The Tigers finished under .500 and exited in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight season last year, although a handful of narrow losses early in the year and a turnover-prone offense kept Palmetto from reaching its full potential. In Jack Allison's third and final year under center, the Tigers are poised to finally break through in the postseason.
Needs a big season from: Jack Allison | senior | quarterback
The most important game of Jack Allison's junior year took him and Palmetto to Tarpon Springs for a playoff game against top-seeded East Lake. A year earlier he guided the Tigers within one point of a stunning upset against the Eagles, who were No. 2 in the state at the time.
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Faced with the biggest game of his junior season, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound signalcaller shrunk. He needed 26 passes attempts to complete 13 and wound up with only 85 yards. Palmetto got stomped, 24-3.
With his preternatural raw ability and immediate production as a starter in 7A came recognition and accolades, and with those have come expectations. Since the end of last season the Miami commit participated in Elite 11, got invited to January's Under Armour All-America Game and was named preseason first-team all-state by Friday Night Football magazine. A sub-.500 record as a starter feels like a typo.
"Protecting the ball," Allison said is his emphasis this season. "Becoming a better leader."
When Allison is at his best, there aren't many quarterbacks in the entire country who compare. He makes throws most high school kids simply cannot.
His numbers in 2014, however, didn't always match his ability. He racked up more than 1,700 yards and18 touchdowns in 10 games, but he also threw 14 interceptions and only completed 59.3 percent of his passes. Despite his four-star rating on the 247sports composite, he didn't crack the Herald's All-Area first team.
"Just focusing more in the pocket," Allison said is an emphasis this season, "being smarter with the ball. Not trying to make the big play."
This year he may not have to do as much. Azavion Smith and Brandon Luckett should fill the void left by De'arius Washington and Simon Williams and wide receiver, and Octavious James is a strong replacement for Quincy Washington out of the backfield. Head coach Dave Marino also has lofty expectations for hybrid tight end Mykail Hillery and Allison thinks sophomore wideout Jason Spicer Jr., also his backup quarterback, could turn heads with varsity.
The pieces are in place around Allison for the Tigers to finally win in deep into November.
"If he plays well, protects the football, makes smart decisions," Marino said, "the sky's the limit."
Impact Newcomers: OCTAVIOUS JAMES, sr., running back; MAKA MATELAU, sr., linebacker
With two returning contributors at wide receiver and a potential All-American at quarterback, Palmetto was always going to have a potent passing attack. The addition of James, a transfer from Manatee, will give the offense balance. In the Tigers' spring game against St. Petersburg, James ran for more than 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. Matelau, another former Hurricane, should help sure up Palmetto's defense.
Wingman: Brandon Luckett, WR
Palmetto is fortunate to have an array of starting-quality receivers with varying skill sets, but none is more complete than Luckett. The senior, who transferred from Lakewood Ranch before last season, is considered a two-star recruit by the 247sports composite and has drawn interest from South Florida, Cornell and Tennessee-Martin. His 15.5 yards per catch led the Tigers last year and his 176 yards are the most of any returning receiver.
Deep at: Offensive line
After surging up classes - and skipping 6A entirely - Palmetto finally is approaching the depth of a 7A program.
Thin at: Running back
The addition of Octavious James was crucial -- he and Herman White IV are the only proven commodities at running back.
By the numbers:
34 -- Points per game surrendered by Palmetto in 2014
3 --Losses for by three points or fewer for the Tigers in their first three games last year, including a one-point loss against Clearwater Countryside
5 -- Consecutive postseason appearances for PHS since head coach Dave Marino took over in 2010
Regular season 4-5, 3-1 7A-10
at Venice L, 46-44
ST. PETe LAKEWOOD L, 34-31
CLEAR. COUNTRYSIDE L, 15-14
NORTH PORT W, 21-0
at Manatee L, 31-12
LAKEWOOD RANCH W, 31-7
at Sarasota W, 42-13
at Braden River L, 38-14
SOUTHEAST W, 56-35
at Tarpon Springs East Lake L, 24-3
Head coach: Dave Marino, 6th year, 36-22
28 at Fort Myers
11 at Southeast
2 at Lakewood Ranch*
16 NORTH PORT*
23 at Braden River*
30 at Venice*
6 PUNTA GORDA CHARLOTTE
Games start at 7:30 p.m.
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