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Planty of changes to the program could take Jesuit football to new heights

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:18 PM
TAMPA -

Jesuit High's football program is one of the county's oldest but it will be featuring a new starter at quarterback this fall and a lots of changes on its coaching staffs.

Tigers head coach James Harrell is visibly excited about his new man under center, 6-foot, 215-pound senior Leland Saile. You've probably heard more about him for his performances on Jesuit's nationally-ranked baseball team last spring. And even though he has never started a game and threw a total of five passes last season, Saile is brimming with confidence and excitement about being the No. 1 guy at quarterback.

"I want to run the table, lead Jesuit to a state championship and become one of the best quarterbacks in our school's history," Saile says matter-of-factly. "I've got great players around me. There's no reason why we can't do that."

A lot of talk around town had Harrell leaving Jesuit for the college ranks after his son, Anthony Harrell, graduated high school in 2011 and went off to play for Georgia Tech. But as most know, coaching football at Jesuit is a good gig and the talent keeps rolling in every year.

The 2012 Tigers roster is no different and with the staff he has surrounded himself with, this could be the year. Harrell now has three former high school head coaches on his staff with George Edington (Lennard), Tchecoy Blount (Freedom) and James Jones (Pompano Beach Ely).

Jones is also a former University of Florida and NFL running back and Jesuit also features another former pro, a guy name Vinny Testaverde who, among eight other clubs, one lined up for the Buccaneers. Testaverde's son, Vincent, Jr., is a sophomore quarterback on this year's squad.

With a big offensive line featuring University of South Florida commitments Robby Garcia (6-3, 260 pounds) and Cameron Ruff (6-4, 280), Harrell says he wants to return to a run-first oriented offense. And after watching Pasco pick off four Jesuit passes in the Class 5A-Region 2 finals last season, who could blame him.

"If it's fourth down and you need a yard, good teams are able to run to get it," Harrell said.  "Hopefully, I'm not in that position but if I am, I want to have confidence to be able to that."

That's going to mean a lot of work for running backs Will Lucas and Kevin Newman, but Harrell believes he has the guys to keep teams honest if defenses key on the Tigers' running game: wide receiver Travis Johnson and tight end Vincent Jackson, who will also play on defense.

Defense is Harrell's specialty, an area he helped four-time state champion Plant High establish itself as a hard-hitting, gang-tackling unit. When he talks to his current Jesuit players, Harrell finds himself talking about some of his Panthers players who starred, including Mike Mirabella, Beau Hume, Austin Clark and Hunter Baldwin. Harrell says none of these guys were superstars but they all knew how to play "gap control," that is, they hold their ground, stay in position, tackle well and relentlessly pursue.

Now in his third season as head coach, Harrell says his players have bought into that concept and this could be his best defense ever.

"They understand why he have to rely on all 11 guys," Harrell said. "You don't have to have Division I recruits all over the place to have a great defense. You just have to have good high school players who work as a team. That's how Plant's defenses have done it to win state championships."

With all the connections between Jesuit and Plant, it's no wonder there's already a buzz for the meeting of those two teams in their season opener Sept. 1 at Jesuit. Last year at Plant, the Panthers prevailed 34-20. Are the Tigers talking about the re-match?

"You bet they are," Harrell said. "We should've gotten them last year and the kids are excited about getting another shot at them."

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