One of the North Suncoast’s top returning quarterbacks may not be familiar to those outside of Bishop McLaughlin. • Rising senior R.J. Perciavalle is going into his third season as the starter under center and even saw some looks at quarterback as a freshman. • As a sophomore, he accounted for 21 total touchdowns, and followed that up last season with 15 total touchdowns via the air and on the ground.
Even without a true go-to receiver, Perciavalle has never had a completion mark under 50 percent, throwing for 53 last season and 55 for his career. He has done all of this while working with three different offensive coordinators.
“He reminds me of Alex Smith in San Francisco,” coach Derrick Alexander said. “He was never really given a chance until (Jim) Harbaugh got there because there was such a revolving door at offensive coordinator. R.J. has always had to learn different verbiage and play calls. I’d say seven of his 13 interceptions last year weren’t even on him.”
Perciavalle’s primary target is likely 6-foot-4 rising junior Will Potosky. Last season, while bouncing between tight end and wideout, Potosky caught 17 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He will move out wide permanently in the fall. His hands have been suspect but with extra work, Alexander hopes the two will develop a special chemistry.
“R.J. is one of the best quarterbacks around,” Alexander said. “He just hasn’t gotten the chance to show it.”
Perciavalle isn’t the only notable returning quarterback. Some others:
Joey Caruso, Hudson
He completed 45 percent of his passes as a sophomore before breaking his leg. The 6-2 passer has boosted his confidence this spring and boasts a more seasoned supporting cast.
Ben Chandler, Pasco
He shared snaps with Jajuan Henry, Janarion Grant and others as a junior but was the Pirates’ top passer (12 TDs, 879 yards). He was one of the few bright spots in a region final loss to Robinson, finishing 8-of-12 for two touchdowns.
“I expect him to pick up where he stopped,” coach Tom McHugh said.
Tyler Mahla, Springstead
The dual threat has thrown for almost 1,800 yards and rushed for more than 1,200 in two years at the helm. The third-year starter continues to emerge in the huddle.
“He’s become a leader of the team …” Eagles coach Mike Garofano said. “That’s what we need.”
Bishop diving right in
Talk about trial by fire. Coach Derrick Alexander decided to push Bishop McLaughlin right into the flames this fall.
Despite a 33-57 record facing mostly independent private schools in the Hurricanes’ first eight varsity seasons, including a 4-7 mark last year, Alexander feels the timing of a move into Class 3A, District 4 alongside state powerhouses like Tampa Catholic and Berkeley Prep is perfect.
“This gives us the chance to compete for a state championship,” he said. “It’s something every team wants before the season starts.”
To prepare for the move, Bishop McLaughlin scheduled its first spring game for tonight against Carrollwood Day (7 p.m.). Though the Patriots graduated all-time Hillsborough County rushing leader Robert Davis, they feature the type of speedy running attack and athletic players Alexander expects to see on a regular basis in district play in the fall.
The Hurricanes have faced Carrollwood Day a few times, losing 38-6 in a 2011 preseason game, falling 53-13 in the 2010 regular season and winning 42-20 in the 2008 regular season.
The Bishop McLaughlin defense hopes to counteract any speed it sees with the gap-control fundamentals Alexander has taught since he got the team more than three seasons ago.
“If we can make the runner hesitate a little in the backfield, it will give our linebackers a chance to get back there and make the play,” he said. “I like the effort these guys have shown in practice, and we need to keep that up during the offseason.”
Bishop, meanwhile, will enter next season on administrative probation after using 25 players across five varsity sports who did not have the proper paperwork on file. The school was also fined $7,500 by the Florida High School Athletic Association this winter.
By the numbers
Wiregrass Ranch QB Shane Bucenell
648 Passing yards by Bucenell as a sophomore last fall
67 Completion percentage (8-of-12) in a season-ending 23-17 loss to Zephyrhills
2 Rushing touchdowns — most on the team
10 Stolen bases in baseball for the region finalists
.371 Batting average this spring as a junior
“We’ll go as far as our offensive line takes us. With all that (hype) comes responsibility.”
River Ridge coach (and former USF and Bucs lineman) Ryan Benjamin. The Knights’ linemen have their own dinners, and skill players carry their pads. But Benjamin isn’t afraid to call out his linemen during missed assignments, either.
Staff writer Matt Baker and correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report.