Posted: 5:50 pm Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
Note: Welcome to the PBGametime 2011 Spring Football Tour. During our three-week tour, we visit area teams, meet some of the top players and answer the most pressing questions. Our next stop is Suncoast, where former Glades Central coach and NFL receiver Jessie Hester has brought energy and excitement to a struggling program.
Suncoast hasn’t won a playoff game since 2002. Some folks around the program even said they were embarrassed that the Chargers made the 2010 postseason with a 3-7 regular-season record. In fact, Suncoast, which lost to Plantation-American Heritage in the playoffs, finished the season on a six-game losing streak, losing those games by an average score of 38-6.
But there’s new life and enthusiasm at Suncoast, a once-proud program that produced NFL speedster Devin Hester and even made a trip to the Class 3A state championship back in 1981. The main reason for the new-found excitement is new coach Jessie Hester, who was 36-4 with two state-title-game appearances at Glades Central before his alma mater fired him in December.
Hester, who starred as a receiver at Glades Central and FSU before playing 10 seasons in the NFL, brings some new energy to Suncoast. And he has some athletes who can make his transition a little easier.
Minding the D. Hester said his main focus is building a speedy, efficient defense, calling it the “foundation of a program that I want to build around.” He certainly has the players to work with, particularly in the secondary. While Suncoast graduated two key standouts in athlete Jeff Fulwood and defensive end Timotheus Granger, the Chargers return hard-hitting safety Davison Colimon and cornerback Abiade Granger. Both have received attention from colleges, with Colimon picking up four scholarship offers as of Monday night.
“Our defense should be real solid,” Hester said. “We put most of the athletes on the defensive side of the ball because that’s the most important.”
Strength in the trenches. Suncoast graduated four senior offensive or defensive linemen from last fall’s team, but Hester said the lines are his team’s strongest spot. It helps to get Jeremiah Wilder back. Wilder is a 6-foot-4, 300-pound rising senior who is hard to miss at a Suncoast practice. Junior-to-be Garrett Scott isn’t as finished as Wilder, but at 6-4, 230, he gives Suncoast a second tackle and an imposing figure.
Having a good line is a critical part of Hester’s offense. He doesn’t plan to change much from the fireworks-producing sets that he trotted out at Glades Central. He fully plans to have three, four and five receivers on certain downs, but he also said he’d run the ball if it was the most effective way to get yards.
“I still try to stay in the framework of doing what the kids are best at doing,” Hester said. “If it’s running the ball, we’ll run it. The first option is to throw. If we’re more efficient running the football, that’s exactly what we’ll do. Either way, we have a good line for both options.”
A fall surprise. Running back James Huggins and quarterback Jesse Hap (6-0, 180) will be the main beneficiaries of the good line play. Hester said he expects Hap to “surprise some people” this fall.
The rising senior was a backup to Connor Johnson in 2010, but he has both the build and the arm that Hester wants in his signal caller. His main target will be Javonta Taylor, a 6-2 receiver with big hands.
“(Hap) is really gonna surprise some people with his versatility and athleticism,” Hester said. “The kid can run and he throws a really good football. We’re just a little short as far as depth and we need a little more help at the skill positions, particularly receiver.”
The imminent main event. Hester and his new team play at Glades Central on Oct. 7. Glades Central should be one of the best teams in the state in 2011, and that game will be a great measure for how far Suncoast has come and has far it still has to go. It goes without saying that Hester will experience all kinds of emotions on that night.
“It’s gonna be extremely emotional at a level that I can’t even fathom at this point,” Hester said. “I was telling some coaches earlier I hope I don’t go into the wrong locker room. It’s gonna be an exciting moment for me and one with mixed emotions.”
Outlook: With Glades Central in its district for the next few seasons and its former coach now in green and black, Suncoast has a bona fide, year-in, year-out contender to model itself after. The other three programs in the district are in similar or worse positions in 2011. Fort Pierce Westwood lost talent at nearly every position and then fired its coach. Jensen Beach is in serious rebuilding mode. And Boynton Beach, much like Suncoast, features several college-level prospects, but still has plenty of work ahead.
What that means is that Hester’s Chargers have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs again this season — and probably with a winning record. That certainly wouldn’t embarrass anyone at Suncoast.