Coach: Jeremy Earle (fourth season, 23-9)
Last season: 10-2
Colors: Blue and gold
Stadium: Dr. Sam Horton Stadium, 4401 W. Cypress St., Tampa
Playoff history: 1975, 1986, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013
Last appearance: Beat Largo 25-17; lost 52-48 to Armwood.
State titles: 2010
Aug. 29 vs. Alonso, 7:30
Sept. 5 at Hillsborough, 7:30
Sept. 12 vs. Robinson, 7:30
Sept. 26 at Armwood, 7:30
Oct. 2 vs. Leto, 7
Oct. 10 at Lennard, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. King, 7:30
Oct. 24 at Chamberlain, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Blake, 7:30
Nov. 7 at Steinbrenner, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Jefferson at Hillsborough, Sept. 5: With last year’s state runnerup Armwood as the favorite for the top spot in the district once again, the race for No. 2 — and the playoff berth that goes along with it — could begin when Hillsborough hosts the Dragons. Last season, the Terriers led at halftime, but Jefferson scored four touchdowns in the second half to secure a 28-23 win against the district rival, and ultimately take the playoff spot from Hillsborough. Against a Hillsborough team determined not to miss the postseason again, Jefferson could have its hands full.
Life after Deiondre: As last year’s starting quarterback, Deiondre Porter had a state-high 4,698 total yards (3,199 passing, 1,499 rushing) and 53 touchdowns. Since the Florida signee and Tampa Bay Times’ All-Tampa Bay Offensive Player of the Year scored 82 percent of his team’s touchdowns and rushed for 708 yards more than the next best Dragon last season, restructuring an offense in his absence could be the biggest mountain Jefferson has to climb.
Front loaded: The Dragons open their season against what could be a tough Alonso team before meeting district rivals Hillsborough and Armwood within the next three weeks. If Jefferson plans to make a statement, it needs to do it early.
Fresh faces: The Dragons return just three starters on offense and four on defense. Replacing Porter and last season’s top three leading tacklers with young, inexperienced players is certainly a challenge, coach Jeremy Earle admits, but it’s one he and the rest of the coaching staff have embraced.
Rookie QB: Jefferson plans to start sophomore quarterback Cade Weldon, a recent transfer from Berkeley Prep. Weldon, son of former Florida State and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Casey Weldon, has zero starts under his belt, but Earle said he’s confident in his QB’s athletic abilities. “He loves studying the game,” Earle said. “He’s a gym rat.”
DB Quentin Rogers, Sr.: One of four returning starters on defense, Rogers, who had 25 tackles last season, will be part of a secondary of which Earle seems to be the most proud.
DB Ernest Mills, Sr.: Mills, also a returning starter on defense, will join Rogers in the secondary, trying to add to his 41 tackles, one for loss, and one interception in 2013.
RB Mondreas Lofton, Jr.: The only offensive returning starter not on the line, Lofton will be tapped to carry the load on the ground in Porter’s absence. Last season, he rushed for 791 yards and eight touchdowns. Now that he’s not sharing the work with Porter, we expect he can do a whole lot more for the Dragons.
LB Ceddrick Knight, Jr.: Since Jefferson graduated its top three leading tacklers from last season, Knight — whose 56 tackles, six for loss, was fourth best on the squad — should lead the way on defense. Knight, 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, also had a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery for the Dragons last year.
ATH Jeremiah Baltrip, Sr.: At No. 81 in the HomeTeam 100, Baltrip excels just about anywhere on the football field. Last season he starred on special teams while adding four tackles and rushing for 40 yards. His size and potential lead us to believe he could have a much bigger role in 2014.
QB Cade Weldon, So.: Weldon has never started a varsity game, but Earle said the former Berkeley Prep backup has all the tools to be successful — even against the tough competition Jefferson will see in the first few weeks of the season. He might not be experienced under center, but his 127 yards receiving and two touchdowns in Berkeley Prep’s spring game prove his athletic ability.
LB Ashante Dennard, Sr.: Dennard started just the last four games last season at middle linebacker, but his impact was still grand — accruing 29 tackles, seven for loss, two sacks and an interception. Now that he’ll be a more permanent fixture, he should be an even bigger threat to opposing offenses.
WR Taj Jenkins, Sr.: Randy Bradford threw for 264 yards in Jefferson’s spring game, and Jenkins was one of his many targets who made a name for himself that night — with an 80-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the game. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound receiver was on the varsity roster last season but didn’t make a huge impact. This time around, Earle expects that to change.
RB Cory Walker, Sr.: In addition to Lofton, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Walker should be a big part of the Dragons’ run game. As a junior, Walker rushed 148 yards on 15 carries. In a spring game win against Robinson, he led the way with 41 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
“In high school football every year, every team makes its own identity. So that’s kind of the fun part about it. It’s something we’re forming now as we speak.” — Earle