Perhaps no player on the North Suncoast was more valuable to his team last season than Sunlake’s Jacob Jackson.
The Seahawks’ version of Tim Tebow, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Jackson could run through a defender on one play, then drop back and launch a perfectly-thrown spiral over his head on the next.
Jackson broke the 1,000-yard barrier on the ground and scored 12 rushing touchdowns. He passed for 18 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards. He also led Sunlake, a program just four years old and without a winning season, to an 8-2 record, one win shy of qualifying for the playoffs.
Now Jackson is preparing for his first season at College of DuPage, a junior college in Illinois. And Sunlake is preparing for life without Jackson.
During Week 3 action Tuesday in the Pasco County 7-on-7 passing league, a pair of contenders for Sunlake’s open quarterback position looked capable of filling Jackson’s void.
Cameron Stoltz, a rising senior who is the favorite to line up under center in the season opener against Hudson on Sept. 2, is physically similar to Jackson and was the team’s backup last season. Stoltz, also a pitcher on the baseball team, throws a tight spiral and can zip the ball downfield in a hurry. In a game against Wiregrass Ranch on Tuesday, Stoltz threw a 40-yard pass on a rope to Ricardo Williams in the back corner of the end zone for a score.
Challenging Stoltz for the position is junior Josh Zifer, a transfer from Steinbrenner. Zifer, a tall left-hander, isn’t as experienced as Stoltz but can make a variety of throws.
“Cameron’s a senior and knows the system right now,” Sunlake coach Bill Browning said. “It’s his job to lose, but Josh Zifer is providing some very good competition and is making some strides forward. I want to be at the point in the fall where I feel comfortable with either one.”
And don’t be surprised to see the elusive Rashaud Daniels line up at quarterback a few times each game for Sunlake as well. Daniels is a perfect fit to run the wildcat and is a capable passer, too.
“Rashaud’s just an athlete,” Browning said.
Through three weeks of 7-on-7 action, the play of Stoltz and Zifer has Sunlake hopeful that Jackson’s loss won’t be too severe. Still, Browning knows 7-on-7 is a completely different game from the one the team will play this fall.
“I’ve seen guys look great in 7-on-7, and then when you get a pass rush on them, they couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn,” he said.
Catch of the day
Goes to Wiregrass Ranch’s Elijah Brooks-Davis, who picked off a pass near the goal line in the Bulls’ victory over Sunlake.
Zifer hit Jamal Jones in the middle of the field, but Jones juggled the pass as he fell to the ground on his back. With the ball still in play and Jones struggling to reel it in and keep it off the turf, Brooks-Davis swooped in to grab the ball out of midair.
Brooks-Davis will be a sophomore in the fall.
Comeback player of the day
Jones, Sunlake. After a rough couple series to open against Wiregrass Ranch in which he dropped a sure touchdown and handed an interception to the defense, Jones redeemed himself with a strong finish against the Bulls. With his team trailing by double digits, Jones outjumped two defenders in the corner of the end zone to bring the Seahawks closer. On the extra-point conversion attempt he hauled in a difficult pass in traffic to make the score 16-13.
Jones is heading into his senior season and provides Stoltz and Zifer with a playmaking receiving option. He caught 19 passes for 308 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Wiregrass Ranch held on for the victory, winning 22-19 in the best game of the evening.
Peck eases back into football
It’s been a while since Ridgewood senior quarterback Bob Peck has seen action against another team. Nov. 5 against River Ridge to be exact. That’s when Peck tore his ACL in a 16-14 Rams’ victory. Peck practiced with the team in May but was held out of the spring game as a precautionary measure by Ridgewood coach Kent Reed.
Now with Peck in the 7-on-7 league, the senior-to-be finally looks healthy and ready to contribute for the Rams, who must replace several vital playmakers from last year, including quarterback Scott Kujak (554 passing yards) and running back Cameron Rodriguez (1,213 yards). Reed said Ridgewood will still be a run-oriented team but will rely on Peck to provide a solid passing game to help keep defenses honest.
“He hasn’t been doing a bad job out here,” Reed said. “We also have gotten tight end Max Livingstone back, who was our leading receiver last season, and he seems to be Bob’s most favorite target. When the kid is 6-foot-4 and runs as fast as Max does, it gives Bob more confidence to throw to someone like him and gives him a go-to guy.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo contributed to this report.