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It's now or never for the Dragons

Talent. Size. Speed. Hype. Rankings. Jefferson has it all - except for the wins.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


Talent. Size. Speed. Hype. Rankings. Jefferson has it all -- except for the wins.

TAMPA -- Go ahead. Call them paper champions.

Talk about how anything can happen, on any field, at any time, regardless of rankings and recruiting lists.

The Jefferson Dragons aren't worried. They're No. 1.

Actually, they are No. 2 in the state, according to FloridaKids.net's preseason rankings, and No. 11 in the country.

They also have six seniors ranked in Florida's top 100, which has never happened in Hillsborough County before, and perhaps never will again. So this is their best chance to win a title.

The Dragons, who went 11-2 and return 14 starters from last season's Class 4A state semifinalist, are on everyone's hit list. They are the ultimate task, the circled Friday night on everyone's schedule.

The Dragons don't care. Their regular-season opponents are mere cobblestones paving the path to the postseason.

"Our big game? I'm going to just say it: (Fort Lauderdale) St. Thomas Aquinas," senior running back Josh Balloon said.

Balloon is assuming the Dragons will make it deep into the Class 4A state playoffs like they did last season. But who's looking ahead?

All kidding aside, the Dragons want every game to count. No matchup will be treated lightly.

They know their opponents are hungry.

"We're their big game," wide receiver Andre Caldwell said.

Balloon's message for those who came close to beating the Dragons last year:

"Shoulda, woulda, coulda ... it can't work this year."

THROUGH THE AIR: Quarterback Tim Goodrich, a senior transfer from Alonso, has gotten praise from his teammates for quickly blending in with the Dragons' complex offense. Jefferson's passing game won't have the starring role it did last season, but still will be one of the Dragons' many weapons, especially with top college prospect Caldwell snaking his way through defensive backfields. Caldwell also will be the backup quarterback.

ON THE GROUND: Between short-yardage guru Balloon and speedster Rashaun Grant, senior running backs rule. Expect big gains from junior Khevin Peoples and up-and-coming sophomores Alex Suber and Devon White, too.

DEFENSE: Despite all the attention the offense already has garnered, it's the defense the players and coaches get the most excited about. Touting it as one of the strongest Jefferson has had, the Dragons hope to focus on stopping the run.

They'll do it with seniors Jonathan Bailes (6-2, 310 pounds), Donnie Woods (6-5, 280) and Jermaine Lemons (6-3, 225), as well as several senior linebackers.

THE BIG GAME: Hillsborough, Nov. 8.

Jefferson has not beaten the Terriers during the last three seasons. Could this year be different?

JEFFERSON DRAGONS

AT A GLANCE

COACH: Mike Simmonds (fourth season, 33-15).

ASSISTANTS: Kerry Bender, Barry Clark, Mike Fenton, Cecil Harrell, Bobby Henriquez, Kevin Huff, Dan Lea, Pat Luckey, Lane McLaughlin, Johnny Williams and Brian Woods.

COLORS: Blue and gold.

STADIUM: Dr. Sam Horton Stadium, 4401 W Cypress St., Tampa.

CLASS: 4A, District 8.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1975, 1986, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001.

LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Auburndale 42-6, beat Winter Haven 21-14, beat Lake Gibson 37-17, lost to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 30-12.

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