At this time last year, Jefferson quarterback Deiondre Porter was a freshman on the school's junior varsity team, trying to separate himself from the other underclassmen. During practice, he looked to the other side of the field and watched as eventual Mr. Football winner and senior quarterback Quentin Williams worked diligently to perfect what became the most productive offense in Florida.
Williams, now at Bethune-Cookman, finished his prep career as the state's all-time leader in career and single-season passing yards and touchdowns and delivered on a vow to bring home the program's first state football championship.
Today, it's Porter's turn to be the main guy, but the transition hasn't been easy.
First, the sophomore had to win the position. Then, Jefferson faced three of Hillsborough County's best teams in Tampa Bay Tech (preseason), Robinson and Newsome. Last week, the Dragons flew to Ohio to take on the ninth-ranked team in the nation, Lakewood St. Edward, which won 52-13.
He also has to face his own defense, led by top recruit and defensive end Tyriq McCord, every day in practice.
"The speed of the game (is so different)," Porter said. "On JV, you're able to process it. On varsity, everything is moving so fast. And the size. On JV, almost everybody is the same size, even the linemen."
Tonight at Sam Horton Field, Porter, a slim 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, will lead the Dragons (1-2) against Florida's top team and the No. 2 team in the nation — undefeated Armwood — in a Class 6A-District 8 game. With district games against Hillsborough and Sickles on the horizon, it won't get any easier for Porter.
"It's not hurting my progress," he said. "You just have to face it."
"The learning curve is very short when you're playing in a district like we have and in an offense that's quarterback-oriented," Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said.
Porter can find comfort in knowing that former Dragons quarterback Stephen Garcia, now at South Carolina, and Williams started as sophomores.
"It all comes down to game experience," said Earle, who has coached at Jefferson since Garcia's era. "If you can hang in there and understand that, then the junior and senior years is when you can really reap the benefits of that 10th-grade year."
This season, Porter has completed 35 of 65 attempts for 594 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He is also Jefferson's second-leading rusher with 118 yards on 17 carries.
"From week to week, he's really picked it up and has done a fantastic job of learning on the fly," Earle said. "The sky is the limit for him, because he's got a lot of talent."
Every day at lunch, Porter and his offensive linemen watch film and go over plays. At least twice a week, he has playbook sessions with Earle. He has received constant encouragement from the team's captains and seniors McCord, receivers Adrian Jenkins and Jawaun Coffee and defensive back Charles Booth.
Porter knows Jefferson has a history of winning and producing great quarterbacks. His motivation is to build upon it.
"I don't want to be the team that breaks up a legacy," he said. "I want to keep that legacy going."