VALRICO - It's tough being a Bloomingdale football player. Senior Jahmaal Jones won't lie about that.
Playing for a program that's never produced a winning season in its 20-year history, well, there aren't a lot of compliments to be heard, even in the Bulls' own back yard.
'It's hard. The kids at school are hounding us, saying we're not the best team, that we never win a game,' Jones said. 'It's frustrating and everything, going to school and hearing your classmates, your peers talking down at you because we're not the best.
'But it's all going to change this year.'
With every season comes a renewed sense of optimism, and Jones, a standout two-way player, is a big reason the Bulls are hoping for better results this year.
Offensively, Jones should get the bulk of the work at tailback, a position he jumped into last season when the Bulls' backfield was decimated by injuries. Even though he got a late start, Jones thrived in the role and finished as Bloomingdale's leading rusher. He also made a big impression on his teammates.
'He's one of the best running backs in all of Hillsborough County, in my opinion,' Bloomingdale senior quarterback Shane Geyer said. 'He makes great cuts, has great speed and he has a great ability to make people miss tackles.'
It was a welcome sight for Coach Corey Brinson, who ultimately gave Jones the job because he simply showed he wanted it more than any other Bulls player.
'Actually, I never thought he was a running back like he was,' Brinson said.
Brinson can be easily forgiven for not knowing of Jones' prowess on offense. That's because since his freshman year, Jones has been one of the stalwarts in Bloomingdale's secondary.
Jones is the first four-year starter during Brinson's tenure, and this season he'll man the free safety position, one Brinson believes is a perfect fit for Jones.
'He is a really great defensive player. He's probably one of the top guys that I've coached,' Brinson said. 'He can sit in the middle of the field and just roam the middle of the field and just pick off passes and make big hits all the time. It takes a special person to do that.'
One could argue it also takes a special person to continually come to the practice field after sitting through three consecutive losing seasons, which included Bloomingdale's 1-9 mark in 2006. But for Jones, it's not a chore. His passion - football - is fueled by dreams of being on the opposite side of the spectrum Bloomingdale currently resides.
'I dream about it every night - the game-winning touchdown, the game-sealing interception, the game-saving tackle,' Jones said. 'I mean, every night.'
And if Jones is able to pull off one of the aforementioned dreams early this season, this message to the Bloomingdale faithful could carry a bit more weight.
'Don't think we're going to be just like last year,' Jones said. 'Don't overlook us. This is our year.'
Bloomingdale, which started its football program in 1987, is one of only five county programs to have never made the state playoffs, joining Cambridge Christian, Tampa Bay Christian, Newsome and Sickles.
Bloomingdale coach Corey Brinson enters his fifth season needing only three wins to tie former Bulls coach Terry Long for the most wins in school history. Long went 15-35 during his five-year stint (1992-1996) with the Bulls.
ABOUT THE BULLS
STADIUM: Charley Harris Stadium, 1700 E. Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico
COACH: Corey Brinson (12-17, 4 years at Bloomingdale)
ON OFFENSE: The Bulls return their top passer and touchdown producer in senior QB Shane Geyer, as well as their top rusher in senior RB Jahmaal Jones, arguably the team's biggest threat on this side of the ball. They also have a new scheme this season under coordinator Brian Surcy, implemented during spring practice, that will help them achieve a more balanced attack.
ON DEFENSE: This Bulls, under coordinator Gabe Alvarado, played well in the spring . The strength of this unit lies in the secondary, with a pair of all-conference defensive backs - Jones and junior Greg LaClair - returning this year. Also back is all-conference LB Chris Curran.