TAMPA — From the pictures in coach Jeremy Earle’s offices to the names etched in players’ minds, receivers at Jefferson know the expectations they must meet before ever suiting up on a Friday night.
“You’ve got to live up to a lot …” senior Derrick Ingram said. “You’ve got to eat in this offense.”
Ingram’s Dragons (9-1) will try to feast tonight against Largo (8-2) in the Class 6A region quarterfinal. As usual, Jefferson will have a stable of lanky receivers trying to make big plays.
In some high school programs, coaches will see a tall player with a growing frame and hope he bulks up into a defensive end or tight end. Jefferson turns those big bodies into receivers, like former Dragons Andre Davis (USF) or Chris Moore (Cincinnati).
This year, three of the team’s top five receivers — Ingram, Ventell Bryant and James Wilson — are listed at 6-foot-2 or taller.
“We want to take our big guys and teach them to play receiver to get that matchup,” Earle said. “Over the years it basically breeds its own success.”
That success has led to another dynamic offensive season. The Dragons have scored at least 28 points in all of their victories, and only four area teams have scored more points than Jefferson (376).
Ingram was the team’s top receiving threat heading into the fall. The 6-2, 200-pound Ohio commit had almost 500 receiving yards and caught nine touchdowns as a junior thanks to a blend of size and speed.
“You can’t come up in his face and be physical because he’ll beat you up,” Earle said. “And he’ll run right by you.”
Because defenses have keyed in on Ingram, he has been held to 434 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
But early double teams only opened up opportunities for his teammates.
“They take one guy away, we have three other receivers that can dominate the game,” Bryant said.
He’s one of them. The 6-4 senior leads the team in yards (627) and touchdown catches (10) and is the unofficial leader in highlight-worthy grabs. He converted on fourth and 7 to help his team grind out a 28-23 victory.
And in the second game of the season, his touchdown catch on fourth and 5 put his team ahead for good in a win over Hillsborough that ended up deciding the final playoff spot.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” Bryant said. “He threw me a post. I went and got the ball for a touchdown.”
The 6-2 Wilson (507 yards) and running back Mondreas Lofton (308 receiving yards, 713 rushing yards) have been versatile threats, too, but the Dragons’ breakout star has been Chavez Pownell.
While most of the other Dragons rely on size, the 5-10 Pownell must rely on his speed.
“We haven’t had a fast but shifty slot receiver,” Ingram said. “He went along and fit right in.”
Pownell played defensive back the past two seasons and worked over the summer to use his agility on offense. The results: 625 yards, 29 catches and an 88-yard touchdown reception to open the season against Alonso.
“I feel like I can make a 5-yard play into an 80-yard play, a 2-yard slant into 90 yards,” Pownell said.
At least four other Dragons probably feel the same way.