LAND O' LAKES — There won't many quarterbacks taller than James Pensyl taking snaps for a Florida high school team. But Pensyl's growth to 6-foot-7 isn't the dimension that Land O'Lakes coach Brian Wachtel is most excited for.
"He's finally filled out," Wachtel said. "There's no more room for him to grow up, up and up. He's put on some muscle."
Pensyl's numbers when it comes to the stat department are also impressive, as he threw for 234 yards per game, with 22 touchdowns to just three interceptions last season for the 8-2 Gators. Problem was their two losses were two district foes Springstead and Sunlake, preventing a playoff trip.
But plenty of key parts from that squad, like defensive standout Shaheed Salmon, leading receiver Liam Heaney, top deep threat Javin Tandy (32 pards per catch), middle linebacker Colin Irwin (116 tackles, 17 for loss) and Darius Wells (20 TFL), will graduate. Their absence has been felt this spring.
"We lost some big players and we need someone to step up," Pensyl said. "We've had some good days but we've had some bad days, and those are mostly due to mental errors."
Part of the result has been more pointed (and lengthy) post-practice speeches from Wachtel. Monday's was near the 15-minute mark, and while not quite Lombardi-esque was still pretty motivational.
"Just going over some of the finer points of football," he said.
A big reason for the upped focus? The spring game has closed in on the Gators. They will play at Pasco on Friday, a week before many schools because the Pirates' football field is used for graduation and the school needs more time in between the game and ceremonies.
Ben Moultrie won't need any special pumping up for the contest. He was a starter on the Gator baseball team, which recently won its district tournament but lost to Pasco in the playoff opener.
Wachtel said the week-early start to practice has been a mixed bag.
"We had guys do well in track and baseball, so they were late getting to us because of the early start," he said. "But the big plus is we'll be able to get into the weight room a week earlier."
Jesuit strong up front
The Tigers are tight-lipped on details, but expect some new offensive wrinkles at Jesuit under new coordinator Joe Gerena, a former Army quarterback who was an assistant at Armwood last fall.
Regardless of the system it shows in Monday’s spring game at Dixie Hollins, Jesuit’s strength figures to be up front. The Tigers return their entire offensive line: Clark Bulleit, Jackson Dennis, Nick Cox, Mike Bell and Guy Revelle.
Those five will block for Kevin Newman, a senior-to-be who’s bulked up to 195 pounds and recently landed a Ball State offer.
One key will be the development of quarterback Trent Wessel, a 6-foot-2 captain. He appeared at the end of last season when starter Vincent Testaverde became ill and, with little time to prepare, led Jesuit to a gritty 13-9 win over archrival Tampa Catholic.
“He’s a gamer,” second-year Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “You just throw him in there.”
Rebels prepare for Monday
Dixie Hollins had a dress rehearsal for the Jesuit game Wednesday. The Rebels played an afternoon scrimmage game, the last full practice before facing the Tigers. Coach Shannon Brooks said the goals were to get everyone playing time, keep everyone healthy and get the new players working with the starters.
“I think we accomplished that,’’ Brooks said. “Everyone got to play and we got them on tape. The only injuries may have been some bruised egos. And the players we expected to do well did do well.’’
That includes quarterback Tyrie Adams, whom Brooks said looked “silly good.’’ One giant hole to fill is receiver Jacquez Hill’s; he had 882 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.
All at 7 p.m.
Land O’Lakes at Pasco
Crystal River at Hernando
Tavares at Central
Countryside at Citrus
Admiral Farragut at Hawthorne
Northside Christian at Out-of-Door