Sunday, December 17, 2017

Commitment to chemistry sustains Clearwater Central Catholic

Last year, Chris Harvey was promoted from assistant to head football coach at Clearwater Central Catholic, a job that seemed like a hefty inheritance given the program's abundance of Division I-A prospects.

Harvey led the team to a district title and a berth in the Class 3A region finals.

Soon after, the star power disappeared.

In January, Amari Burney, a four-star athlete who has committed to Florida, transferred from to Calvary Christian. Teammate Deandre Ferguson, a receiver who has an offer from USF, joined him.

A month later, eight players signed their letters of intent to play college football for well-known programs such as North Carolina and Notre Dame.

Harvey had to replace his leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago. He also had to take over the defense after coordinator John Scargle left to become the head coach at Palm Harbor University.

With all those minuses on one side, it appeared the Marauders would be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

But CCC, once again, is thriving.

The Marauders rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to beat defending Class 3A state semifinalist Berkeley Prep 29-28 in the season opener. Last week, they cruised to a 21-0 win over Sarasota Booker in a game that was called early because of the weather.

No longer riding the coattails of a few star players, CCC is winning because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

"Emphasizing the team is always a good thing," Harvey said. "We don't have a CJ Cotman or any of those other guys we would use at a number of positions. We still have talent, but these guys are not being as recruited as heavily as some others.

"And that's okay because they all work hard and they all work together, and that's something we needed in order to continue to be successful."

There were some additions. Quarterback Rory Hicks transferred from Countryside. And former coach John Davis returned to be the offensive coordinator for his son-in-law, Harvey. Under Davis' guidance, Hicks has put up solid numbers, throwing for a combined 294 yards and three touchdowns in the first two games.

Others have taken on more prominent roles. Brothers Jerzahn and Jerjuan Newton are the playmakers on offense. Jerzahn leads the team in rushing yards with 71. Jerjuan is the team leader in receiving yards with 116.

And Bowling Green recruit Deandre Fitzhenley, the only player so far on this year's team committed to Division I-A program, leads the team in tackles with 20.

A team that started the season with more questions than answers is becoming more confident and cohesive each week.

"Everybody is about the team this year," Jerzahn said. "Nobody thinks they're bigger than the team. And that's really good. It helps us out a lot. We work hard in practice every day and that pays off on the field."

By merging into an eager, unselfish unit, the Marauders have stayed on top. Now comes the test with this week's game against rival Tampa Catholic. Last year, the Crusaders handed CCC its only loss in the regular season.

"Every game is important, but this one is big," Fitzhenley said. "It's still in the back of our minds the way we lost last year."

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