You beat perennial state power Tallahassee Lincoln twice, come within one game of heading off to play for the 4A state title, and you are now left with perhaps the most talented football team the school has ever had.
As head coach Mike Bennett and his Pensacola High Tigers get ready for the summer, there is plenty of hope for a program that has slowly built this team from .500 to a point where they can now compete with anyone.
Even down to last year's regional final loss to Lakeland Lake Gibson at home, this is a football program that lacked the respect. But with athletic Adron Chambers
heading off to Mississippi State
in the fall, and returning seniors LeBrandon Glover (linebacker) and Courtney Jones
(running back) headed to Starkville for the 2006 season, there is plenty to be optimistic about.
As I spent time with Bennett after the season ended at the state championships in Gainesville and then a few weeks later in Miami for the Florida-California game, we spoke about the team, the future and the opportunity for his son, Brett, a rising senior to move into the quarterback spot where Chambers and Alex Gordon
(basketball standout at Vanderbilt
) were the last two to play the position.
"We have the talent," Bennett said. "But you need to work hard and make sure that you don't look too far ahead."
Bennett knows that his son will have a tremendous offensive line to work with. He also is aware that Jones is one of Florida's best backs. That's why he doesn't hesitate to say that the team is in good hands offensively.
"Brett has been around this offense for a number of years," Bennett said. "He understands what needs to be done."
While many expect this football to have a great chance to get to Miami in December for the state title game, plenty has to fall into place. Like last year's loss to Lake Gibson, there are no guarantees, and if you make one mistake along the way, things can go wrong!
As the Tigers head toward summer workouts, here is a breakdown of the team:
Former Southern Mississippi quarterback Rick Carroll coaches a unit that includes Bennett (10), rising senior Trey Smith (1), who also plays receiver, and rising sophomore Keldred White (11), who is certainly the future of this offensive attack.
With the deprature of Chambers, Bennett will have to rely on all the talented running backs and receivers he has to work with. Smith will be too busy with other parts of the team to worry about the quarterback position, so it's all up to Bennett and White, who could one day emerge into another Chambers or Gordon.
There is little doubt that Jones (34) is one of the nation's elite runners, but coach Chris Fair, who is also off to coach at Mississippi State, groomed Cornelius Norwood (2), Ace Johnson (33) and Adam Hill (30) to play the position as well.
If this team is to score points, balance will be the key as Offensive Coordinator Barry Halladay has plenty of athletes to choose from.
Rising senior Dominic Crayton (9) is 6-3, 190, rising junior Mitchell Mouton (84) is a 5-10, 180-pounder who may be one of the nation's elite underclassmen in the fall.
Others expected to make an impact include rising senior tight end Kornelius Smith (80), who is a 6-4, 185-pound target, Anthony Flemming (8), Smith (1) and Norwood (2).
Up front, coaches Keith Bragg and George Blake have to believe that they are in great hands with rising seniors Josh Wright (72), 6-5, 310, Gilton Bell (70), 6-2, 260, John Andrews (71), 6-4, 290, Alvis Collins (54), 6-1, 220, and James Richardson
(76), 6-5, 250.
While special teams have never been a pressing issue for the Tigers, they do have a pair of promising kickers in Brenton Goodman (29) and Jihad Ahad (6).
While kicking and punting are never concern to teams who score a lot of points, some teams who compete in the playoffs learn that a good kicking game and solid special teams could help when they compete against other elite programs.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers are also expected to be very tough.
There's little doubt that coaches Bob Schneider and Reggie Smith have assembled one of the best groups in the Panhandle for the upcoming season.
Rising seniors Marlon Mason (50), 6-5, 215, and Jermaine Hazzard (51), 6-2, 265, will team up with rising juniors Terrell McClain (94) and Tim Henderson (6-4, 215) to make life tough on the opposition.
Glover (31) was our No. 1 player after his sophomore season. The Bulldogs saw exactly what we did as they followed him throughout his junior season.
While Glover is still one of the best in the country, and will be heard from quite often, there are others in coach Raymond Corner's stable of players. Rising seniors Steve Calhoun (32), a 5-11, 215-pounder, and Roderick Cannon (4), who at 5-9, 180, will play the bandit position.
This is the area that the Tigers could very well be head and shoulders above anyone in the state. If you throw on coach Gary Cowart's secondary, you will be taking a chance.
Leading the way is perhaps the nation's top rising junior prospect in Chris Lett (14), who completely shut All-American Fred Rouse
down in the two meetings a year ago. Other rising juniors expected to make an impact include Ryan Rich (3) and Sean Wiley (5).
The Tigers also figure to shine with seniors Joe Carter (7) and Smith (1).
There you have a look at a team that should compete for a state title in 2005. Whether or not they stay healthy and continue to work hard is something that Coach Bennett can only hope will happen!
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