By: J. Daniel Pearson
While many sports fans count success by the number of wins at the end of the season, Tohopekaliga’s second-year football coach says the victory total at the end of any year is simply not as important as the other things that high school sports should be about.
“At the end of the day, yes, we all want to win. But I always believed that when you teach the right things and convince players to do things the right way the wins will take care of themselves. Victories are still secondary to the mission of high school coaches,” Paradiso said. “To me, putting the athlete in position to showcase their skills is important. But it also is important to help them become the best person they can become. The truth is few will even ever play college athletics, but if we can get all these kids to become the best student, the best soldier, the best first responder, the best tradesman, the best teacher, the best parent –whatever they decide to do with their lives – that’s the real mission of what we do.”
Paradiso’s theory has merit.
Taking over a program that won just two games the year that saw morale at an all-time low, the Tigers won six games last season and saw several players sign college scholarship offers. But more importantly, there was a major change in culture that saw a record number of players come out for the team and better attitudes and pride instilled into the program.
It’s those positive attributes that Paradiso would like to see continue as he begins his second season at the school. “I feel really blessed to be at a school where are principal and our athletic director fully support the direction we are going and the culture we are trying to build,” the former long-time Lake Nona coach said. “We have the facilities, coaches and athletes to build something special here, not just in football but all sports.”
The 2023 Tigers will be led by sophomore quarterback Sabby Meassick, who started a true freshman last season and threw for a county high 3000 yards and 38 touchdowns. Meassick, who measured 5-9 last year, grew a couple of inches and is now close to six foot tall. Paradiso says with a year experience, his young quarterback has a lot more confidence and should continue to excel.
Although Tohopekaliga lost some talented players to graduation, Meassick will have plenty of weapons around him. Churandy Duval is a big-play back that combined for 1200 receiving and rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last year. WR Julian Nasco caught 66 passes for 823 yards and 12 scores last year and transfer Eli Azize and veterans Tre Punter and Jayden Oliver could also factor in.
One area where Tohopekaliga struggled last season against better opponents was on the offensive and defensive lines where both strength and depth proved to be an issue. “We had to play a lot guys both ways and they would wear out against the better teams, but that was only part of the issue. Teams like Osceola, Bishop Moore and Harmony were just physically stronger than us,” Paradiso noted. “We had to get stronger in the weight room and also deeper, and I think we have.”
Paradiso noted that at the start of pre-season camp, he had 12 offensive linemen and 10 defensive linemen competing for varsity positions. “If we can platoon some of these guys and only make them play one way, it would certainly help,” he added.
The defense should be led Punter, a two-way player (WR/LB), linebacker Rashaud James, LB/DE Jediah Wetherington, OLB/DE Anthony Paradiso Jr.
Paradiso noted that because several teams backed out of their contracts, the Tigers struggled to put together a schedule for 2023. Fort Meade (Polk County), Foundation Academy (Winter Garden, FL), Gulf Breeze (Florida Panhandle) and Melbourne are all new opponents this year; while the Tigers are scheduled to compete in 4 Suburban, District 10 with St. Cloud, Osceola and Celebration.
Kickoff Classic (Exhibition)
- Aug. 18 Timber Creek 7 p.m.
- Aug. 25 at Liberty 7 p.m.
- Sept. 1 Fort Meade 7 p.m.
- Sept. 8 at Foundation Academy 7 p.m.
- Sept. 15 at St. Cloud 7:30 p.m.*
- Sept. 22 Melbourne 7 p.m.
- Sept. 29 Celebration 7 p.m. *
- Oct. 12 Gulf Breeze 7 p.m.
- Oct. 20 at Harmony 7 p.m.
- Oct. 27 Osceola 7:30 p.m.
- Nov. 3 at Haines City 7:30 p.m.