ST. PETERSBURG — For the past few seasons, St. Petersburg High coach Joe Fabrizio had experienced quarterbacks and running backs playing behind an inexperienced offensive line. This season, the roles are reversed.
The Green Devils return four starters on the line, but the quarterback is green. Rising sophomores Tonio Shavers and Marquavion Hunter, both members of the junior varsity last season, are competing to be the starting quarterback this spring.
Shavers, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, played three JV games last season before breaking two fingers on his right hand and missing the rest of the season. He is currently atop the depth chart at quarterback.
"We call him Donovan McNabb," Fabrizio said. "He's a big kid. He doesn't know how big he is. And he's got a cannon."
In a perfect world, Shavers would be as mobile and accurate as last year's starter, Austyn Causey. Shavers will have two quality backs to help him, Deshawn Brown (88 carries, 588 yards as a junior) and Jalynn Williams (53 carries, 399 yards, six touchdowns as a junior). Williams is also a capable receiver. And rising senior cornerback Anthony Johnson will see time at receiver.
The Green Devils would like to continue to be unpredictable on offense, but that likely depends on what Shavers or Hunter can do.
"We're still trying to be multi-faceted," Fabrizio said. "We're still going to run our wing-T stuff, but we're going to try to stay spread wing-T like we did last year. I've got to get Jalynn and Anthony Johnson in space. So we'll do the best we can formation-wise to do that."
With some speed and size, Shavers could be the multi-threat quarterback the Green Devils need. Right now, he said he's just trying to get back in the football groove.
"I'm trying to work on my foot work and reading the defenses better," Shavers said. "I like to run and pass. I think I can do both."
Another benefit is a stable offensive line, which has been together since JV sophomore season. Rising seniors Jakob Bennett (6-0, 240), Trent Baker (6-2, 310), Nick Pecora (6-0, 280) and rising junior Anders Margan (6-3, 250) all return. Aleem Coley has been moved from running back to tight end to replace the graduating Adul Yates.
"Last year I'd say we were hit or miss," Baker said. "This year everybody is together. We're in the weight room every day. We expect to be a lot better."
While Fabrizio will have one eye this spring on his quarterbacks, he'll have the other on defense. Eight defensive starters graduate from last fall's 8-2 team. That includes linebacker Austin Johnson, who led the team in tackles (116), and Larrie McCall, who had eight sacks.
Anthony Johnson, who had six interceptions as a junior, is the top defensive returner. Fabrizio said Pecora and John Wemes were in the mix on the defensive line last season but will now elevate to starters.
"Defensively, we're experimenting a little bit," Fabrizio said. "We've got to replace eight kids on defense. We've made some shifts and right now it looks like it's working. But we'll see when we line up against Naples (for the spring game). It's always hard to tell against your own people."
St. Petersburg's schedule is more difficult in the fall. It includes district games at Seminole, Pinellas Park and East Lake. Then there are tough non-district games against Largo, at Lakewood, at South Sumter and the season finale against Braden River.
"We're going to see how good we are," Fabrizio said. "If you're going to be ready for the playoffs you have to play good teams."