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Losses not in playoff picture

Of the 13 playoff football teams alive in Tampa Bay, five have yet to drop a game this season. The big wins and standout players have been well-documented but get to know the high school teams even more with these profiles:

A brand new view

The receiving corps, as well as its immense depth, has been a bright spot for Armwood, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A. The Hawks (11-0) have combined for 12 touchdown receptions through 11 games, and quarterback Darrian McNeal has thrown three touchdowns in one night on two occasions.

And recently, with the help of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one Armwood receiver benefited from a whole new look.

Junior Dennis Harris said he had known for a while that his vision was poor, but he didn't really have the means to do anything about it. Coach Sean Callahan watched as his talented receiver — who had 218 yards receiving and seven touchdowns as a sophomore — drop ball after ball.

In October, Callahan decided to do something about it.

He got the attention of Vision Mobile, the Glazer Family Foundation program that delivers prescription glasses to kids in need in the Tampa Bay area, and Harris was soon taken to an eye doctor in South Tampa for an exam.

"When you get used to things, you just tolerate it. That's what he'd been doing," Callahan said. "The doctor said, 'I don't know how he ever caught a ball.' "

Just a few days later, Harris was invited to One Buc Place, where he was given a pair of glasses and sports goggles by program spokesman and Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

The following week, Callahan said Harris didn't drop a single pass. Harris can already tell a huge difference.

"I can catch it with my hands ready," said Harris, who described the football coming at him as a brown cloud before he received his glasses. "When I used to see the ball, I couldn't catch it because I couldn't see it until it was really close. Now I can track the ball, basically."

Harris, who said he's gotten interest from Division I-A Iowa, is the Hawks' second-leading receiver, having posted 178 yards and a touchdown on 15 receptions. He's one of four Hawks who has at least 100 yards receiving, a fact Harris said will make them hard to stop in the postseason.

And now, the threat Harris poses is clearer than ever.

"It's good because no team can put a No. 1 corner on anyone, because we're all like No. 1 receivers," he said. "Nobody can really guard all of us. It's impossible."

Sophomore sensations

With only five seniors on his 43-man roster, Cambridge Christian coach Bob Dare wasn't sure what to expect this season.

Not only did the Lancers have to replace three-year starting quarterback Garrett Young, but two of the top receivers and several key defensive players from 2014's 8-2 team as well. What Dare did have was his sophomore class.

Jaylin Jackson, who played junior varsity and threw all of one pass for the varsity as a freshman, stepped in at quarterback. He has thrown for 1,048 yards and 15 touchdowns, and added 399 yards and five TDs on the ground.

Sophomore Andrew Cunningham, a bona fide starter last season, has gained 1,042 yards and scored 22 touchdowns, 17 more than any other rusher on the team.

The top receiver is Caleb Young, the younger brother of Garrett, who has 19 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns.

And on defense, Richard Gouraige (above)— selected to take part in the NFL Prep Academy over the summer — has 42 tackles. Derrick Powell Jr. has six interceptions, which puts him among the state leaders.

Thanks to its young guns, the Lancers are 10-0 and notched the school's first playoff win last week over Northside Christian. They are also ranked No. 1 in Class 2A.

"A lot of our guys are sophomores," Dare said. "We had some big players to replace but I knew that these sophomores were talented. Andrew had a good season as a freshman and Caleb plays hard no matter where you put him. Jaylin has really stepped up, and we knew Gouraige and Powell could play. … We're blessed to have these guys and to be 10-0 right now."

Cambridge Christian will try to continue its historic season against Admiral Farragut.

Win or lose, Dare, 59, said he isn't going anywhere.

"I'm shooting for another 30 years," he said. "I want to coach until I'm 90. I've gotten to the point where I'm coaching some of my former players' kids. I want to coach their grandkids."

Just fine O-line

Jesuit's offensive production could have taken a big hit this year, when on Feb. 4, offensive linemen Guy Revelle (Presbyterian), Clark Bulleit (Duke) and Jackson Dennis (Holy Cross) all signed letters of intent to play college football.

At 6-foot-2, 260, Revelle was the smallest of the bunch. The only returner from a line that allowed the Tigers to amass 266 yards of offense per game last season was senior C Jake Moore.

But instead of taking time to rebuild, the Tigers reloaded — with even better results.

Joining Moore on the line this season has been senior LT Maddux Corish, senior LG Jordan Lassiter, senior RT Nicholas Battle and sophomore RG Bradley Haines. Haines saw limited time last year as a freshman, and Corish and Lassiter had never played offensive line before this season, playing on the defensive line last year.

Still, the unit has come together to give the Tigers, ranked No. 2 in 5A, plenty of offensive success.

Jesuit is averaging 355 yards of offense, 240 coming on the ground and 115 through the air.

"They've gotten better and better as the year went on," coach Matt Thompson said of his O-line.

Junior running back Malik Davis has been unstoppable, and with a year left of high school eligibility he's already Jesuit's all-time leading rusher. Daniel Boon has 14 touchdowns through the air, twice as many as the Tigers threw a year ago.

And all of those players, Thompson said, know just who to thank for the results.

"Malik, being as humble as he is, he always mentions the offensive line. Coach (Brian) McNulty, he coaches the offensive line and does a great job with them," Thompson said. "They've come in early, they work out early, they watch film before school starts every Monday and Thursday. They put a lot of time in."

Beef behind the record breaker

Nature Coast running back DeShawn Smith has been in the spotlight for good reason. The senior has set just about every imaginable record a back could achieve in a single season — and beyond.

But coach Justin Worden knows his running game is driven as much by his offensive line as it is by his superstar running back.

"Those guys up front have been tremendous," Worden said. "They understand what we're trying to do and communicate so well with one another. It's a huge part of our success."

The key to that cohesiveness is having so many linemen returning. Most are now in their second season with Worden and have grasped the nuances that come with such a complex spread offense.

Two seniors — 6-foot-4, 285-pound Cass Cole (top right) and 6-3, 273-pound Hunter Rhineberger — have been the leaders. They are not only big, but skilled. Together, they help open wide spaces for Smith to work his magic in the ground game.

"Those two are like 1A and 1B," Worden said of Cole and Rhineberger. "We've pretty much picked either one for our hog of the week award as the top lineman all season."

What makes the performance on the ground all the more impressive is that the Sharks (11-0) have been doing it without Christian Pellage, arguably the best lineman in school history who is now at South Carolina.

"Christian was an amazing talent, and I could only imagine what he'd be able to do in his second year in this offense," Worden said. "We've just had such a big improvement from Year 1 until now.

Judging by Smith's ridiculous rushing stats (3,111 yards, 52 touchdowns), the Sharks' linemen are among the best in the area. And they keep getting better.

"My linemen have been amazing," Smith said. "They've bonded well and help out a lot."

Health comes first

To reach the Class 3A state semifinals for a fourth straight season — and possibly advance to the title game — Clearwater Central Catholic coach John Davis knew his team would have to stay healthy.

Last year's squad resembled a MASH unit with so many players missing time because of various injuries. At first it appeared keeping players from getting bruised and beaten up was going to be an impossible task this season with a thin roster that forced most players to start on both sides of the ball.

But Davis had a plan to get the most out of what has turned out to be a versatile roster. By placing players in multiple spots, Davis has been able to play his starters on offense and defense, as well as give them rest.

For example, Max Kligman has played just about every position except quarterback. Logan Miller (right) has played on the defensive line, at tight end and handles the punting duties.

"I knew we weren't going to have guys leading the area in any stats," Davis said. "They were going to have to sacrifice numbers for rest. Because of that, we're healthy, which is something we haven't had at this point of the year in a while."

Another factor that has worked in the Marauders' favor is having so many games decided by lopsided scores. CCC (11-0, No. 2 in 3A) is undefeated for the first time in school history, winning every game by 11 points or more. After jumping out to big leads, CCC has been to able to rest key guys.

The balance shows in the stats. The Marauders have 12 players with at least one carry and 14 with at least one reception. On a roster that had just 28 varsity players for most of the season, 18 have scored a touchdown.

"By spreading the ball around I think we've become even more dangerous," Davis said. "We can do a lot of different things."

Playoff slate

All games at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $8.

Region semifinals

Class 7A

Tampa Bay Tech (7-4) at Plant City (10-1)

Plant (9-2) at Lakeland (8-2)

Class 6A

Brandon (9-2) at Armwood (11-0)

Class 5A

Jefferson (5-6) at Jesuit (11-0)

River Ridge (10-1) at Nature Coast (11-0)

Region finals

Class 3A

Fort Pierce John Carroll (8-3) at Clearwater Central Catholic (11-0)

Tampa Catholic (9-2) at Ocala Trinity Catholic (4-7)

Class 2A

Admiral Farragut (10-1) vs. Cambridge Christian (10-0) at Jefferson High

Losses not in playoff picture 11/18/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2015 10:31am]
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