TAMPA — At Wednesday’s practice, Carrollwood Day coach Lane McLaughlin said he walked up to his 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior quarterback and put most of his weight on Taylor King. He then asked King if he was ready for his team to lean on him on tonight’s trip to Naples First Baptist Academy and the Class 2A region semifinals.
“I went over and asked him, ‘You know what that is?’ ” McLaughlin said. “He said, ‘What?’ and I told him that was us, that we are going to lean on him.”
King has proven he is up to the challenge, as Carrollwood Day seemingly has had a new hero each week stepping up. King has been a big factor in that, as the senior has passed for 1,958 yards and 18 touchdowns.
At the beginning of the season, the CDS coaches had the tough task of trying to replace last season’s workhorse, Robert Davis, and his 2,221 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. However, the Patriots found playmakers ready to rise to the challenge. Junior Elias Earley has 745 rushing yards, 226 receiving yards, 438 kick and punt return yards and a combined 15 touchdowns, while speedster Willie Parker has 952 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns this season, helping lead the Patriots to a 7-3 record.
Newcomer Michael Smith transferred from Zephyrhills, where he played quarterback in 2012, and McLaughlin said the junior quickly transitioned to wide receiver. The move paid off for the 6-foot Smith, as he has been a favorite target for King this season, catching 42 passes for 1,017 yards and 10 touchdowns.
CDS is hoping to avenge last year’s 56-28 region final loss to First Baptist.
“They are well coached and run the ball well,” McLaughlin said. “They beat the pants off of us last year and took a 42-7 first-half lead. We can’t make mistakes and let them score first.”
Indians’ success showing in stands
Nine of East Bay’s 20-plus seniors have been playing for the Indians for four years, and it hasn’t always been easy. After the players’ freshmen year, the team made the transition to a new head coach as Frank LaRosa took over and immediately went to work trying to reach not just his players but the school as a whole.
The team made progress, moving from 1-9 in 2010 to 4-6 seasons the next two years.
The Indians and their coach finally saw a number of firsts this season, as the Indians finished 7-3 and won a three-team tiebreaker to capture the school’s first district title since 1973.
LaRosa said the program’s success started in the weight room, and offseason and summer workouts, where “buying in” finally became more than a tagline — it started to show results.
The success, LaRosa said, had a result on the field and soon started to show up within the school, as the student body has taken pride in the team.
LaRosa started Facebook and Twitter accounts in hopes that social media would help motivate his players and at the same time bring the team closer to the school it represents.
At the Monday tiebreaker at Plant City, where the Indians topped the Raiders and Strawberry Crest for the district crown, the student body had a bus of fans follow the team, and LaRosa said T-shirt sales are going well in school.
“The district championship was awesome and exciting for a few days, just being so new for us as a football program,” LaRosa said. “But these guys are relishing the chance to get that first playoff win in school history, but we have to play well against a good Gaither team.”
Business as usual without Testaverde
Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said even though his team will be without starting quarterback Vincent Testaverde, who missed last week’s game with an inflamed and now surgically removed appendix, the team’s game plan will not change much.
The Tigers have relied most of the season on a 60/40 split of running to passing, and that will not change with junior Trent Wessell making his second start.
Wessell served as the starter as the Tigers topped Tampa Catholic 13-9 last week.
Thompson said the running game will be key as the Tigers host Auburndale tonight. Fortunately for the Tigers, the backs the team employs are up to the challenge. Junior Kevin Newman has size and speed, while freshman Malik Davis has had an impact this season, including 125 yards rushing in the win vs. Tampa Catholic.
Thompson made sure to focus on the leadership of senior Ryan Black.
“All the running backs are important to what we have to do in the running game and the passing game,” Thompson said. “Black is the true workhorse. If I had to take one guy that it would really hurt us not being on the field, it’d be Ryan Black.
“He’s not the fastest, he’s not the beast, but he’s a football player, the kind of guy you wish you had 10 of.”