Football is back!
With summer football practices over, Port St. Joe kicks off their 2022 campaign by hosting the North Bay Haven Buccaneers on Friday, August 19, at 7:30 p.m. in a pre-season contest.
“June was hit and miss, with vacations, prospect camps, and church camps,” said Tiger Shark head coach Tanner Jones. “July went really well.”
“In June, you want to see them, but you can get away with the misses, but once July hits, after the Fourth it is football,” he said. “We started implementing a lot more in July, and our attendance was excellent.”
Jones continued to say that the younger groups performed well during summer training as well.
“Our seventh and eighth grade group was phenomenal. The numbers, and the attitudes, are there. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” he said.
Jones singled out coach John Simpson for his work with the younger players. “Starting in June, (Simpson) teaches them how to do a bench press, a squat, a power clean; all the lifts. He’s really done a great job of (teaching) the lifting part, because the weight room is a big part of our success.”
“We want (our players) to be faster and quicker, more explosive,” said Jones. “John went through all those lifts and taught all those kids. I can’t brag enough about him and how much work he put in (over) the summer.”
Here are a few things that fans can expect to see from the Tiger Sharks this season: First, although no one has Dakota Quinn-type speed, this will be a very fast team. “We have some pretty good speed,” said Jones. “D.J. (Oliver) is extremely fast, as are (fellow seniors) P.J. Jones and Jabara Pearson. (Sophomore) Chance Gainer is another.”
Someone else who would provide speed and skills on both sides of the ball is senior Kellen Speights, who is awaiting the FHSAA’s decision on his eligibility appeal to play for the Sharks.
Speights, who lives in Blountstown and played at Liberty County last season, “is a difference maker,” according to Jones. “He’s just a great kid whenever he is with us, in the locker room and on the field.”
Other speedy players include junior quarterback Devin Cuttino, who “opens up our offense” with his dual threats of passing and running; sophomore Daren Angelino, who transferred from Wewahitchka to play basketball but “we got him out on the field,” said Jones. “He’s quick, he’s gritty, he’s aggressive. I think he could really help us out.”
Jones also listed freshman Corbin Butts, junior T.J. Jenkins, and seniors Tad Russell and Gavin Lee.
Lee led the team with 27 special teams tackles last season, and Jones expects that he will start at middle linebacker this season.
A second quality that the Tiger Sharks will put on display is their deep stable of running backs, led by Oliver, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and scored a total of 25 touchdowns by land and air last season. Oliver announced his commitment to play for the University of South Florida in May.
P.J. Jones picked up nearly 500 rushing and receiving yards last season, and is expected to have a positive impact this season.
Russell will also see action in the backfield, and as Coach Jones said in a tongue-in-cheek manner, “if (offensive coordinator) Toney (Powell) will just run the ball a little more, we’ll be better.”
Jones expects the team kicking game to improve with the addition of senior soccer player Zachary Burkett.
“Last year, we left a lot of points (unscored), probably two touchdowns worth of points, whether it was the snap, the hold, the kick, or the blocking,” said Jones.
Senior Sailor Tull, who tore a pectoral muscle at the weightlifting regionals in April, has recovered and been cleared to play, which is good news for the Sharks. Tull will be snapping to Cuttino on offense and tackle on defense.
Defensively, “We’ve switched from a 4-4 because we don’t have the defensive linemen. We think we’re better suited for a 3-4 so that we can bump D.J. and P.J. from linebacker to free safety and strong safety,” said Jones.
In the 3-4, sophomore Gainer and Butts will start at outside linebacker, with freshman Asher Peacock and Lee manning the middle linebacker positions.
Seniors LaJuan Zaccaro and Pearson will start as the cover corners. Zaccaro also will be one of
Cuttino’s primary targets on offense.
“We have a lot of confidence in our three down linemen,” said Jones. Tull, at 270 lbs, and senior Jay Stuckey at 310 lbs will be joined by junior Uwensis Benedict, who brings 290 lbs to the mix.
Seniors Chase Lanford and Damien Van Dyke will provide the primary depth to the defensive line.
Sophomores Camden Focht and King Waters, and freshmen Tru Benedict and Logan Ellwood will fill in as needed. Waters has also been working at the center position.
Jones had hoped that senior Donovan Cumbie would be able to play, but medical issues may prevent him from any football participation this season.
Two other players Jones felt would have made positive contributions, especially on defense, are
freshman Eli Beard and sophomore Ardarian “Shug” Shackleford, both of whom moved out of the county.
The Tiger Sharks hope to improve on last season’s 8-2 record, while the Buccaneers finished 3-7 but pin hopes of a better outcome this year under their new head coach, John Pate.
“We’re thinking that they’re going to be a triple option team” under Pate, said Jones. “That is a difficult offense to prepare for.”
Since this will be a pre-season game and will not count toward the season record, the teams will play the first half, plus the first series of the second half.
After that, “we will sub. We’ll put all of our 2’s in, and try to get as many guys in as we can to get them on film,” said Jones, who added that “our goal is to score.”
St. Joe will be on the road for their first two regular season games, traveling first to Jefferson County on August 26, and then to Bay on September 9. Both teams finished 2-8 last year.
Although the Sharks had originally scheduled Marianna for the first game, the Bulldogs abruptly
canceled barely a month ago. Luckily, Jones was able to find a replacement in Jefferson County.
The first home game will be on September 16 against Pike Liberal Arts School of Troy, Alabama. The Patriots finished 12-1 in the Alabama Independent School Association, Class AAA, last season.
Led by star running back Zay McDaniel, the Wewahitchka Gators will host the Maclay Marauders on Friday, August 19, at 7:00 p.m. Central.