TAMPA — Not a day goes by without Deiondre Porter thinking of the 2011 season.
The scrutiny. The pressure. The failures.
As a scrawny 15-year-old sophomore, standing 5-foot-11 and barely weighing 170 pounds, Porter was handed the reins of Jefferson High's offense, a program that has produced some of the best quarterbacks the county has seen.
The Dragons were coming off the best season in school history, having gone undefeated to claim the team's first state title. Porter's predecessor, Quentin Williams, the heart and soul of the Dragons, left Jefferson as the state record-holder for career and single-season passing touchdowns and yards. The record could stand for years, if not decades.
For Porter, ending world hunger might have seemed like a more likely goal at the time.
“It was a lot of stress trying to build up to his stats, his championship win, the way he played and carried himself,” Porter said. “A lot of people in the building, they were looking at me like, 'You have to do what Quentin did' or 'Quentin didn't do this.' ”
That season, Porter shared snaps with then-junior T.J. Small in an ongoing quarterback battle. Porter proved to be the more productive passer with 1,890 yards and 17 touchdowns, but by everyone else's standards, it wasn't nearly enough.
“If I threw four touchdowns, it was like, 'Quentin would have thrown five,' ” Porter said of the comparisons. “If I ran for two touchdowns, they'd say, 'Quentin would have rushed for three.' Everything I did, they wanted more, because that's what they had.”
Jefferson finished the 2011 season 6-4 and missed the playoffs.
“It was good and bad,” Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said. “Obviously, it grew him up, put him in a situation to fail, which will build character in any young man, but especially with being a quarterback here and to experience failure like that, and people aren't used to it, that's something that's really driven him.”
As a junior, Porter quickly showed how valuable he could be. He accumulated about 2,700 total yards, with 32 touchdowns, using his speed to hurt opposing defenses.
“I might not have 10,000 career passing yards, but I can change the game in a different way, that he didn't through athleticism,” Porter said. “I had to learn that. I'm my own person.”
Pretty soon, colleges from across the country began courting Porter for his athletic ability. Also a standout track star, Porter qualified for the state track meet last year in four events.
He was recruited as a receiver by some schools, and as a defensive back by others. Before the season, he verbally committed to South Florida, where he could play on the defensive side of the ball. If he decides to officially sign with USF, he said he'll also run track.
With Porter, Jefferson has a chance this season to return to the playoffs, something they've missed since that magical 2010 season. The Dragons host Hillsborough High tonight in a pivotal district game.
Earle, a former quarterback at Hillsborough, remembers watching Porter as a freshman in 2010. He had faith he'd be special someday.
“He's been blessed with some great talent, legs, arms, and he's a smart young man,” he said. “He's a 4.0 kid. He's blessed in those aspects, but the intangibles, the 'it' factor, that's something you can see in a young man, whether he's 15 or 18, you can tell if he's going to be a gamer. Those are the guys you like to win football games with, and that's something you could see in him from the start.”