TAMPA — It’s been almost a year since Armwood defeated Jefferson 52-48 in a Class 6A second-round playoff game, but the memory is fresh in the mind of Dragons linebacker Ashante Dennard.
“It still hurts,” Dennard said. “I think about it all the time.”
Dennard said the Dragons around him feel the same way, and this year Dennard is trying to make sure everyone stays on task.
“We have to stick to our assignments,” Dennard said. “I think last year (against Armwood) some people were trying to do too much. I think if we stick to our assignments, then we can get it done.”
Jefferson coach Jeremy Earle said he feels confident moving forward because Dennard, a Division I talent, is there to lead the way.
“(Dennard) has grown so much in the past year,” Earle said. “He has become a guy we can depend on in many ways.”
The ultimate goal for Dennard?
“We want to win a state championship,” he said. “We truly believe we have what it takes.”
But first that means navigating through the tough teams in Class 6A-District 8, including Hillsborough and, of course, Armwood.
“We’re just going to stay focused on that week’s game,” Dennard said. “If we keep to our assignments, we will be OK.”
The Tribune’s 2013 player of the year, Deiondre Porter, is now at the University of Florida, leaving behind one of the best senior seasons in state history. Porter not only led Jefferson to a 10-2 record, but he also threw for 3,199 yards, rushed for 1,499 yards and combined for 53 touchdowns.
The heir apparent is sophomore quarterback Cade Weldon — son of former Florida State and NFL quarterback Casey Weldon — who transferred over the summer from Berkeley Prep. Though Weldon has never started a high school game at quarterback, coach Jeremy Earle feels he is up to the task.
Weldon has plenty of weapons around him, including junior running back Mondreas Lofton (791 rushing yards last year), and receivers Taj Jenkins and Maurice Moore, who each totaled more than 100 receiving yards in the spring game.
The Dragons are anchored at linebacker by Ashante Dennard and Ceddrick Knight, who finished fourth on the team in tackles last season with 56, six for losses. Two defensive backs, Jeremiah Baltrip and Ernest Mills, also provide solid pass defense.
Expect Baltrip to move around the field, sometimes rushing the quarterback, or racing to a tackle on special teams, or even carrying the football on offense.
All of the defenders will attack with their traditional up-field approach with at least four players rushing on every play. The fourth rusher, however, will vary depending on the situation.
The Dragons could be considered a relative unknown, partly because of the inexperience of Weldon and their overhauled defense. Can they compete against the likes of Hillsborough and Armwood in the rough-and-tough Class 6A-District 8?
Earle certainly believes in his Dragons.
“I’m extremely excited with this group,” Earle said. “It could get very interesting.”
♦ About The Dragons
Stadium: Sam Horton Field, 4401 W. Cypress St., Tampa
Class-District: 6A-8 (with Armwood, Blake, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, King, Leto, Lennard and Robinson)
Coach: Jeremy Earle (23-9, fourth season)
Last season: 10-2
Aug. 29: Alonso
Sept. 5: at Hillsborough
Sept. 12: Robinson
Sept. 26: at Armwood
Oct. 2: Leto
Oct. 10: at Lennard
Oct. 17: King
Oct. 24: at Chamberlain
Oct. 31: Blake
Nov. 7: at Steinbrenner