TAMPA — It’s homecoming season for Tampa Bay Tech’s Richard Benjamin.
One of the bay area’s top recruits in the class of 2013 is back at the school he started at freshman year after spending the past two at Middleton.
He’s a little bigger now — Rivals lists him at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds — and has more than 30 college offers, but coach Jayson Roberts acted like the time away hadn’t changed anything.
“I feel like I’m back,” Benjamin said. “These people, I played JV with most of them, and now I’m back home, playing with my friends and boys, loving it.”
“Oh yeah, he’s just coming back home,” Roberts echoed. “He knows what’s expected, he knows the routine, he knows the kids.”
Benjamin, who will play wide receiver this spring, made sure he knew one other thing before rejoining the Titans.
“Before I came back, I asked Coach what the record was, and I told him I’m going to beat that regardless,” he said. “I’m going to top 700 yards receiving.”
It remains to be seen who will be throwing Benjamin the ball. Roberts said there are two quarterbacks battling for the starting spot — rising sophomore Deon Cain, last season’s JV quarterback, and rising junior Tajee Fullwood, who transferred at the beginning of the semester from East Bay.
Fullwood was the Indians’ dual-threat starter last season, running for 690 yards and completing 52.6 percent of his passes for 644 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He impressed Roberts as soon as he arrived on campus.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect because we didn’t play East Bay last year and I didn’t see him,” Roberts said. “When he got here, I was surprised by how tall he was and how athletic he was. He really surprised me with how well he threw the football, his footwork, poise and accuracy, all really impressive.”
Fullwood said seeing others get scholarship offers motivates him to keep working on all aspects of his game, from his footwork to his ability to read defenses. And he doesn’t need to look far — Benjamin has offers from Florida State, Florida, Miami, and USF, along with nine other SEC schools. At this point, no one school stands out.
“Everything was the same,” he said, “Just waiting to see what’s new.”
Gaither flexing its options
Normally, the term “option offense” goes hand in hand with a run-first mentality — and a headache for a quarterback who likes to throw.
Not so at Gaither.
“It’s not bad, teams have to have some type of diversity in their offense,” said rising junior Alex McGough, who added he wasn’t worried about the number of potential passing opportunities.
McGough, who does not yet have any college offers but is planning to attend summer camps at Florida State and USF, has spent the offseason training with former Tampa Bay Storm quarterback John Kaleo, working on his footwork and release.
And at Gaither, he’s been working on installing the flexbone formation, handing off to either the fullback behind him, two slotbacks on either side or just keeping it himself and plunging up the middle.
“We’re just adding it to the offense to give a little wrinkle,” coach Jason Stokes said. “I think we’ve got the skill set to do it. I’m excited about it.”
The Cowboys, who made a surprise run to the Class 7A region final last season, gained a speedy running back in Blake transfer Josh Bell. The rising senior averaged 5.98 yards per carry last season for the winless Yellow Jackets and has impressed Stokes with his speed.
While Bell was an unexpected new face, another many anticipated to be on the field — Tampa Catholic transfer Jordan Rich-Rogers — has decided not to play. Rich-Rogers, also a rising senior, led the Crusaders with 689 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
“He decided to take a break from football,” Stokes said. “He doesn’t have the passion that he had in the past.”
Tampa Catholic WR Zach Benjamin landed his first offer Friday, courtesy of Toledo, Crusaders coach Bob Henriquez said. UMass followed suit shortly after Toledo. Benjamin (6-3, 175 pounds) caught 13 passes for 260 yards and five TDs last season.
Benjamin spent the offseason working with Team Tampa, a 7-on-7 team composed of many of the area’s top recruits. The group will compete at the IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Championships at Bradenton’s IMG Academy June 29-July 1.