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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.

Football

Football: Friday night scoreboard

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Final Tampa Bay Tech 21, Wharton 12

Final St. Petersburg Catholic 47, Bishop McLaughlin 15

Final Gibbs 50, Gulf 21

Final Countryside 28, Sunlake 7\

Final Berkeley Prep 49, New Orleans Newman 24

Final Zephyrhills Christian 30, Bradenton Christian 7

Final Boca Ciega 28, Seminole 21

Final Lakeland Christian 38, Calvary Christian 13

Final Clearwater 48, Tarpon Springs 7

Final Clearwater Central Catholic 56, Kissimmee Gateway 0

Final Northeast 21, Hollins 20

Final Sumner 14, Braden River 10

Final Legacy Charter 21, Indian Rocks Christian 14

Final Mount Dora Christian 48, Keswick Christian 0

Final Seffner Christian 62, St. Joseph Academy 16

Final Zephyrhills 35, Nature Coast 0

Final Largo 25, Sickles 7

Final Osceola 48, St. Petersburg 9

Final Steinbrenner 35, Chamberlain 21

Final Carrollwood Day 42, Cambridge Christian 7

Final Tampa Catholic 38, Winter Haven 0

Final Land O’ Lakes 36, Pasco 0

Final Jesuit 44, Blake 0

Final Armwood 41, Wiregrass Ranch 11

Final Palmetto 23, Bloomingdale 3

4th Q Alonso 52, Robinson 17

Final Plant City 31, Plant 24

Final Wesley Chapel 44, Hudson 6

Final Newsome 55, Riverview 7

Final Pinellas Park 46, Palm Harbor University 0

Final Fivay 27, Freedom 25

Final Bradenton Manatee 29, East Bay 13

Final Dunedin 48, Anclote 22

Final Spoto 46, Brandon 0

Final Durant 49, Middleton 6

Final Cypress Creek 43, Weeki Wachee 0

Final Lennard 33, Jefferson 31

Final Gaither 48, Leto 7

Final McCallie (Tenn.) 47, Clearwater Academy 14

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Football: FACA District 14 team announced

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Here are the selections for the Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 14 team, which includes all Pinellas County schools. The picks were made by coaches who belong to the FACA.

Overall Coach of the year: Shawn Davis, Northeast

Overall Player of the year: D’Angelo Hutchinson, Northeast

Players of the year (by classification)

Class 8A: Luke Yoder, Palm Harbor University

Class 7A: Tre’son Everett, Largo

Class 6A: D’Angelo Hutchinson, Northeast

Class 5A: CJ Lee, Clearwater

Class 4A: Terrell Crosby, Lakewood

Class 3A: Preston Cushman, Calvary Christian

Class 2A: Anthony Weaver, Keswick Christian

IND: Cortland Mitchell, Osceola

Coaches of the year (by classification)

Class 7A: Marcus Paschal, Largo

Class 6A: Shawn Davis, Northeast

Class 5A: Thor Jozwiak, Clearwater

Class 4A: Cory Moore, Lakewood

Class 3A: Chris Harvey, Clearwater Central Catholic

Class 2A: Phil Hayford, Keswick Christian

IND: Cody Montgomery, Osceola

Teams

Offense

QB Anthony Colandrea, Jr., Lakewood

QB Aidan MacLean, Sr., Clearwater

RB Lenwood Sapp Jr., Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic

RB Luke Yoder, Jr., Palm Harbor University

RB Terrion Williams, Sr., Pinellas Park

RB Jaden Griffin, Sr., Countryside

WR Amari Niblack, Sr., Lakewood

WR Nate Johnson, Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic

WR Eric Jackson, Sr., Pinellas Park

TE Wyatt Stiehl, Sr., East Lake

C Tyrek Tripp, Jr., Clearwater

C Jacob Johanning, Sr., Pinellas Park

OL Preston Cushman, Sr., Calvary Christian

OL Connor Homa, Sr., Palm Harbor University

OL Aaron Sanez, Sr., Clearwater

OL Franklin Miller, Sr., Northeast

K Robert Gunn III, Sr., Pinellas Park

UTIL CJ Lee, Sr., Clearwater

Defense

DL Jack Hostetler, Sr., East Lake

DL Maikeli Tuinakauvadra, Sr., Osceola

DL Jaylan Anderson, Sr., Northeast

DL Deondre Randall, Sr., Largo

LB Garrick Ponder, Sr., Pinellas Park

LB Melvin Jordan, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic

LB Adarius Hayes, So., Largo

LB Anthony Weaver, Sr., Keswick Christian

CB Terrell Crosby, Sr., Lakewood

CB London Hall, Sr., Clearwater Central Catholic

SS Jaeden Atkins, Sr., Calvary Christian

FS D’Angelo Hutchinson, Sr., Northeast

P Logan Gregory, Sr., Countryside

UTIL Jordan Jiminez, Sr., Pinellas Park

UTIL Sammy Miller Jr., Jr., Gibbs

LS Mac Wiand, Sr., St. Petersburg Catholic

LS Liam Holden, Jr., St. Petersburg

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FNF Campus Tour Preview: Pinellas Park at PHU

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Pinellas Park (6-1) at Palm Harbor University (3-4), 7

Three things to know

Pound the rock

Both teams have strong rushing attacks. Palm Harbor University’s ground game is led by Luke Yoder, whose father is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Todd Yoder. The younger Yoder currently leads the Tampa Bay area and ranks fourth overall in the state with 1,271 yards so far this season. Pinellas Park is more diversified in its approach. Isaiah Hampton (780 yards) and Terrion Williams (652 yards) are the Patriots’ top two leading rushers. 

Trap game

Pinellas Park is tied with Northeast for second place in Class 6A, District 11 and needs a win against Boca Ciega on Oct. 29 to force a three-way tie at the top of the standings. Before the Patriots can worry about playoff implications, they have to focus on Palm Harbor University. After starting 1-3, the Hurricanes have lost three straight and dropped out of contention for the 8A, District 11 title. That relegated Palm Harbor University to playing the role of spoiler the remainder of the season. 

Check out the FNF Campus Tour

The Friday Night Football Campus Tour, presented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a free, interactive event that includes games and prizes for all fans, including the opportunity to get Tampa Bay Buccaneers swag. A 15-foot-tall replica of the NFL’s Super Bowl trophy is on display at each stop.. Buccaneers cheerleaders and Captain Fear, the Bucs’ mascot, also will be in attendance.   

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