When I watched Peyton Xayasone play for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised.
It was at Manatee High School, for the Countryside Cougars spring football game against the Hurricanes of Manatee, in a game that eventually got ugly after two quarters. It didn’t matter, as Xayasone really shined for his squad.
At the same time, his fellow secondary mate, Troy Jones, really impressed me too. I loved the way that both were involved in stepping up and making big tackles for the Cougars when it was needed most.
The chemistry between Xayasone and Jones has grown exponentially over the past few years, giving Countryside and exceptional one-two punch in the secondary. Even so, it wasn’t enough for the Cougars to run into some hardships in their tough district, finishing fourth after winning it in 2015.
I had spoken with Xayasone about things at Countryside at last year’s Summer E7 Training Camp, and he was somewhat concerned about what would happen without the leadership from the Class of 2016 at C-Side. Xayasone cited that as part of the reason why the Cougars finished 2016 at a subpar 4-5.
“Not having them affected us a lot. It was more of a core of juniors this season, and a lot of the seniors just really didn’t stand out. Guys just weren’t working as hard as they had last season,” Xayasone said.
That junior core really showed up in the statistical categories: their starting quarterback was a junior, top four leading rushers was two juniors followed by two sophomores, junior led the team in tackles (Xayasone), which was then followed by a collection of juniors and sophomores, sack leader was a junior, interception leader was a junior, you get the drift. Countryside was a young team in 2016.
Maybe that made up for the three district that the Cougars had 30 or more points scored on them. I could tell you that Xayasone did his part. He led the team in tackles with 53, interceptions with two, and co-led the team in sacks with three.
In typical cases, a safety shouldn’t lead the team in tackles. Xayasone took it in stride.
“It was one of my goals for the season,” he said. “I wanted to help my team out, whether it be making a big tackle, getting a pick, making a sack, I just wanted to do anything that I could do to help my team out.” He did that in 2016, and will do it again in 2017.
Xayasone is a big hitter. If he finds a way to tackle somebody, he’s going to do it, and he’s going to make sure they feel it. He’s pretty good in coverage, and knocked down a couple of long passes. Xayasone is good at being able to slip unnoticed into the backfield and force a fumble, in which he did twice last season. He’s a real talent for the Cougars.
The safety will be called upon to be a leader for Countryside in 2017, in which he’s already acknowledged that fact. “I tried to lead by example, but it didn’t always work. I need to step up and be more vocal. I really want to help guys and teach them the Countryside ways of doing things.”
His chemistry and relationship with Jones will also be important for his team to succeed. The ability to gel in the secondary could cause a lot of havoc for Pinellas County offenses, especially for district opponents East Lake, St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, and Seminole, all who will feature first-year quarterback starters in 2017.
“Troy and I really have the best chemistry, I mean we’ve been playing football together since the little league days, we’re best friends, and we really just work off of each other in practice and games,” Xayasone said.
Jones echoes that statement.
“He’s one of the longest friends I’ve had and I couldn’t ask for anyone else,” Jones said.
The two fit together in the secondary niche for Countryside, and they’ll be probably two of the most important guys to shrink the number of points they gave up from 31.7 a game to near 21.2 mark they had in 2015.
Being vocal may also rub off on the offensive guys, who were shut out twice and averaged only 21.1 a game. It will be a team effort to try and claw their way back up the standings in 7A-10.
That tone will have to be started by Xayasone and Jones, and will have to radiate to everyone around them.
“Guys will get another year to learn and get bigger in the weight room,” Xayasone said. “We’ll be alright.”