As the 2009 prep football season approaches, the Times will break down each position on the North Suncoast. Today we take a look at top linebackers.
1. Darryl Cooper, Sr., Gulf
2008 stats: 139 tackles, two sacks
Notable: Cooper tore a tendon in his ankle during the final play of Gulf's spring game. He used crutches and spent about two months in a walking boot. Lately, though, he has lifted weights with his upper body and started to jog. Coach Jay Fulmer expects Cooper to be cleared by Aug. 29 or sooner. Cooper enjoyed a breakout season in 2008, almost doubling the tackles of the No. 2 player on the stat sheet. Gulf's defense is designed to feed the middle linebacker, and Fulmer said that's Cooper's job. Cooper is good at reading plays and reacts with strong instincts. He's not a heavy hitter, but rarely misses a tackle thanks to good fundamentals. Cooper has scholarship offers from Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman.
2. Jackson Cannon, So., Land O'Lakes
2008 stats: 31 tackles, one fumble recovery
Notable: Cannon was dominant during a recent intrasquad scrimmage, highlighted by an interception return for 30 yards. But first-year coach Matt Kitchie noticed Cannon right away as his play ignited during the first three days of full contact. "He's your prototypical college linebacker," Kitchie said. "As someone who used to coach college football I would go after him in a minute." Kitchie said he's a natural leader and other kids want to follow in his footsteps. If that holds true on the field, the Gators should have one tough defensive unit. Cannon's strength is being in the right place at the right time. He is a sharp tackler and carries a 3.0 GPA. Kitchie said he's a Division I prospect.
3. Thomas Bronson, Jr., Hernando
2008 stats: 110 tackles, 11/2 sacks, one interception
Notable: The key to Bronson's success is his versatility as a four-sport athlete (football, weightlifting, track, baseball). Leopards coach John Palmer said those sports help tremendously in making Bronson agile and quick with good stamina. In fact, Hernando football players are mandated to play at least two sports, Palmer said. Bronson, a Hernando Christian transfer in 2008, showed quickly he could be useful in other areas, including running back, tight end and defensive tackle. Primarily, he's a strong-side linebacker.
4. Jacob Fisher, Jr., Wesley Chapel
2008 stats: 93 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries
Notable: Fisher is a student of the game and devours football knowledge. As a two-year starter he wears the coveted black practice jersey awarded to the top defensive player at Wesley Chapel. Beyond soaking up defenses and tendencies, Fisher is physical and smart. He approaches practice at full speed and when something (rarely) does not go his way, it triggers an intense desire to improve.
5. Anthony Moore, Sr., Mitchell
2008 stats: 107 tackles, one sack, two fumble recoveries
Notable: Moore is the leader of a talented linebacking corps. First-year coach Brian Wachtel likes Moore's ability to make open-field tackles. He has good instincts and is big with plenty of speed. In the 3-5 defense, the emphasis is on the linebackers. Moore stepped up last year and emerged as a bona fide threat, despite limiting his commitment to offseason conditioning. That changed after his breakout year, and Wachtel said he has been impressed with Moore's commitment to the offseason program.
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.