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Port St. Joe football coach optimistic ahead of spring game, upcoming season

In spite of losing more than a dozen senior players to graduation, Port St. Joe athletic director and head football coach Tanner Jones remains upbeat about the 2023 team that football fans will view this fall. 

Spring football “has been good,” said Jones at a recent interview. “We’ve averaged about 43 kids this last week, not counting the ones who are still playing baseball or running track.” 

“Not having (rising sophomore) Corban Butts (baseball) and (rising junior) Donnell Hill (track) has allowed us to rep some other guys in the running back position,” he said. 

With the departure of star running back DJ Oliver to the University of West Virginia, Jones has been rotating (rising senior) Devin Cuttino, (rising junior) Chance Gainer, and (rising senior) TJ Jenkins at running back, “and they have all looked good,” said Jones. 

“That’s probably what we’ll do in the spring scrimmage that we’re playing, and rotate by committee.” 

Although Cuttino will still be the starting quarterback, Jones plans to move him around quite a bit, from running back, to slot, to wide receiver. 

“TJ has also been taking reps at quarterback, and we have (rising junior) Colton Johnson there, who has gotten more comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” he added. 

Besides Oliver, the list of graduating seniors is quite impressive: skill position players PJ Jones, LaJuan Zaccaro, Jabara Pearson, Hunter Rigsby, and Kellen Speights; linemen Saylor Tull, Chase Lanford, Tad Russell, Jay Stuckey, Damien Van Dyke, and Gavin Lee; and kickers Zack Burkett and Jaydon Gant. 

Tull and Lanford, who started at right guard and right tackle, respectively, “will be huge spots to fill,” said Jones, “but we’ve got (rising junior) Camden Focht getting reps at right guard. We’re still searching for who the right tackle is going to be,” although rising junior Landry Rowland, a transfer from Arnold High School, has shown promise. 

Another Arnold transfer, rising sophomore Javon Hampton, can play wide receiver, defensive back, and quarterback. 

In addition, Daniel Alaniz, Uwenses Benedict, and King Waters all have experience on the line. Alaniz and Waters will be juniors, while Benedict will enter his senior year. 

“We have (another) week to figure out” the right tackle position,” said Jones. 

Jones cautioned about making too swift a decision about a player, saying “You can go in the spring with those guys, and in the summer it could all change with transfers, injuries, and growth. You don’t ever count a kid out in the spring, because he could have a growth spurt and get bigger and be able to play.”

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Jones said, “with 20+ linemen right now, the most linemen we’ve ever had. We’ve got three kids over 300 lbs, a couple who are 230-240, and more than a dozen who are in the 190-210 renege. If they can be physical and get after it, we’ll be ok.” 

The Tiger Sharks not only suffered graduation losses, but two coaches have left for other jobs. 

Offensive coordinator Toney Powell, who had worked with Jones for the past 13 years, has taken a job at Taylor County so that he can coach his two sons. 

Port St. Joe’s JV coach for the past several years, John Simpson, had already moved to take a job at Rutherford High School in Panama City. 

Although acknowledging that Powell’s departure especially was “a big loss for us,” Jones said that he would be assuming the offensive play-calling responsibilities, and that he had added Jarkeice Davis to the staff. 

Davis, who played tailback on the St. Joe 2014 state championship team, “has high energy and the kids like him.” 

Assistant coaches Bobby Alexander, Kenny Parker, Corey Silcox, Tyler Worley, Zac Jasinski, and Jay Langston will return for another year in the trenches. 

Whereas last year’s spring game was at Blountstown, and “had a score and a clock with four quarters (so that) you wanted to win,” Jones said he prefers this year’s spring scrimmage format, which will be played at Munroe High School in Quincy on Friday, May 12, and involve the hosts, Liberty County, and St. Joe in a three-team affair. 

Each team will have 12 plays from the 40-yard line, regardless of the outcome of any play. The other two teams will alternate every three plays on defense, so that they end up with six defensive reps against each of the other two teams. 

After each team runs their 12 plays from the 40, all will have had 12 defensive plays. Then it will be 12 plays from the 25, 12 plays from the 10, and four plays from inside the five yard line: a total of 40 offensive and 40 defensive plays. 

“Spring is about getting better,” said Jones. “With the type of scrimmage that we had at Blountstown, you sometimes overlook what the whole purpose of spring football is, which is to give guys the reps they need instead of trying to ‘win’ the game.” 

With the 3-team format, “We’ll be able to give everybody meaningful reps on both offense and defense,” Jones said. “I’m excited about it.”

During the scrimmage, there will not be any special team plays, so “we can control the action and focus on our offensive and defensive needs,” he said. 

With both kickers from last year’s 8-3 squad graduating later this month, Jones said that several soccer players had approached him about joining the team as kickers. 

“Since we’re short-handed with coaches right now on the practice field, “I told them to come out during the summer, and hopefully one of the kids can kick off to the end zone or get hang time so we can run down on kickoffs, and another one can put it through the uprights.” 

Here is a look at the opponents that the Tiger Sharks will face in the upcoming season: 

8/18 – North Bay Haven (pre-season) 

8/25 – Munroe 

9/1 – Bye 

9/8 – South Walton 

9/15 – at Pike 

9/22 – at Rutherford 

9/29 – at Blountstown 

10/6 – at Vernon 

10/13 – Bozeman 

10/20 – at Franklin County 

10/27 – at Sneads 

11/3 – Bay (Homecoming) 

Highlighting a few of the tougher teams on the schedule, Jones said “You never know what Munroe is going to do. They’ve been unbelievable the last three years or so. South Walton returns 10 of their 11 starters on defense. And Sneads has a great running back and a big offensive lineman coming back.” 

As usual, though, the most talented team opponent is arguably going to be the Tigers of Blountstown, with four rising seniors receiving offers from Division 1 colleges, and two other players who will draw serious attention. 

Next week the Star will feature Wewa’s spring practice.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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