Palmetto High quarterback Jack Allison to play in Under Armour All-American Game
MANATEE -- Braden River's Jacob Huesman was a freshman when he was suddenly inserted into the lineup as Pirates quarterback during a spring game.
Then he won the starting job as a sophomore and continued working to become a Division-I caliber signal-caller during a monstrous junior season, when he threw just three interceptions while guiding Braden River to the program's first undefeated and district championship season.
Palmetto's Jack Allison usurped Chris Tuten during his sophomore season to become the Tigers' future, and present, quarterback.
Allison parlayed head coach Dave Marino's trust into becoming a field general who garnered a college offer from Miami and inclusion into the Under Armour All-American Game.
Now the two will battle in a pivotal Class 7A-District 11 contest where Braden River can win the district title with a victory, while Palmetto begins a daunting two-week district road stretch at the Pirates and at Venice in an attempt to nab a playoff berth.
"I think it's great for the area to have such a big, marquee matchup," Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. "It's just great for high school football and it's great for our area for people to see such a big-time high school football game."
Braden River assistant coach Eric Sanders, who was a quarterback at Northern Iowa and handles the offensive duties with the Pirates, said he thought Huesman had a chance to be really good when he was just a freshman.
"He has it in himself that he wants to be good and it comes down to that," Sanders said. "Coaches don't really make the players. The players make themselves."
Huesman put the work in, blossomed and became a top quarterback who committed to Florida International University over the summer.
During his skyward trajectory up the quarterback ranks, Huesman picked up some stuff from watching Allison.
"Just watching the way he played as a sophomore, he was so young and he took over that offense," Huesman said. "So seeing him be able to do that, I think that was just a bit more motivational for me to step up here and try and get the starting
Huesman went 12-for-15 in last week's win over Venice and completed all seven passes in the fourth quarter. That performance, aided by running back Raymond Thomas tallying 202 rushing yards and the offensive line limiting heralded Venice defensive lineman Jarrod Hewitt from getting pressure, is what pushed the Pirates to their 17th straight regular season victory.
It also has the Pirates on the precipice of a second straight district championship.
"That's how we want it," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said. "If you can't get up for this as coaches or as players, you're not doing your job. We've got everything we want. We put ourselves in position, as have they. And credit to Coach Marino and that staff and that program to put themselves in position. ... So it's another situation where last week was great, but if we don't handle business this week, it opens up a lot of doors for everybody."
Bradley said this week's challenge isn't the physical style encountered with Venice, but instead the speed and athleticism Palmetto presents.
Meanwhile, Palmetto's plans rest with Allison managing the game and not forcing throws.
"If he continues to do that, we feel good about our game plan and schemes that we have to take advantage of some things we saw (on film)," Marino said.
Braden River's offensive line is impressive, too.
"This, by far, will be the best offensive line we have faced, hands down," Palmetto assistant Matt Braselton said in a text message.
Allison, though, is pretty confident in the group tasked with protecting him -- left guard James Kinley, left tackle Curtis Matelau, center Eriq Porter, right tackle Christian Kalish and right guard Cory Brady.
"I think my offensive line is the best in the county," Allison said.
Last season, Allison was hobbled with an Achilles tendon tear and threw four interceptions against Braden River, which earned the district title at Palmetto's expense.
But this year, Allison has only tossed four picks, while amassing 1,220 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to pair with a 59.7 completion percentage.
Huesman, who started as a linebacker and tight end before the transition under center, hasn't missed a beat since last season by compiling more than 1,100 passing yards with a 65.1 completion percentage and just three interceptions against nine touchdown passes.
He also led the Pirates to a 38-14 victory over Palmetto last year.
But that was 2014, and this season's encounter also coincides with Allison getting an offensive weapon back as Marino said Azavion Smith is 100 percent after being sidelined with a knee injury for three games.
"It'll be an exciting game to watch for sure," Allison said.