Spectrum Sports Top 20: No. 16 - Jesuit

By Chris Torello, Spectrum Sports reporter
Last Updated: Friday, August 04, 2017, 11:39 AM EDT

No. 16 – JESUIT TIGERS

2016: 12-1, District Champion in 5A District 10 (Regional Champion: State Semifinalist)

Head Coach: Matt Thompson, 41-11 in four seasons

Key Returners: S Dane Belton (49 TKL, 3 INT), MLB Braden Gilby (138 TKL, 20 TFL), RB Matthew Pittman (302 rushing yards, 5 TD), DE Anthony Nelson (81 TKL, 35 TFL), OLB Nick Terrana (95 TKL, 3 sacks)

The Scoop: Are you sitting down? Because this information may rock you: Jesuit is losing 67 of its 82 touchdowns from 2016. A bulk of that comes from losing Malik Davis (Florida) but the Tigers also will miss production from QB Danny Boone (Southeastern University) and Travell Harris (Washington State). They also lose leadership on the offensive line with center Jake Moore (Dayton) graduating. So now the question will almost certainly be this: Who takes over as the leader on offense in 2017? A few candidates come to mind, including senior tight end Larry Hodges and running back Matthew Pittman. Both provide a workman’s mentality and their blue collar attitude could help the team in blue find success on offense.

One thing that is worrisome is that Jesuit has begun practice without a true sense of who the Tigers’ quarterback. “We head to camp with five guys in the mix for the job,” said head coach Matt Thompson. Senior QB Jake O’Donnell transferred to Sickles and Malik Davis’ back-up, Leonard Parker, who was being considered for some QB work, transferred to Plant. That leaves Brendenn Flynn as the lead candidate, by default. Offensive Coordinator Joe Gerena is expected to lean on an option-offense for this season with several young athletic backs being worked into the mix. It is possible to see some wildcat formation from the Tigers in 2017.

The defense has been, and will continue to be, the best part of this Jesuit team. It has four senior linebackers, all with Division-I offers, as well as leaders like Dane Belton at Safety and defensive end Anthony Nelson, who committed to Harvard at the end of July. “We like the experience we have and we are ready to step up and be the true leaders on the field,” said Belton.

One big blow comes at special teams where Aidan Swanson, the number one punter in the 2019 recruiting class, transferred to IMG Academy. Swanson recorded 54 touchbacks on 80 kickoffs in 2016.

Quotable: “We have had to work harder this offseason than in any of the last four years when Malik Davis was here.” A.J. Pinion, Senior Defensive Tackle

2017 Schedule

8/25 vs. Durant

9/1 vs. St. Joseph’s Prep (PA)

9/8 at Steinbrenner

9/15 at Jefferson

9/22 at Ridge Community

9/29 vs. Spoto

10/6 at Sarasota

10/13 vs. Robinson

10/27 at Middleton

11/3 vs. Tampa Catholic

Malik Davis graduated high school. It had to happen eventually. Davis leaves behind a legacy as the all-time rushing leader in Hillsborough County history with over 7,000 yards over a four-year span.

And now the question has to be asked: How do you replace Malik Davis?

“You don’t,” said Jesuit head coach Matt Thompson. “Malik is that once-in-a-generation player. We have to dig deeper this year because Malik isn’t busting an 80-yard run.”

“You lose Malik, Danny, and Travell, plus Jake Moore our center, its going to be different,” said junior safety Dane Belton. “The offense won’t be as potent as last year.”

And that’s problem: You’re also losing QB Danny Boone and wide receiver Travell Harris. Between those two and Davis, Jesuit is losing over 5700 yards of offense from last season alone. Jesuit’s plan – Rely on their defense that is full of experience.

“We have the experience on our side of the ball,” said Belton. “We will need to create turnovers and try to score. I think we can definitely do that on defense.”

Jesuit might not be a popular pick in 2017.. But if you think the Tigers won’t be expecting to make the playoffs? Think Again.

“We know the task is in front of us and the guys are going to come through,” said Thompson.

Jesuit’s message is simple: “Sleep on us, if you dare.”

But the most dangerous Tiger is one that lies in the weeds. Kind of like the 2017 Jesuit football team.