To preview the 2012 high school football season, The Tampa Tribune is counting down the top 10 teams in Hillsborough County. These preseason rankings were voted on by Tribune writer Bill Ward, high school sports editor Doug Jacobs and correspondents Mike Camunas, Jarrett Guthrie and Scott Purks. Today: Tied for No. 7 Jefferson.
It's tough for Jefferson High football coach Jeremy Earle, a rather humble guy, to not boast about his team this year.
"There's no denying we have a lot of talent," Earle said. "I feel really good about our chances at making another run."
At a state title?
"I know it may sound like a lot, but I'd say this group has the same potential as the one we had in 2010 (Class 3A state champs, 15-0 record)," Earle said. "We have that kind of talent."
That's a big statement about a group that a year ago started the season 1-4 and looked overmatched on the offensive and defensive lines in several games.
Earle said the situation "up front" has changed "100 percent."
"We worked so hard in the weight room the past year and that group (of linemen) has gotten so much stronger," Earle said. "They also had the benefit of working together the last half of the season (winning five straight games)."
This year's offensive line features two seniors, center Tony Cifuentes (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) and Christian Torres (6-2, 305), two juniors, left guard Zack Buchanan (6-0, 300) and left tackle Josh Marrero (6-2, 300), and a sophomore right tackle, J.J. Wlliams (6-2, 275).
If that stout group steps up, look for senior running back Shaquille Speights and Trevor Register, a transfer from Tampa Catholic, to run wild against just about everybody.
If the running game does get slowed down, the Dragons can transfer to the air with quarterbacks Deiondre Porter and Tyler Small, who switched series at the end of last season but most likely end that trend this year. Both quarterbacks have big talent and plenty of talented targets to throw to, including Michael Tiller, Ventell Bryant, Derrick Ingram, Jonathon Moore and Anthony Rhymes.
Defensively, the Dragons feature a premier safety in Keivontae Turk and a slew of speedy if not large athletes.
"It's like we have a bunch of linebackers, all about 6-2, 190 pounds, who can run and knock you over," Earle said. "We will be swarming to the ball and getting after people. They should be a fun group to watch."
KICKOFF CLASSIC: Aug. 24 at Tampa Bay Tech
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 vs. Robinson
PREVIOUS TOP 10 TEAMS: 10. Durant; 9. Sickles; T7. Tampa Bay Tech.