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Sling N Shoot: Clearwater continues strong offseason

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Sun. July 19, 2015 | Bob Putnam | Email

Sling N Shoot: Clearwater continues strong offseason

TAMPA – In the past two seasons, Clearwater has gone from a winless program to a respectable one. Now, coming off a 4-6 season, the Tornadoes are taking the steps this offseason in 7-on-7 tournaments to become a legitimate playoff contender.

For the second straight weekend, Clearwater advanced to the final of a 7-of-7 tournament, this time finishing second at USF’s Sling N Shoot. The Tornadoes went a combined 12-3 Saturday and Sunday at USF, losing 33-19 to Hallandale in the championship game.

Clearwater had to get through a brutal stretch of games, beating Spoto, Tallahassee Rickards and Lake Minneola to make the final.

“We fought through the bracket, and we played every good team in the bracket,” coach Don Mesick said. “Three of the top four teams were all in our bracket. To play all those teams really takes a lot out of you. But I’ve got to hand it to Hallandale. They played a great game and made a couple more plays than we did.”

Initially, Clearwater was going to participate in the Airo 7-on-7 national tournament in Valdosta, Ga., but decided to play in the Sling N Shoot because its linemen also were entered in a big man challenge at USF.

Tornadoes quarterback Garrison Bryant, who won the Kaleo Quarterback Challenge two months ago, was sharp all weekend. His favorite targets were Zach Lehman and Jacquez Jones.

Lehman caught the winning pass from Bryant against Lake Minneola in the semifinals. Jones had two touchdown catches in the final.

“Jacquez has been doing that all day long, really all weekend and all the offseason, too,” Mesick said. “He’s an incredible receiver. Last year, when he came over to us he had great speed and agility, but he wasn’t able to catch the ball very well. He’s worked very hard to get to where he’s at. Now he’s pretty much unstoppable.”

Mesick said the team may play in another 7-on-7 tournament next weekend before getting ready for the start of fall camp.

“The 7-on-7 tournaments serve three purposes for us,” Mesick said. “First of all, we had to convert our program from just a fall and spring program to a year-round one. The second thing is to teach kids how to compete. And the last thing is to get these guys to mold together and not panic.

“You’ve got to be able to come back. These tournaments are great for that because the games can change very quickly. We were down in just about every game and found a way to win. That’s big for us.”

Surprise team: East Lake has gone through quite an overhaul this offseason, adjusting to new players in the starting lineup while trying to find a coach after Bob Hudson announced he was stepping down recently.

On Sunday, the Eagles managed to do well, advancing to the final eight before losing to eventual champion Hallandale. But it was East Lake’s junior varsity team that got to the elite eight, not the varsity. The Eagles' JV team, comprised of freshmen and sophomores, were able to advance by taking advantage of a favorable bracket.

“This was about as true a junior varsity team as you’ll get,” East Lake offensive coordinator Austin Carter said. “We had the benefit of playing some beatable teams. But this was not a complete surprise for us. These kids have worked extremely hard.”

The Eagles' biggest win was in the second round of single-elimination play when they beat Seminole thanks to a winning touchdown pass from Jackson Rowland to Malik Bowman on the final play of regulation.

Photo: Sling N Shoot champion Hallandale

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