Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

Clearwater enjoys view from the top

CLEARWATER — The offense still has a familiar feel. Short passes become big gains. Linemen drive their opponents in reverse, forcefully and repeatedly. Runs along the sideline continue to leave defenders breathlessly behind.

The outcomes are similar, too.

Clearwater High's football team keeps on winning.

On Monday night, the Tornadoes beat Countryside 35-14 to extend their regular-season win streak to 11 games, currently tops among Pinellas County schools.

The only difference this season is the roster.

Several big-time playmakers graduated, including receiver Jacquez Jones (Tennessee) and running back Adarius Lemons (Florida).

Those players were part of a transformative class. They endured a winless season as freshmen in 2012 and helped the program build into a steady contender, culminating last year with the school's first undefeated regular season since 1970.

There is a lot to replace. But coach Don Mesick did not see it as a massive rebuilding project, mostly because of the work previous players put in to turn things around.

"Nobody wants to be the one to let the program slide back to where it came from," Mesick said. "I don't have to sell anything. The kids see that we've won two district championships and haven't been beaten by anyone in Pinellas County for like 700 days.

"We're confident we still have enough pieces to do well, and the kids know if they show up and put in the work they're going to win."

Now it is a new generation of stars who are continuing the program's success.

Some key components are still in place. Jarius Williams is back at running back and has the luxury of running behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters. Quarterback Colin Wray transferred from Steinbrenner. He has plenty of targets still available, even without Jones.

"I think we're a little bit different. We don't have that go-to guy like Jacquez," Mesick said. "But I feel like we have four legitimate receivers who can go out and catch the ball. There are no weak links. We have the best running back in Pinellas County in Jarius that I keep telling everybody about. The line is a lot more solid than it was last year. Defensively, we're young, but we're extremely athletic and we've got good size up there."

It is not just talent the Tornadoes have put together. They also have teamwork.

Mesick found out just how much togetherness there was in the past month. Weather delays forced three games to be postponed. Monday's game against Countryside was the first one for Clearwater in 24 days.

Mesick was without power for most of last week. The school was, too.

The Tornadoes made do.

"It wasn't fun," Mesick said. "I went to the school last Friday with no power. The smell was something you wouldn't believe in that locker room. We just did what we had to do. We've had to adapt and make sure the kids do what they said they were going to do.

"The great thing about this team is the kids are there when they are supposed to be. We only had three kids who were out of town and the rest were all ready to go at a moment's notice this past weekend to start preparing for a busy week."

For the players, being on the field is all that matters.

"We just want to play," Williams said. "And keep winning."

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