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The time has come for Jesuit’s Luke Knight

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Luke Knight spent last season as the quarterbacking understudy to Joe Pesansky. 

Life in the shadows vanished for Knight this past week when Jesuit became one of the first teams in the state to start spring practices. 

Knight has put away the clipboard to take his turn under center. The new role comes with added responsibilities — and pressure. 

After all, Knight is replacing Pesansky, the Class 5A state player of the year who set nearly every single-season passing record en route to leading the Tigers to their third straight state semifinal appearance.

It would be tough enough taking over for a star. But Knight’s job description includes being the caretaker of a program poised to make a push for a state title.  

That optimism stems from the experience in the lineup. Jesuit returns 18 starters from a team that went 14-1 and lost on a last-second field goal to eventual Class 5A champion Plantation American Heritage.

Still, Knight is not stressing about the situation. 

“There definitely is some pressure, but I don’t view it as pressure,” Knight said. “I see it more as an opportunity, and the role being passed to me. My receivers returning are the best in the area, making my job easier.”

The Tigers top receivers all are back, including Junior Vandeross (981 yards, 12 touchdowns last season), Jaydn Girard (671 yards, 11 touchdowns) and Carter French (650 yards, seven touchdowns). Also returning are leading rusher Joquez Smith (1,226 yards) and four of the five starting offensive linemen. 

They are all getting used to Knight — and a new offensive coordinator. 

Former Clearwater coach Don Mesick took over play calling duties from Joe Gerena, who stepped away as an assistant to spend more time with his family. 

“The new offense has been going well,” Knight said. “The team has quickly picked it up. We continue to work hard on it. I really like the things we are doing with the offense and the diversity of plays it offers.”

The task of learning a new offense has not been overwhelming, in part because of the one-year apprenticeship Knight had studying behind Pesansky. 

“I learned more as a freshman than I have in a long time,” Knight said. “Taking the year to learn from Joe and play behind him was the best thing that could have happened. The leadership, football knowledge and some of the skills were great things I gained from him. I still talk to him most days and will definitely keep in touch in the future.” 

Knight did see some playing time as a freshman, mostly in mop up duty. He played well, completing 19 of his 29 passes for 209 yards and scored six touchdowns (four rushing, two passing).

Now, the Knight is going to take every snap. He does so as a starting quarterback, not as a Pesansky replica.

“We’re not asking Luke to throw the ball 60 yards down the field like we did with Joe,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said. “There are going to be some limitations. But Luke is a smart kid. His football IQ is off the charts. And he had the advantage of learning how to act and what it takes to be a leader being behind Joe. 

“Joe was never about stats. He was just about winning games. It will be the same way with Luke. But he knows he doesn’t have to feel the pressure of having everything on him. There’s enough talent around him where he doesn’t have to do it all on his own.” 

For the Tigers, spring practice started on April 22. They got a head start because final exams forced them to play their spring game on May 15, weeks ahead of everyone else.

That is fine for Knight and his teammates, who could not wait to take the field, especially after coming up short in the state semifinals last year.

“I would say we are more motivated than ever,” Knight said. “No one is hesitating to get extra work in, whether it’s throwing, blocking, running track, or going through consistent 6 a.m. workouts. Having most of our team return is a huge deal, knowing that we can handle and beat the teams down south.

“This is our year to prove it.”

The new wave of quarterbacks

Jesuit is not the only high-profile program entering the spring with a new signal caller. Others are figuring out who will fill the shoulder pads of passers who led their teams deep in the playoffs, often setting plenty of school records along the way. Fortunately, there are a surplus of candidates ready to take on those roles. Here are a few.  

Armwood

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Cam’Ron RansomMurdolph Jones, Jr.

Ransom, a Georgia State signee, was a three-year starter who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his career while leading Armwood to a state title game and state semifinal appearance. Jones, who served as the backup last season, has the build of a prototypical passer (6-foot-4, 215 pounds). Last season, he threw 113 yards and a touchdown in limited action.

Berkeley Prep

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Gavin RuppTroy Reader, Jr.

Rupp, who decided to walk-on at Rutgers, was a highly efficient — and successful — quarterback who led the Buccaneers to the state semifinals last season. Reader, who has already committed to play baseball at Notre Dame, spent the past two seasons as Rupp’s backup and joins an already a talented backfield.

Bloomingdale

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Tre SimmonsSean Dungan, Sr.; Jackson Jensen, So.

Simmons, a dynamic playmaker who is headed to Tusculum, threw for 2,651 yards and accounted for 35 touchdowns (27 passing, eight rushing) while leading the Bulls to the state semifinals last season. Dungan is coming off a knee injury so Jensen will get most of the snaps this spring.

Gaither

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Kiael KellyBrooks Bentley, Jr.

Kelly, a Ball State signee, accounted for 24 touchdowns (16 passing, eight rushing) a dual-threat and led the Cowboys to an undefeated regular season and a region final appearance. Bentley is the son of USF assistant coach Bobby Bentley, who came from South Carolina to join the Bulls’ staff. The younger Bentley is ranked among the nation’s top quarterbacks in the 2023 class and already has an offer from Eastern Kentucky.

Mitchell

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Ezra BrennanChris Ferrini, Jr.; Ethan Rice, Sr.

Brennan, a first-team, all-state selection, threw for more than 4,500 and had a combined 67 touchdown passes the past two seasons while leading the Mustangs to their first-ever state semifinal appearance last season. Ferrini and Rice will spend the spring battling for the top spot. Mustangs coach Andrew Schmitz said he has no idea if a starter will emerge once spring ends. “We’re not going to rush it,” Schmitz said.

Plant City

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
Nick FeliceClint Danzey, Jr.; Carson Mohler, Sr.

Felice, a Delta State signee, threw for 1,871 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Danzey and Mohler will split snaps this spring in a battle that will not be decided anytime soon.

Tampa Bay Tech

Last year’s starterThis year’s frontrunner(s)
David WrightCharles Coney, Jr.; Jaden Rosebury, So.; Xavione Washington, Jr.

Wright, an Allen University signee, was a first-team, all-state selection after throwing for 3,078 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. He also totaled 6,602 passing yards and 67 touchdowns through the air in his career. The competition to replace him is a three-way battle. Coney was last year’s backup. Rosebury threw for 16 touchdowns as the junior starter. And Washington, a dual-threat specialist, transferred from Tampa Catholic.

Flag Football

Sydney Stout reaches 100 touchdown passes — this season

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Robinson quarterback Sydney Stout reached an impressive milestone with her 100th touchdown pass on Monday.   

That is not a career mark.

Stout reached that total this season.

The senior already had shattered the flag football single-season state record of 79 touchdown passes and entered the Class 2A region final needing just three touchdowns to hit triple digits. 

No problem. 

Stout threw four touchdown passes — in the first half. 

She added another in the second half to give her 102, a number that will continue to grow. 

After all, the Knights beat Lecanto 34-0 in the region final. Robinson, which has won state titles in five of the past six seasons (the 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic), advances to the state semifinals on Friday. Stout could end up playing in two more games if the Knights keep their state title streak intact. 

And there’s a good chance of that happening considering Robinson has outscored foes by a combined 816-50 this year.  

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College Football

Former PHU/UCF star Jacob Harris goes to Rams in 4th round

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Jacob Harris, a former star at Palm Harbor University and Central Florida, was taken in the fourth round by the Los Angeles Rams.

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft.

He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns.

Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns.

With the Rams, Harris will join former East Lake star Tyler Higbee in a group of tight ends that features plenty of locals.  

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College Football

The local list of potential NFL picks

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The NFL Draft concludes Saturday. Plenty of locals have the potential to be picked. Below is the list of former area stars who could hear their name called. All were either on mock drafts or were selected to an all-star game or NFL Combine. 

Photos courtesy of UCF Athletics

TE Jacob Harris, Palm Harbor University/UCF

Harris, a former soccer standout who did not start playing organized football until senior year at Palm Harbor University, has gone through a meteoric rise to become a sleeper pick in this year’s draft. He started off as a walk-on at Western Kentucky before transferring to UCF. For the past two seasons, Harris was a dependable receiver for the Knights. As a senior, he had 30 catches for 539 yards and eight touchdowns. Harris’ most memorable game came against USF this past season when he had five catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns. 

OL Shane McGough, Gaither/Florida International

The younger brother of former Gaither and FIU quarterback Alex McGough redshirted as a freshman before becoming a consistent starter on the Panthers’ offensive line. He was an all-Conference USA honorable mention selection in 2018 and 2020. This past season, McGough started in four of FIU’s five games as a center.  

WR Antonio Nunn, Jefferson/Buffalo

Nunn, a dynamic deep threat at Jefferson, redshirted his first season at Buffalo before rocketing up the depth chart. He started every game the past two seasons, finishing with a combined 86 catches for 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns. Nunn was a third-team all-MAC selection in 2019 and second-team selection this past season. 

Photo courtesy of Indiana University Athletics

WR Whop Philyor, Plant/Indiana

A first-team, all-state selection at Plant, Philyor became Indiana’s most dependable receiving target during his college career. He finished with 2,316 all-purpose yards (2,067 receiving, 134 rushing, 66 kick return, 49 punt return) in 38 games (22 starts).Philyor also is the Hoosiers’ s all-time leader in double-digit catch games (7), ranks fourth in receptions (180), fourth in 100-yard games (7), ninth in yardage (2,067) and is tied for 16th in touchdowns (12). He capped off his career by setting a Big Ten bowl and Outback Bowl record with 18 receptions for 81 yards. 

DL Justus Reed, CCC/Virginia Tech

A first-team, all-state selection, Reed led Clearwater Central Catholic to its only state final appearance as a senior in 2013. He started out at Florida before spending three seasons at Youngstown State. This past season, Reed transferred to Virginia Tech as a graduate student. He started in 10 of the Hokies’ 11 games, finishing with 28 tackles and 6.5 sacks.  

Photo courtesy of USF Athletics

DB K.J. Sails, East Bay/USF

A highly touted high school recruit, Sails spent his first three years in college at North Carolina before transferring to USF. As a junior, he led the Bulls in interceptions with three and recorded 22 tackles this past season. Sails gained notoriety this past summer when he organized a unity walk during the social justice movement that was attended by about 400 teammates, coaches, administrators and community members.  

Oregon's Jordon Scott/Photo credit: Oregon Athletics
Photo courtesy of Oregon Athletics

DL Jordon Scott, Pinellas Park/Oregon

The three-star high school prospect originally committed to Florida before signing with Oregon. He immediately became a force on the Ducks’ defensive line, earning FWAA freshman all-America honors in 2017. Scott opted to return to Oregon as a senior rather than turn pro and helped the Ducks reach the Pac-12 title game for the second straight season. 

Photo courtesy of TCU Athletics Communications

TE Pro Wells, Hollins/Texas Christian

As a senior at Hollins, Wells had a breakout season, finishing with 31 catches for 952 yards and five touchdowns. He played at Milford Academy and Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he became the No. 4 JUCO tight end in the nation. After redshirting in 2018 at Texas Christian, Wells turned a reliable red-zone target and led the team in touchdown receptions each of the past two seasons. 

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