tampabay.com

Endless talent

Playmakers come and go for the Tigers, but the next big thing is always waiting in the wings.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - Middleton has sent so many big-time players to Division I-A programs in recent years - receiver O.J. Murdock (South Carolina), linebacker A.J. Jones (Florida) and defensive lineman Marcus Broxie (West Virginia) are a few - one might think the Tigers would have a difficult time replacing that talent season after season.

So far, that hasn't been the case. Despite sustaining some of the county's most significant losses to graduation, coach Harry Hubbard doesn't see this as a year to rebuild.

He considers 2006 an opportunity to build upon the program's remarkable growth, which has seen Middleton reach the playoffs each of the previous two seasons - its second and third at the varsity level.

"We're working hard to be a complete team," Hubbard said.

A year ago, Middleton (7-4) lost to eventual state runnerup Armwood in the first round of the playoffs. Two seasons ago, it went 8-4 and reached the third round, also losing to Armwood. With 12 starters back this fall, many of whom likely will play in college, another postseason berth appears well within reach. In fact, this squad has the potential to top its predecessors.

"I believe we can get back to the playoffs," Hubbard said. "...I like to wait and see what happens, but when you've been there before, you know what it's like."

THROUGH THE AIR: Dominic Grooms, a strong-armed and consistent signal caller who signed with Missouri, is out. Carlton Jones, a dual-threat quarterback who played running back last season, is in. Hubbard describes Jones as "athletic," and as the coach put it, "When you have athletes, they can do anything."

The Tigers, who throw roughly 50 percent of the time, love spreading the field and putting the ball in the hands of several receivers. They have many quality players at that position, notably Javarous Martin, a sizeable target, and Denario Johnson, a returning starter with big-play potential.

ON THE GROUND: Because Middleton throws so much, some have overlooked the ground game in the past, but that likely won't happen this fall.

Running back Andres Harris isn't big, but is strong and quick enough to become a 1,000-yard rusher. And he's dangerous catching the ball.

The line arguably is the team's strength. Three starters return, the leaders being center Joe White and tackle Jarrold Gunn.

DEFENSE: Defensive back Sherod Murdock, an Alabama commitment who will play cornerback and safety and is among the county's fastest players, headlines a unit of playmakers.

Safety Kaimarcus Jones is an athletic presence, Derrell Williams is a force at defensive end and tackle Moses McCray, a junior, has several major colleges interested. The return of these players should offset the loss of Jones, a versatile talent who covered the entire field, and Broxie, a consistent player on the line.