Sunday, September 23, 2018
Sports

Calm (Largo) and clamorous (St. Petersburg) converge Friday night

If Largo and St. Petersburg high schools are going to be successful this football season, it will be because of defense. And if those defenses are going to be successful, it will be because of secondaries that are potentially the best in Pinellas County.

Largo's soft-spoken and hard-hitting group includes seniors Cameron Tisdale and Calvin Lockett, junior Solomon Brown and sophomore Jayion McCluster.

"We talk to ourselves but we don't really talk to the other team," Lockett said. "We let our play do the talking."

And then there is St. Petersburg — led by senior and Iowa State commit Anthony Johnson, and including seniors Jalynn Williams, Bryce Green and Antonio Thompson. They are brash, confident and in your face.

"That's what makes it fun," Thompson said. "It's not hard if you're having fun. We have fun back there."

The Green Devils and Packers square off in Friday night's season opener.

This will be the second year that St. Petersburg's secondary has played together. Last season, the four starters combined for 10 interceptions while going 8-2 and reaching the first round of the playoffs (losing in double overtime to Tampa Bay Tech). Johnson led the way with six, while Williams had three and Thompson one (against Largo, in a 31-10 victory).

Because of their success, opponents tended to run more against St. Petersburg.

"As the season went on we got stronger and stronger," Williams said. "We started playing together as a team."

And as the confidence grew, so did the chatter. Johnson is the kind of player who loves taunting receivers. He'll talk to them all game long, and if they don't talk back, then he starts chatting up the officials.

Williams, Thompson and Green are right there with him.

"This is the second year they've been together so they're pretty tight back there," St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said. "They are a confident bunch and they do talk a lot. But as long as it's not disrespectful to the other team then that's fine."

Johnson's biggest complaint? Teams don't throw the ball enough. He hopes that changes this season.

"We want teams to throw the ball," Johnson said. "We'll blitz everybody and go one-on-one with receivers. Go ahead and throw the ball. We want that."

Lockett (two interceptions) and Brown (one) were starters during the Packers' disappointing 3-6 season a year ago. McCluster, the brother of former Largo and NFL standout Dexter McCluster, is an athlete who will play in the secondary for the first time. Tisdale didn't get to play at all last season due to a broken collarbone.

Largo coach Marcus Paschal believes Tisdale is good enough to get some Division I-A offers by the end of the season.

"It was very hard not being out there with my boys," said Tisdale, who could only watch from the sidelines a year ago. "I still supported them but it was hard not playing. Now I'm so hyped to be back on the field."

The Packers got an indication of how good they can be in the preseason game last week, a 10-0 shutout of South Fort Myers. That is cause for cautious optimism. If the defense continues to play well and the offense picks it up, the Packers could be back in the playoffs.

"We're the kind of team that can make a playoff run," Lockett said. "Once we get our offense to execute more, we'll be a great team. I really don't see anybody on our schedule that we can't beat."

 
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