By Gary Curreri
With 20 senior players returning from last year’s squad, Blanche Ely football coach Nakia Jenkins believes that his team will fix last year’s late-game woes.
Jenkins, in his second season at the helm of the Tigers football team, said his team has a wealth of experience.
“Last year, we had a lot of talent, but we were young,” said Jenkins, whose team finished 6-4 with three losses in the closing moments of games. “We are returning about 20 seniors this year that played last year so we are really senior heavy this year with a lot of experience. That should be our plus this year. We should know how to finish ball games.”
The Tigers reached the first round of the FHSAA Class 7A state playoffs where it fell to visiting Atlantic, 21-13, in the closing moments, much like two other losses during the season to Miami Northwestern (23-20) and Plantation (31-23).
“Last year, we lost three games in the last minute and a half that we were winning,” Jenkins said. “We should have easily been 9-1 last year instead of 6-4.”
“It still stings,” Jenkins added. “It is going to sting probably until our first regular season game. We have about 15-20 players who contributed last year and helped us out.”
Jenkins will need to get some rapid growth from an inexperienced offensive line; however, they will have three strong running backs to run behind them, including Arthur Forest, Demeterice Bellamy and Robert Williams. Quarterback Zackery Purdue also returns and has talented wide out Thomas Geddis to throw to.
“The offense is going to be loaded,” Jenkins said. “A couple of other wide receivers who are going to help us are Jeremy Taylor and Leonard Williams.”
Defensively, look for senior David Francis to lead the way.
“He’s a leader, captain and three-year starter,” Jenkins said. “He knows where everybody should be.”
Purdue is looking forward to the season.
“This year, I am more confident,” he said. “Last year, I didn’t really read my coverages and go through my progressions. This year, we are loaded with seniors and we are going to be a better team.”
Bellamy, 17, a senior in his fourth year at the school, said he’s excited for the season.
“I have to prove a lot of people wrong,” said the 5-ft., 6-in., 165 lb. running back. “They underestimate me. They say I am too small and not fast enough, and not strong enough. I have been doing two-a-days, and sometimes three times on weekends.”
The 18-year-old Geddis agreed and said the seniors could make the difference.
“We have a lot of guys who are going to go out there and compete and go hard, and are very experienced,” Geddis said. “Being seniors, it makes you want to go harder. Our coach says you only got one game and you have to take every game like it is your last high school game.”
Geddis, who received 18 college offers during the spring, said last year’s tight losses were frustrating and they will look to change that this season.
“You don’t have the time to come back and redo the mistakes you made,” Geddis said. “You have to go 110 (percent) on every play and just know that you are putting everything on the line.”
Jenkins said the team would have to fight through adversity.
“What I am teaching my guys now is football in four quarters,” Jenkins said. “It is not three quarters and we have to finish until the last whistle blows. That is the one thing that we are teaching day in and day out. It is fighting to the last whistle. If we do that this year, we should be in the thick of things this year.”