As the build-up for the fall finally begins, our quest for deeper comprehension continues using the strategy outlined with Plant, Nature Coast Tech, and Wharton. Today’s K-W-L installment involves three heavyweights within Hillsborough County and the region beyond.
Tampa Bay Tech, Gaither, and Jesuit made a lot of noise last season, and are expected to do the same this season. Two of those three, (Gaither and Jesuit) were state semifinalists. They also managed to make quite a bit of noise by being linked to this year’s biggest transfer news thus far. Tech, started out 5-0, lost three straight, then won three straight, then nearly pulled off an upset of Lakeland in the regional semis.
Time to figure out what we know, what we want to know, and what we might learn down the road with the Titans, Tigers, and Cowboys.
TAMPA BAY TECH: Starting with what we know about the Titans. We mentioned they began 2019 as one of the most-impressive teams in the county. We know they scored 178 points in those first five games against Chamberlain, Plant City, Hillsborough, Plant, and East Bay winning by an average score of 36-9. We know that the next three weeks wasn’t so kind. Against Bloomingdale, Armwood, and Gaither–they scored a TOTAL of 22 points. We know they rebounded nicely by beating Wiregrass Ranch, Jefferson, and Viera (1st Rd) by an average of five touchdowns. And then they nearly figured out Lakeland, but fell just short.
We know that Head Coach Jayson Roberts is the longest-tenured AND winningest coach in school history, entering his 10th season with a record of 71-34. We know that under his predecessor C.C. Culpepper and himself that the Titans have not had a losing season since 2006. We know that the Titans have made the postseason 11 of the past 12 seasons and have three district championships under his tenure to boast. That one season they missed in 2013? That was still a winning season at 6-4. We know that RB Osmanis Aguilera, Bobby Moore, and Daunte Harris have left to graduation, but they’ve got QB David Wright returning for his senior season following a 2,300+ yd passing season with 27TD’s and just 5INT’s. We also know that leading receiver Greg Gaines III is back for his junior season.
We know that Jefferson, Hillsborough, and Plant are off the schedule this season. Added to the non-district slate is a week one trip to Lake City Columbia, a week 2 tilt with Steinbrenner, and a week 11 visit from Riverview. Teams that remain on their schedule are Plant City, Bloomingdale, Chamberlain, and Gaither. Their district remains Armwood, East Bay, and Wiregrass Ranch.
What we want to know is the schedule setup with a treacherous 3-game stretch like last season? How much have they learned from the sour taste of last season? What are the chances their 6-yr postseason streak comes to an end if their schedule finishes 7-3 like last season? While we don’t know any of these just yet, nor will we for a long time, but at least we can say we’ve learned that Tech is synonymous with winning, and that counts for a whole lot when you’re trying to find the answers.
JESUIT: We know that the Tigers lost their first game of the season to Plant City, rebounded nicely in week two against Immokalee, then lost to Clearwater week three on September 9th. We know that the Tigers did not lose another game until November 29th in the Class 5A Semifinals to Miami Northwestern. We know that along the way the Tigers registered signature wins against Chamberlain twice, Clearwater Central Catholic, and complete destruction of Lake Wales in the regional finals.
We know that Matt Thompson is beginning his 8th season and has compiled a record of 70-21. We know that under his guidance, the Tigers have won district championship six of the last seven seasons and have never missed the playoffs under Thompson. The Tigers have made the postseason nine of the last ten seasons, winning at least 11-games four of the past five seasons as well.
We also know that starting QB Kiael Kelly, RB Ricky Parks, and DB Jordan Young have transferred to Gaither. Without even once glance at the roster, we know that Jesuit constantly has talent waiting-in-the-wings and it won’t be expected of them to fall-off in the least. We know that Juniors Jaydn Girard (WR) and Jack Lennon (QB) are expected to do big things. We know that Todd Bowles Jr (who is a senior in class) will be back there with his brother Troy Bowles, who is just a sophomore. We also know that RB Joquez Smith is expected to do big things and is just a sophomore.
We know that Plant City, Clearwater Central Catholic, and Tampa Catholic are on the schedule for next season, and we know that Bayshore, Booker, Chamberlain, Gibbs, and Robinson remain in their District 5A-12 schedule. Other than that, we don’t know much. Wait–Jesuit will play Gaither in the Kickoff Classic on August 14th. That seems pretty important as well.
How long will it take for the Tigers to gel? Who will step up to be the heartbeat of the squad like Lex Capitano was last season? Are they the clear front-runner in 5A-12 even with the new faces and some improved teams in the district?
GAITHER: The Cowboys are fresh off their best season in school history with a 12-2 record, and could potentially be as good, if not better. That obviously won’t be known for quite some time. We know that was their first double-digit win season since 2000. We know that the Cowboys ran roughshod on their opponents until Armwood defeated them, a team they held to just 14-points in the loss. We know that Kirk Karsen is entering his 4th season, and has compiled a 26-10 record his first three seasons.
We know the likes of Tony Bartalo, Chance Coleman, Sammie Lee, Jake Karsen, and Hunter Mintzer are gone. But we also know the likes of Drelin Pittman, Jayden Mendez, Jordan Oladokun, Mario Eugenio, and Willie Jackson are back in addition to Kelly, Parks, and Young from Jesuit transferring in. Perhaps the most important thing we know? Billy Silverman, Andrew Kilfoyl, Nick Bartalo, A’ziah Braithwaite-Young, and Malik Anderson are back. Those just mentioned formed one of the best offensive lines in the county and region, and they’re all back.
We know that Jefferson, Plant, and East Bay are off the schedule, and that Steinbrenner, Hillsborough, and Durant are on the schedule. We know that Armwood, Tampa Bay Tech, Plant City, and Chamberlain all remain on the schedule for one of the toughest non-district schedules you’ll find. Their district remains Land O’Lakes, Freedom, and Fivay. We also know (as mentioned earlier) they’ll play Jesuit in the kickoff classic.
We also know that the bigger the bullseye on your back, the better your opponent plays you regardless of what their record says. Which begs the question; after getting oh-so-close last season, can they tighten back up (more-so mentally than physically) after the long layoff from the pandemic and keep the mojo rolling? Can they match that 12-win mark again? How will the new pieces fit with the existing ones?
These are all general in nature, but yet again, let’s remind ourselves all of these teams–and US–have a lot to learn regardless of what we know.