STADIUM: Corral Memorial Stadium, 4701 N. Himes Ave., Tampa CLASS-DISTRICT: 5A-9 (with Middleton and Spoto) COACH: Matt Thompson (first season) LAST SEASON: 7-3
LB Jackson a star in the making First-year Jesuit coach Matt Thompson has been around great defensive players, some of them four- or five-star recruits, others that were hard-nosed and pulled themselves up to shine. Thompson said senior linebacker Vincent Jackson, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound, highly-touted recruit with multiple offers, including from Miami, South Florida, Oregon and Alabama, is “very football savvy” and a guy “with great character that gets, on the first time, what you teach him.”
Thompson adds he’s not going to question what college coaches see in him, but admits he’s not ready to call him the best defensive player he’s had. “Ask me again in December,” he said with a chuckle. Jackson returns following a 69-tackle, 13-sack junior season to be the vocal leader for the Tigers defense.
Most teams are lucky to have one reliable quarterback. However, the Tigers have a group guys, all of which could contribute on another team. The varsity starter will be senior Vincent Testaverde, but Thompson said he only has a slight edge on senior Trent Wessel, while junior Wesley Eveld has also impressed. Thompson is also high on JV starter Jack Adams, adding, “We’re deep on that position. We’re pretty good at quarterback right now.”
Thompson also said the Tigers are deep at running back, returning leading rusher, junior Kevin Newman, who had 902 yards and eight touchdowns. Throw into the mix Ryan Black (270 yards, four TDs) and a couple of other new guys and the Tigers have a formidable backfield with options. “We have great options there, so there’s no worries at running back — we’re set,” Thompson said
Working as a team
Thompson was brought in, after spending 18 seasons as an assistant at Armwood. Thompson has installed a team-unity, playing-as-one philosophy. “We’re doing what every team is doing this time of the year: trying to work together to win football games,” Thompson said. “Maybe it’s a little easier here (than at Armwood). There are no superstars here, no five-star guys, but they are still very talented, very successful players and if we play like a team, we can be a thorn in anyone’s side.”
This is Thompson’s first head-coach gig, so having more responsibilities has been taxing, but he’s adjusting well and not letting anyone outwork him. “I’m there at 8 a.m. and I’m leaving at 8 p.m.,” Thompson said. “First one in, last one out. It’s a whole lot more work, but I’m getting used to it and it’s going well.”