NO. 14 BERKELEY PREP BUCCANEERS
2016: 9-3, lost in the 3A state semis to eventual champs Jacksonville Trinity Christian
Head Coach: Dominick Ciao, 11th season as the Bucs head coach
Key Returners: RB/CB JaVon Cooper, RB/SS Jakob Hines, WR/FS Zach Mathis, QB/FS Nathan Lockhart, QB/CB Joshua Youngblood, LB/FB Michael Fruit, LB/TE Jaylen Harrell, T/DE Cody Benjamin, DE Mayan Ahanotu, OL Zach Perkins, LT Nichola Petit-Frere
The Scoop: Ask Ciao how many years he’s been coaching and how much longer he plans on going and he gets fuzzy with the math. He’s turned Berkeley Prep into a perennial playoff team in the 10 seasons he’s been there, much like he did at Jesuit from 1986-2002. Ciao says he’ll keep coaching as long as it’s fun and he’s having a great time at Berkeley.
The Buccaneers have one of the nation’s hottest prospects in Petit-Frere. A lot of college eyes on the 6-6, 272-pound lineman. The last time Berkeley had a top recruit, Nelson Agholor, they advanced to the state semis and if not for an ankle injury to Agholor, likely would have played for a state title.
The Bucs lost their leading passer, Davis Koetter, and their leading rusher Gordon Stetson to graduation. Ready to step up under center are Lockhart and Youngblood. Both split time in the spring and Ciao loves the healthy competition between the two. Hines was the Bucs second-leading rusher last season and is capable of carrying the load.
Player to Watch: In addition to Petit-Frere, keep an eye on Ahanotu. The son of former Tampa Bay Bucs defensive end Chidi Ahanotu, Berkeley’s defensive end has already committed to the University of Minnesota. With that burden removed, Ahanotu can concentrate of his senior season. One of the most versatile lineman, Ahanotu is explosive off the edge. But don’t be surprised to see him lined up in the three technique from time-to-time.
Quotable: "I can always find the time to put a team together. When I can't do that anymore, it's time to move on." Ciao
8/25 vs. Clearwater Central Catholic
9/1 vs. Kingdom Prep
9/8 at Cardinal Mooney
9/15 at Lakeland Christian
9/29 vs. Tampa Catholic
10/6 at Admiral Farragut
10/13 at Mitchell
10/27 at Sickles
11/3 vs. Lake Highland Prep
Story: Every workout in the offseason, there was one thing on the Berkeley Prep players minds – playoffs.
“We don’t want to fall short like we did last year,” linebacker/fullback Michael Fruit said. “It’s just pushing us, making us work harder finishing every rep, finishing through the line.”
When fatigue sets in, when the pain becomes unbearable, Berkeley Prep players remember last year and how close they came to winning it all. It powers them through tough workouts.
“Just as far as we made it last year, that was an unbelievable feeling,” defensive lineman Mayan Ahanotu said. “Nobody believed in us whatsoever. We were the underdogs.”
Nothing puts a chip on your shoulder or gets you through an intense workout like the feeling of being unappreciated. Berkeley Prep players assume the role of underdogs and wear it like a badge of honor.
“Had a great run last year and player really well at the end and really put together some great games for four quarters,” head coach Dominick Ciao said. “That’s the torch being passed to these guys. We’ll have our hands full from the beginning, so it’s a new season, a new way and hope we’re in the hunt come November.”
To be in the hunt, Berkeley has a lot of holes to fill on their starting lineup. The Bucs have to replace their starting quarterback, their leading rusher and their leading tackler.
A lot of changes to the roster, but what doesn’t change is the status as the underdog.
“We like team’s sleeping on us and just not believing in us,” Ahanotu said. “But we believe in each other, so that’s all that matters.”