Football Spotlight: Trenton Tigers
Published: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 1:59 p.m.
Sometimes it's so hard just to get there.
Two years ago, Trenton High School reached the Class 1A state championship game for the first time in school history, but the Tigers were overwhelmed by the experience and the opponent and lost to Bratt Northview, 42-21.
Last year's trip to Orlando was more like a business trip.
After an early season loss to Dixie County, the Tigers ran the table and finished the season with a 14-0 win over Blountstown in the Citrus Bowl and the school's first-ever state football title.
Head coach Andrew Thomas, who has the best record in 1A football since the FHSAA created the new rural division (36-3 in three seasons), said the championship was even sweeter because they had gotten there before but came up short.
“We had to live with that for a year,” he explained. “It's a relief after the pressure of getting there and not winning it. It's been a great experience for everybody.”
Thomas is not sure what to expect in 2014, but if defense wins championships, the Tigers should feel right at home – where they've won 21 in a row.
Trenton returns nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, including outside linebacker Kade Rogers (115 tackles), linebacker Jacob Gamble (96), outside linebacker Tre McCleese (91 tackles), defensive lineman Brandon Lovelace (87), safety Michael Smith (67) – and first team all-area athlete Hamp Cheevers, who will play wide receiver and cornerback.
“Our D-line is really good,” noted Lovelace, a returning four-year starter. “Not many can pass on us. We are a run-stopping team. Our coaches put us where we need to be.”
With Cheevers in the secondary, the Tigers should be athletic enough to make plays if the opponent is able to get the pass off. The defense will be in good hands, and if the offense can catch up it could be another special season for the Tigers.
“I think we just need to stay focused and take it one game at a time,” Cheevers said. “We have to focus on making the playoffs.”
They lose Stephen Smith at quarterback, but the Tigers, who will run a spread attack, will be more balanced offensively and they will lean on their big, experienced linemen.
“I think we will size up pretty good this year,” said TE/DE Brooks Parrish. “I think if we stay focused we have a chance to go back to the state title game. We got a taste last year. Our goal two years ago was to get there. Last year we wanted to win it. This year we want to go undefeated.”
If the Tigers are to defend their state title, they will have to take care of business in District 6-1A.
“It's a big deal to win district,” Thomas said. “Our first goal was to take care of those games. We have won three in a row. We have to make sure we put ourselves in position.”
There's added motivation for this year's team.
Starting senior lineman Lane Langford, a college prospect according to Thomas, tore his ACL last year against Chiefland. He was in a car accident two weeks after winning the state title (on his way to rehab) that left him paralyzed.
“The seniors want to win for him,” said Thomas, who added his players will wear a sticker on their helmets for the player/coach. “They really want to play for him. He would have been a three-year starter. He's tough as nails.”
It's another reason why home will be even more special this season, but the Tigers have two big non-district games against Lafayette and Dixie County that will test them early in the season and will threaten their current unbeaten streak.
“We emphasize winning at home,” Thomas said. “We have a good atmosphere. We have a good support system. We paint the field.”
They get Lafayette in the season opener and the Bears two weeks later.
“If we take it one game at a time, we can get back to where we were last year,” said four-year starting lineman Anthony Milito. “We are aiming for an undefeated season.”
Trenton is no longer the hunter, but the hunted, a role reversal that suits the Tigers just fine.
“Being the underdog helped,” said Cheevers, who noted the Tigers didn't know what to expect the first year. “But it's pretty good knowing that everybody wants to beat you.”
2013 record: 12-1 (state champion)
Coach: Andrew Thomas (4th year)
Key games: Aug. 29 vs. Lafayette, Sept. 12 vs. Dixie County, Sept. 19 at Bell
Players to watch: DL Brandon Lovelace, WR Hamp Cheevers, OL/DL Anthony Milito
(all games at 7:30 p.m.)
Aug. 29: Lafayette
Sept. 5: at Branford
Sept. 12: Dixie County
Sept. 19: at Bell*
Sept. 26: Cedar Creek Christian
Oct. 3: Hilliard*
Oct. 10: at Chiefland
Oct. 17: at Hawthorne*
Oct. 24: Mariana
Oct. 31: Bronson*
Nov. 7: Idle
* District 6-1A games