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Yellow Jackets enter next phase

After making the playoffs in 2000, Blake wants to continue the program's development.

By ROD GIPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001


After making the playoffs in 2000, Blake wants to continue the program's development.

TAMPA -- Ask Blake coach Clarence Higdon to gauge his still young program's progress entering its fifth season, and chances are, he'll flash a wide smile and say it's coming along fine.

And though varying arguments could put it a little ahead or a little behind where it should be, the truth is Blake is right about where it should be: a good program that's getting better yet still has a ways to go. Which is why the Yellow Jackets face what could be a transitional season.

"We have our work cut out for us," said Higdon, 12-29 during his tenure at the school. "But we will compete. We want to come in and continue on last year. And we know it'll be tough doing that, but we're excited about the season."

Blake has gotten the ceremonial "firsts" out of the way in previous years, gaining its inaugural touchdown, victory, winning season and even playoff berth, the latter coming after last year's 6-4 regular season. Blake fell 31-0 to Crystal River in the first round. The Yellow Jackets are looking to continue their upswing but acknowledge the going has gotten tougher. Not only must they replace 12 seniors, including eight starters, but they will do it in a new, tougher district.

"This is going to be one of the toughest districts in the state," he said of his team's grouping with Sarasota Booker, Osceola, Palmetto, Jesuit, Robinson and Bradenton Southeast.

"We've felt in previous years that the district front-runners were Jesuit, Robinson and us. Now it'll be tougher, but we'll compete and try to make a run."

OFFENSE: Quarterback Jamaal Huff returns for his senior year a seasoned starter after taking over Higdon's pro-style offense last season. His supporting cast won't be as strong as it was a season ago, however.

The Yellow Jackets will work with a combination of players to replace a veteran receiving corps that was led by Brandon Stancil.

The backfield and line also took hits. Fullback Bethel Pierce is the lone returning running back while Nathaniel Kelly remains from a line that graduated its other four starters.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see attitude for our offense," Higdon said.

"We've lost our running backs and our receivers and most of our line. That's a lot to replace."

DEFENSE: The graduation losses were not nearly as heavy on the defensive side. In fact, Higdon will be counting on his defense to carry the load. Senior middle linebacker Alex Dumeus remains the team leader. An aggressive tackler, Dumeus heads a unit that returns fellow linebackers Pierce and Corey Anthony and linemen Horace Barnes and Devin Brown.

Seniors Danta Moore and Raheem Monroe are the returning cornerbacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Veterans Alex Arhin (placekicker) and Collin Benyo (punter) return.

BLAKE YELLOW JACKETS AT A GLANCE

COACH: Clarence Higdon, fifth season (12-29)

ASSISTANTS: Walter Balser, Cassius Crawford, Larry Davis, Rich Green, Kevin Huff, Mike Jenrette, Ted Milton, Joe Morris, Ken Muldrow, Greg Peterson, Paul Whaley

COLORS: Black and gold

STADIUM: James "Big Jim" Williams Stadium, 1701 North Blvd., Tampa

CLASS: 3A, District 8

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1969, 2000

LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Crystal River 31-0

STATE TITLE: 1969 (Class A)

THE BIG GAME

OCT. 12, SARASOTA BOOKER: Blake will host one of the biggest games of the season for two reasons. First, though Booker always puts up a good fight, it is beatable this year. Second, it's a home district game. The Yellow Jackets need this one (bad!) if they hope to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season.

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