TRINITY — The starting quarterback for Mitchell High School is, first and foremost, a baseball guy. Jakob Mattos didn't play football as a sophomore and, given the fact that he's committed to pitch next year for Coastal Carolina University, would have been apt to stick to that sport as a senior.
Turns out Mattos' sports worlds have co-existed nicely. His football coach, in fact, thinks there's been a beneficial spillover effect. It came to the forefront in Mitchell's most challenging game this year.
"The game against Clearwater just showed to me, how competitive he is," Mustangs football coach Andy Schmitz said. "He didn't really play that well in the first half, missed some open receivers, was pressing a little bit I think. And then in the second half he just made every play. He played a dang near-perfect second half."
In that Sept. 22 matchup, then-and-still undefeated Mitchell saw a 24-14 lead vanish early in the fourth quarter. Mattos' responded by leading a minute-long drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Stephaun "Tank" Peters with seven minutes left. Mattos threw 27 passes, completing 14, for 132 yards and three touchdowns.
It was almost like a pitcher coming through with a couple of big-time strikeouts with the bases loaded in a one-run game.
"That's a competitive thing he showed, coming from being a pitcher on the mound, where it's everything about you. Where there's so much pressure on you. He can handle the pressure," Schmitz said.
Mattos' arm is just one of the many reasons Mitchell is 5-0 heading into Friday's Class 6A, District 6 first-place battle with Springstead. The Mustangs still have one of the finer running backs in Tampa Bay in Mychael "Catfish" Hamilton, who has 517 yards and eight touchdowns.
The defense has been solid, holding three opponents to single digits, most notably River Ridge in a 14-3 defeat.
But the quarterback situation was a question mark that needed to be answered. Last year Larry Dalla Betta was the man — until an ankle injury midway through the season had the team turning to safety Justin Locklear to fill the role. He did well, throwing for 638 yards in five starts as the Mustangs won a playoff game for the first time.
Then Locklear got hurt in the spring game.
Mattos time. Granted, he hadn't played quarterback since his freshman year for the junior varsity and suited up last season at linebacker, making six tackles.
"I stopped playing football when I was 10 because I was too into travel (baseball)," Mattos said. "I loved football, I was pretty good at it. I was quarterback for the PAL Hudson Cobras. But I was pushed towards baseball."
He wanted to replicate the success of older brothers, Jay and Jarred, in baseball. Jay hit .410 as a junior, then .507 as a senior in 2009 at Ridgewood while posting a 2.13 career ERA as a starting pitcher. Jarred was a four-year starter (2011-14) at Fivay.
Jakob started 11 games as a freshman at Mitchell, striking out 77. He posted a 1.03 ERA as a sophomore and last year went 7-0, striking out 58 while hitting .329.
"Obviously he has a great arm, we knew that with baseball," Schmitz said. "We didn't really think we were going to have Locklear at all with the ankle, so we treated Mattos like the starter all summer, all preseason. He just kept making plays. He's a lot better with his feet than I thought he would be. He's just a natural athlete."
The only initial worry about Mattos? He's not always the most vocal of quarterbacks.
"I think I need to be more like a leader. I'm not really a talkative guy. I'm kinda shy but getting out of that stage," he said.
Added Schmitz: "Locklear's one of the most vocal leaders we've ever had; he won't shut up sometimes. But Mattos is a really reserved kid, really quiet kid. But he says what he needs to say — he puts guys in their place when he needs to, gives them an encouraging word when he needs to. It's enough."
And his peers have no issues. "When it gets down to it in the huddle, he gets us right, he shows leadership," said two-way player Kym-mani King (four touchdowns receiving, shutdown cornerback).
Friday night will be another great time to show it. The Mitchell-Springstead winner takes major hold of the 6A-6 championship race, and with the new playoff system only guaranteeing a postseason berth to district champs, that's pretty significant.
Last year Springstead dumped the Mustangs 33-7. The teams ended up going 3-1 along with Sunlake, forcing a three-way tiebreaker to determine the playoff spots.
Mattos said the Mustangs want to "give the fans a show."
Added King: "It's a very important game. We don't want a (three-way) tie, for a fact. We're beating them the first time."