PALMETTO -- Even after he picked apart the Lakewood Ranch defense for 33 points as a sophomore, Palmetto High quarterback Jack Allison was excited to hear a member of that unit was going to join the Tigers for his final two football seasons.
Brandon Luckett, a starting safety for the Mustangs with Division I interest, was ready to team up with Allison again, just like they had three years earlier for the Manatee Mustangs in Pop Warner Little Scholars.
"I got real excited when I heard he was coming here," Allison said. "Ever since then, it's been great."
Two years later, Allison and Luckett are both seniors and one of the most productive quarterback-receiver tandems in Manatee County. Luckett will get his likely final shot at beating his former team Friday when the Tigers (4-1, 1-0 Class 7A-11) travel across the county for a 7:30 p.m. district game at the Lakewood Ranch High School football stadium.
Luckett patrolled the back end of Ranch's defense for two years before switching to the opposite side of the ball and transferring to PHS for his junior season. With the Tigers he could do what the Mustangs (1-4, 0-1) never
let him -- run routes.
"That's like my passion," Luckett said. "But I just waited my turn. Wherever coaches needed me, that's where I was."
The first positions Luckett ever played when he stepped on a football field at 11 were tight end and defensive end. He had his growth spurt early. The next year, kids started to catch up and Luckett split out to wide receiver where he remained until he enrolled at Ranch.
The final year before his position change was the first he spent with Allison, the University of Miami commit who now looks to Luckett as his No. 1 receiver.
"I just know he's going to be in the right place," Allison said. "He's the guy I go to when I'm in trouble."
Luckett has a team-high 19 catches this season and his 248 receiving yards are third most in the area. During the past two games, which have seen starting wideout Azavion Smith limited to a little more than one quarter by a knee injury, Luckett has hauled in 12 passes for 174 yards. His 97 yards and two touchdowns in a 35-0 win against Bayshore last Friday were both career highs.
Before he broke out against Sarasota on Sept. 18, Luckett played the role of possession receiver to complement the field-stretching speed of Smith, who reached the state track meet in the 100-meter dash in the spring. When a drive got backed up by an early penalty or sack on first down, Allison would typically look to Luckett on sideline curls to set up more manageable situations. When Palmetto began its final drive of the first half against the Sailors from its own 22-yard line, the Tigers again used Luckett to string together positive plays.
This drive began with a screen to Luckett for 2 yards. After a first-down run, Allison hit Luckett with consecutive curls of 9 and 8 yards for another first. Finally, he went deep down the right sideline for a 47-yard catch to set up a touchdown with 15 seconds left. It provided the jolt of confidence he needed after managing only seven catches for 74 yards in his first three games.
"I needed to believe in myself," Luckett said. "Once I saw my abilities go to the next level I kind of got comfortable playing within myself, like I know I can do this."
The next week was the best game of his career against the Bruins. Against Lakewood Ranch, Allison is likely to keep firing Luckett's way with Smith sidelined once again.
His importance was on display at the Tigers' practice Tuesday. Luckett had an academic matter to deal with, so Allison was down two starting receivers. Dave Marino could see Allison looking a bit less comfortable.
"You sense Jack's looking for him," the head coach said. "He's his security blanket."
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Luckett's athletic ability and versatile skills have made him a Division I prospect. He's a two-star athlete, according to the 247sports composite, and has offers from South Florida, Tennessee-Martin, Savannah State and Cornell mostly to play wide receiver, but teams are also intrigued by his background as a safety.
Marino thinks if Luckett were playing safety full-time he could have even more high-level interest. The head coach envisions using Luckett in the secondary at some crucial moments this season, as he did during the 2014 postseason.
"There's no doubt he could go and play corner or safety," Marino said. "He wants to succeed on offense."