tampabay.com

Gritty, grounded

A few key playmakers may be gone, but the youthful Tigers aren't ready to throw in the towel.

By BRYAN BURNS
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - Last season, Jesuit just missed out on the playoffs, despite beginning the season 7-0 and finishing with an 8-2 record. Consecutive losses to district foes Sarasota Booker and Robinson kept the Tigers home for only the second time since 1996.

"We couldn't get it done for whatever reason," second-year Jesuit coach Joe Ross said.

The Tigers will be without the services of graduated quarterback Chris Uhrig and running back Anthony Allen, both of whom were among the county's best, and Jesuit will be relatively young across the board.

But Ross is impressed with his team's attitude during the offseason and says this group is one of the best he has been around.

"We have a lot of tough kids and a lot of determined kids," he said. "We expect to be competitive. We'll be able to hold our own this season."

THROUGH THE AIR: The Tigers will maintain a balanced attack offensively by running a multiple offense under second-year offensive coordinator and former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg.

T.J. Paratore, a senior who saw very little playing time last year, takes over for the graduated Uhrig, the county's seventh leading passer last season with 1,223 yards. But Ross doesn't expect there to be much drop off at that position.

"T.J. is a great competitor, has fantastic leadership and a great command of the offense," Ross said of his 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback.

He'll throw the ball to senior WR/DB Ryan Kennedy, Matt Doone and Erick McGriff, son of baseball star Fred McGriff.

"He's going to be really, really good some day," Ross said of McGriff. "Hopefully, it's going to be this year."

ON THE GROUND: Allen, a third-team all-state selection, was the county's seventh-leading rusher last season with 1,061 yards. His graduation leaves a hole in the backfield that Ross will try to plug with backs Kevin Valenti, Mike Peterson, and Frank Marchiano.

"It's going to be difficult to replace Allen," Ross said. "It's still up in the air who will start. We're going to look at all our backs very carefully the next couple of weeks."

Ross also loses first-team all state selection Nick Plasencia from the offensive line, but his brother John, a sophomore, should see about 25 to 30 plays and could develop into one of the county's top linemen.

"He's going to be every bit as good as his brother," Ross said.

DEFENSE: Jesuit will switch to a 30-stack defense this season to fit its personnel.

"We don't have much size defensively," Ross said. "We're going to try to rely more on quickness and gap control.

Senior linebackers Thomas Moore and Deuce Strouse are returning leaders for the defense. Peterson, who in addition to playing running back is also a shutdown cornerback for the Tigers, recently committed to Boston College.

"We're expecting a big season from him," Ross said.