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Football team preview: Jesuit




At a glance

Coach: Matt Thompson (eighth season)

Class: 5A, District 12

Last season: 11-3 (lost in state semifinals)

Key players: OG Tre’quan Alexander, Jr.; LB Troy Bowles, Jr.; DB Aiden Clark, Sr.; MLB AJ Cottrill, Jr.; WR Jadyn Girard, Jr.; QB Joe Pesansky, Sr.; RB Joquez Smith, So.; RB/CB Junior Vandeross, Jr.;S Wade Woodaz, Jr.


Sept. 4 at Fort Myers Bishop Verot

Sept. 11 vs. Clearwater

Sept. 17 at Sarasota Booker

Oct. 2 vs. Chamberlain

Oct. 9 vs. Clearwater Central Catholic

Oct. 15 vs. Robinson

Oct. 23 at Gibbs

Oct. 30 vs. Bradenton Bayshore

Nov. 6 vs. Tampa Catholic

Things to know

Loss of stars brings team together

At first glance, Jesuit appeared to be in dire straits. Three Division I-A recruits — quarterback Kiael Kelly (Ball State), running back Ricky Parks (Utah) and defensive back Jordan Young (Florida) — transferred to Gaither in the offseason. Those losses, coupled with the graduation of other key players, seemed to spell doom and many questioned how the Tigers would do without them. The answer: just as well. Maybe even better. Jesuit’s incredible depth is now paying dividends. Three quarterbacks — Luke Knight, Jack Lennon and Joe Pesanski — are all vying to replace Kelly. Pesanski has emerged as the leader and will start in the opener, though Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said all three would see playing time during the season.That trio has the luxury of throwing to Jadyn Girard, who led the team in receiving yards (548) and touchdown receptions (eight) last season.  Instead of relying on one back, the Tigers will count on three — Junior Vandeross, Joquez Smith and Myles Coates — to get things done in the ground game. As for the defensive secondary, Thompson said this is the best group he has ever had, even without Young. The leaders in that deep group include Aiden Clark, Tyler Corish, Andre Gilbert Jr., Hayes Greep, Caleb Williams and Wade Woodaz. 

Big bodies in the trenches

Tre’quan Alexander’s highlight tape is fun to watch. The 6-foot-3, 290 pound junior sends opposing defenders, forcefully and repeatedly, as he clears lanes for the running game. The clear leader up front, Alexander is joined in the interior of the line by Jonathan Dawson (6-0, 255) and Preston Simon (6-2, 270). The biggest holes to fill were at the tackle spots, where Connor McLaughlin (Stanford) and Trevor Mayberry (Navy) both graduated. Jesuit is replacing them with Wesley Shaw (6-2, 225) and Jonah Tran (6-1, 240). Even the tight ends are big. Michael Leonardo (6-1, 230), Jake Rupp (6-4, 225) and Hansen Rix (6-6, 195) will all see playing time as they try to replace Jonathan Odom, now a freshman at Florida. The trend continues on the other side of the ball with a defensive line Thompson said is his biggest yet. That group includes Omarion Clark (6-1,285), RJ McCullough (6-0, 280) and Jonas Jonsson (6-4, 235), a move-in from Maryland. 

Tacking machine

Linebackers who can rack up impressive tackling numbers seemingly roll off the assembly line at Jesuit. AJ Cottrill is the latest. The junior finished last season with 152 tackles and will be flanked on each by the Bowles brothers, Todd and Troy, whose father is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator. 

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The Hernando County Football Player of the Week



FB/LB Zack Buzze, Sr., Central

This season has been challenging for the winless Bears. 

Outscored 325-22 in eight games, Central tries to accentuate the positives to build upon next season.  

Zack Buzze is one of the bright spots. The linebacker leads the team in tackles with 44. 

Against Gulf two weeks ago, Buzze recorded a team-high 13 tackles. 

That got the attention of fans. Buzze received 49 percent of the votes (699) in the Hernando County football player of the week poll to beat out Hernando’s Jordan Williams, who had 44 percent (628 votes).

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The Pasco County Football Player of the Week



Hunter McFarland, Sr., Mitchell

After losing 26 players to graduation, Mitchell needed to fill plenty of voids to make the playoffs for the eighth straight season. 

Hunter McFarland has stepped up on defense. 

The senior is enjoying the best season of his high school career. He has 53 tackles, more than he had in his previous two seasons combined. 

McFarland also a nose for the ball — and the quarterback. He has forced three fumbles, recorded 3 ½ sacks and recovered two fumbles. 

Against Hudson two weeks ago, McFarland finished with five tackles, two fumble recoveries, a sack and forced fumble to lead the Mustangs to a victory. 

Fans were impressed. McFarland ended up with 52 percent of the votes (1,462) in the Pasco County football player of the week poll to beat out Zephyrhills Christian’s Jayce Nixon, who had 34 percent (955 votes).  

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The Pinellas County Football Player of the Week



LB Garrick Ponder, Sr., Pinellas Park

A transfer from Seminole, Garrick Ponder wasted no time making an impact. 

The senior not only became a starter but also turned into one of the area’s defensive stars.

Ponder leads the Patriots in tackles (72), sacks, (six), forced fumbles (three) and fumble recoveries (two). Those numbers are a big reason the Patriots are 6-1 and currently tied with Northeast for second place in Class 6A, District 11. 

Against St,. Petersburg, Ponder had one of his best performances, finishing with 14 tackles and a sack. 

Fans were impressed. Ponder received 40 percent of the votes (812) in the Pinellas County football player of the week poll to beat out Keswick Christian’s Caleb Morris, who had 32 percent (646).   

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