season
Players to watch
WR Marc McCoy, Sr., Spoto: McCoy quietly put together one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in Tampa Bay last season. It caught our eye — we ranked him No. 72 in the HomeTeam 100 — and we think he’ll reach even better numbers this season. McCoy has good speed and hands, and he can top last year’s 40 catches and 578 yards. For sure, he’ll score more than three touchdowns for what could be an explosive offense, with a quarterback who likes to throw deep.
RB Kevin Newman, Sr., Jesuit: Newman was the Tigers’ go-to guy last year, leading the way with 793 yards. But in the spring game against Dixie Hollins, the 6-foot, 190-pound running back showed there’s a lot more where that came from. Newman rushed for 121 yards and four touchdowns in the first half against the Rebels. If he can carry that speed over to the regular season, the Tigers could be hard to stop.
C Justo Polanco, Sr., Middleton: The 6-3, 300-pound Dominican giant has been the focal point of the Tigers’ offensive line since his freshman year. After shuffling around the line last season during a constant re-tooling process, Polanco lands back in his original position at center and will be a breakwater against opposing defenses.
Mark your calendar
Spoto at Jesuit, Oct. 3: While the Spartans’ biggest game may ultimately be the game two weeks later against Middleton for the likely runnerup spot, let’s shoot higher and look toward the game that will almost certainly decide the district champion. The Spartans have enough athletes to make this a game after losing the past three seasons. And it’s Jesuit’s Homecoming, if the Spartans need any additional motivation. In the three years that the Tigers have shared a district with Middleton and Spoto, they have outscored the league competition 454-91.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Jesuit’s Kevin Newman, 793
Rushing TDs: Newman, 7
Passing yards: Spoto’s Kevin Hobley, 1,327
Passing TDs: Spoto’s Kevin Hobley, 16
Receiving yards: Spoto’s Marc McCoy, 578
Receiving TDs: Spoto’s Patrick James, 4
Tackles: Jesuit’s Nick Mosco, 107
Sacks: Spoto’s Justice Hunt, 6.5
Interceptions: Jesuit’s Devyn Freeland 3
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
“We don’t say we want to get to the playoffs. We don’t say that we want to get three-round deep. We want to win every single game. If we play to our ability and beyond our ability, we will do that.” — Jesuit coach Matt Thompson
Staff writer Kelly Parsons and correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this report.