TAMPA, Fla. — It's been a while since the Jesuit football program won its only state title.
"I know it’s been 53 years because I’m 53 years old," joked head coach Matt Thompson.
The last time the Tigers won it all was in 1968. This year's team says they acknowledge the pressure of being in a title game, but the key is not letting it weigh on them.
"We talk about not being afraid of greatness," Thompson said. "We’re great already because we got to this point. But now is it 'Do you want to be the best ever?'"
"We all know what’s at stake. Losing, we go home," added senior receiver Junior Vandeross. "I think this year we can get it done. We just have to come out and play our game, how we’ve been playing."
The Tigers are 14-0 this season, and the players credit their success to the leadership of the senior class.
"I think our senior leadership has been huge," said senior linebacker A.J. Cottrill. "Everyone’s doing the right thing on and off the field. All the young guys are following in the seniors’ footsteps. I think that’s been really good for us."
Bob Piccirilli was a tight end on the 1968 championship team. He said winning a title is something teammates can carry for the rest of their lives.
"Winning the state championship’s a strong bond," Piccirilli, an assistant coach on Jesuit's JV staff, said while watching Wednesday's practice. "I told these guys a long time ago, ou’ll see each other twenty, thirty years from now at a reunion. And you know you won a state championship because you’re not going to shake hands. You’re going to hug."
Piccirilli and a handful of his '68 teammates are driving to Fort Lauderdale for the championship. He said the Jesuit football alumni think the 2021 team is setting the program up for future success.
"I think this is the start of winning a bunch of them," he said. "We just want to be part of them and be with them. Even though it was a long time ago, we’re glad it happened before we died, ha!"
Vandeross said he's getting text messages of support from past players who want to see the Tigers bring a title back to Tampa.
"Hearing all the alumni that played here, that lost in the state semis, or in the past. Just giving us guidance, and know that they’re with us during the game."
Jesuit and Pine Forest (Pensacola) kickoff Saturday night at 7 P.M. from DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.