Tuesday marked the first of seven weeks of intense 7-on-7 competition between the Pasco County (minus Zephyrhills, plus Hernando’s Nature Coast and Springstead) football programs. The 7-on-7 season gives local fans a chance to catch tomorrow’s playmakers trying to make a name for themselves today. Here’s a look at what happened during Week 1 action at Fivay and Wiregrass Ranch.
The main event
Pasco vs. Land O’Lakes, the evening’s most anticipated matchup, didn’t disappoint as both teams noticeably dialed up the intensity.
The Pirates won the first battle in what is sure to be a summerlong war.
Pasco rising junior Janarion Grant caught, juggled, then finally hauled in for good a long touchdown pass down the sideline on a perfectly-thrown ball from quarterback Jacob Guy, who recently picked up his first Division I-A offer from Western Michigan.
Guy, who was on target all night, hooked up with Grant on the same post-corner pattern later in the game. And this time Grant caught the ball perfectly in stride after getting a couple of yards behind the defense.
Guy also threw a touchdown to Raheem Wigfall, who could emerge as a playmaker for the Pirates in the fall. Wigfall wore the familiar No. 23 that belonged to brother Mike Clower last season.
Speaking of battles, the one-on-one competition between Grant and the North Suncoast’s most-coveted Class of 2012 recruit, Land O’Lakes’ Kent Taylor, was the focal point in a highlight-filled contest.
Grant covered Taylor when Land O’Lakes had the ball and knocked a sure catch away from the 6-foot-5, 220-pound tight end in the middle of the field after swatting at the ball as Taylor tried to bring it in to his body.
On the next play, Taylor outmuscled Grant for a catch along the sideline as he got knocked to the ground by two defenders in the no-contact scrimmage. Taylor stood up, covered in sand and dirt, holding the ball aloft to show it was a clean catch.
Those two are sure to see each other quite a bit over the next few weeks.
Fashion statement of the day
Taylor wore a gleaming white pair of receiver’s gloves on his oversized hands, drawing even more attention his way. He already gets his fair share as one of the nation’s top recruits and the tallest guy on the field at any given time.
Taylor put his mitts to good use, routinely getting behind defenses in his team’s four games and hauling in long passes effortlessly for scores. Near the goal line, Taylor was unstoppable on the fade pattern as he used his size advantage to leap over defenders for the score.
Practice makes perfect
Over the weekend, Anclote participated in USF’s annual 7-on-7 Sling-N-Shoot, and coach Matt Wicks credits the two-day tournament in helping the Sharks face tougher competition they wouldn’t normally see in the county.
Anclote took on local powers Charlotte and Plant and picked up a win over Jesuit.
In the first day of the Pasco County 7-on-7 league, Anclote again looked sharp in a 33-18 win over Fivay, even without the services of recruiting prospect and top playmaker Dondre Daley.
With the Sharks switching from the wing-T attack it used the first two seasons to a more spread shotgun, Anclote looks to benefit greatly from the various passing leagues this summer.
“It was good for us to face some competition we usually do not see,” Wicks said. “Facing good competition like we did helps us step our game up and boost our confidence up. It’s the best four hundred bucks I’ve spent in this program by far. We built a little bit of swagger from the tournament, so that’s always good.”
Wesley Chapel coach Ben Alford was high on tight end turned wide receiver Sasha Mentor during spring, and the rising senior reinforced Alford’s praise Tuesday.
Twice, Mentor beat his man down the sideline and outraced the defense for long touchdown passes. On the first, Mentor used his ball skills to come back for an underthrown pass from sophomore-to-be quarterback Alex McGough and jump over his defender for the catch. Later in the session, Mentor streaked down the sideline and caught McGough’s perfectly-thrown ball in stride for an easy score.
Mentor played tight end a year ago to help block for an inexperienced offensive line but enters the fall as the Wildcats’ main playmaking threat.
All about the Benjamin
Just a couple weeks ago, new River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin had no real designs on the Royal Knights coaching job after longtime River Ridge and recent Nature Coast assistant Gary Allen beat him out for it in January.
But after Allen recently had to resign due to medical reasons, Benjamin, a long snapper on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2002 Super Bowl championship squad, is now back at his alma mater and enjoying every second of helping the Royal Knights finally find some success.
Benjamin’s first look at his new squad in a competitive environment was Tuesday evening. The former NFL athlete was very active in helping out the defense and said he wasn’t too worried about the scores but was just looking for day-to-day improvement.
“We’re just out here getting better and that’s all I ask of my guys is to get better,” Benjamin said. “This is just such a great opportunity. It’s a great group of guys. I love the attitude, I love the family that they’ve got going and the teamwork. It’s a special group, and the guys are going to work and do what it takes.
“People are expecting big things out of River Ridge this season.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo contributed to this report.