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High praise for Clearwater Central Catholic's linebackers

Clearwater Central Catholic Linebacker Deandre Fitz-Henley (1), right, hits Matt Hannon (60), left,  during practice at the school, Monday, Nov. 21, 2017. CCC plays host to Chaminade Madonna at 7:30 p.m Friday in the Class 3A Playoffs. (Scott Keeler,  Times)
Clearwater Central Catholic Linebacker Deandre Fitz-Henley (1), right, hits Matt Hannon (60), left, during practice at the school, Monday, Nov. 21, 2017. CCC plays host to Chaminade Madonna at 7:30 p.m Friday in the Class 3A Playoffs. (Scott Keeler, Times)
Published Nov. 22, 2017

CLEARWATER — From Colin McCarthy (Miami/Tennessee Titans) to Caanan Brown (Virginia) to Conner Dorris (Navy), a Clearwater Central Catholic defensive staple has been star quality at linebacker.

Think Marauders, think linebackers. It has been a cornerstone on that side of the ball for the program.

The identity of this year's linebacking crew has been shaped by quality in numbers rather than in sheer star power. Deandre Fitz-Henley, a Bowling Green commit, is the only member of the group currently committed to a college.

But this unit might be the best the school has ever had.

"I know they're the best since I've been here," said second-year CCC coach Chris Harvey, who was a defensive assistant/coordinator the previous two seasons. "I would think they would have to be among the best that's ever been here."

The group has the numbers (i.e tackles) to back up that claim.

Fitz-Henley already is the school's career leader in tackles with 373, surpassing McCarthy. Matt Tauber, a transfer from Palm Harbor University, leads the team in tackles this season with 156. That total includes a pair of games in which he had 25 or more tackles.

"(Matt) would have more than 500 tackles in his career if he had been here the whole time," Harvey said of Tauber, who transferred as a senior.

The others are George Nistazos (69 tackles) and Jordan Presley (44 tackles).

It is more than just tackles that makes these linebackers special. They have helped the Marauders retain their dominant stature.

CCC has posted two shutouts and allowed just 146 points this season. The Marauders (11-0) also have racked up wins, going undefeated in the regular season for just the second time and advancing to their fifth state semifinal in the past six seasons.

Harvey emphasized how important this unit would be to the play of the defense. He pushed them in offseason conditioning.

"Coach would challenge us," Nistazos said. "We carried 45s (weights) over our heads, dragging them, all kinds of stuff."

The quartet did not just work out together. They also get together to play video games.

"It's kind of easy because we go to a small school and we're always around each other," Presley said. "We have a lot of the same classes, and we've just all clicked."

That camaraderie has helped in communication on the field.

"We know if someone messes up, there will be someone else there to fix it," Nistazos said.

Fitz-Henley is the one who calls the plays.

"I'm the hard hitter and they feed off my energy," he said.

Tauber helps Fitz-Henley plug up the middle.

"I'm blue collar and just get stuff done," he said.

Nistazos bring a little of everything.

"I just try to help everybody play to the best of their ability," he said.

Presley is the freelancer and the fastest among the group.

"I bring speed and make plays sideline-to-sideline," he said.

Their strength is in numbers, with depth that few others can match, even if it doesn't come with much fame.

"We just have a lot of heart," Tauber said. "People may doubt us, but that just makes us work that much harder."

Region finals

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

Class 7A

No. 3 Plant (11-1) at No. 1 Lakeland (10-0)

No. 2 Tampa Bay Tech (11-1) at No. 1 Venice (11-1)

Class 6A

No. 3 Ocala Vanguard (11-0) at No. 1 Armwood (12-0)

Class 5A

No. 2 Lakewood (9-1) at No. 1 Immokalee (11-0)

State semifinals

All games 7:30 p.m. Friday. Admission is $9.

Class 3A

No. 1 Chaminade Madonna (9-2) at No. 1 Clearwater Central Catholic (11-0)

Class 2A

No. 2 Champagnat (7-2) at No. 1 Cambridge Christian (9-2)

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