TAMPA — At 5-foot-8, 160 pounds, Freedom senior wide receiver Johnny Rodicio isn’t an intimidating figure.
But give him some room and “I play like the tallest guy out there,” he says.
The Patriots will be counting on Rodicio’s versatility on offense, using the senior’s talents in their passing and running schemes as well as on special teams.
“I can help out and definitely put some points on the scoreboard this year,” he said.
A four-year varsity player, Rodicio was Freedom’s leading receiver last season with 18 receptions for 203 yards and one touchdown.
With his speed (he runs a 4.4 in the 40), Rodicio said his ability to run for yards after the catch will equate to big plays, something Freedom lacked at times last season.
“Johnny is a versatile kid,” Freedom head coach Todd Donohoe said. “He can play wideout, running back or slot. We can move him around. We have quite a few skill guys this year.”
Opposing teams can expect to see Rodicio catch a few screen passes from the backfield or from the slot position as well as run a few sweep plays and reverses.
Rodicio said he also will play defensive back when eneded.
“We just have to get some points on the board this year,” Rodicio said. “The defense wasn’t getting scored on a lot and we have to play as a team this year.”
A 4.0 student, Rodicio has received interest to play football at Harvard, Princeton and Stetson. While some players his size might try to avoid catches passes across the middle of the field, Rodicio welcomes it.
“I’m not afraid of getting hit by anyone,” he said.
The Patriots want to move the ball through the air after enjoying a successful 7-on-7 summer campaign. Junior Nasir Core takes over at quarterback for DJ Grant and has two solid, experienced receivers in seniors Johnny Rodicio and Sayff Saed. The backfield will be young with sophomores Carlos Rodicio and Trent Burnett, but Freedom can rely on the experience of senior Calvin Bido-Vega, who played tailback and fullback last season.
Heath Grady, a 6-foot-4 kicker/punter, will be a vital part of Freedom’s special teams.
The Patriots suffered a major loss the week before the start of practice when defensive lineman Scott Patchan, a Miami commit, transferred to Bradenton’s IMG Academy. The success of the defensive line now rests on senior tackle Omar Meneses. The strength of Freedom’s defense will be its linebackers — Bryce Crawford, Chris Clapham and Kalijahe Spann. Isaiah Smith, Taurus Rowell and Aaron Cox will lead the secondary.
Now in his third season as head coach, Todd Donohoe said the players have a firm grasp of the direction of the program.
“We’re much improved,” he said. “The kids know how we do things.”
Freedom finished 3-7 last year, but lost three games by fewer than six points.
“Hopefully those close games will tip in our favor,” Donohoe said.
The Patriots were 1-4 in district play, their lone victory coming against Wiregrass Ranch.
“Sickles is the team to beat,” Donohoe said. “Us, Gaither and Tampa Bay Tech are right there. If we win one of those games, we have a chance to get up there with them.”
♦ About The Patriots
Stadium: Freedom Stadium, 17410 Commerce Park Blvd., Tampa
Class-District: 7A-7 (with Gaither, Sickles, Steinbrenner, Tampa Bay Tech and Wiregrass Ranch)
Coach: Todd Donohoe (20-46, eighth season; 6-14, third season at Freedom)
Last season: 3-7
Aug. 29: at King
Sept. 5: Middleton
Sept. 12: at Wharton
Sept. 19: at Gaither
Sept. 26: Strawberry Crest
Oct. 2: at Sickles
Oct. 17: Tampa Bay Tech
Oct. 24: Steinbrenner
Oct. 31: at Wiregrass Ranch
Nov. 7: Riverview