Freedom senior Jimmy Carson is a confident kid. Despite living through an 0-9 season in 2020 and last year’s 1-9 record, when he looks out at his teammates practicing on the school’s new artificial turf field, he sees possibilities.
“New teammates, new field, new offense,” Carson says. “To be honest, I see a 7-3 record this season. And, if we’re lucky, we’ll make the playoffs.”
Carson, the Patriots best playmaker, is counting on breaking out this season and taking his teammates along for the ride. He is one of only two seniors on a Freedom team hoping to end a string of losing seasons dating back to 2014.
Coach Chris Short will once again be working with a small roster of about 30-35 players, and is unlikely to have enough kids for a junior varsity team. However, he is optimistic the Patriots can improve on last year. Although they lost their last eight games, they averaged 23 points per game the last three and pulled out a 7-6 win over King in the spring jamboree, creating some enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, because the playing field at Freedom was being replaced all summer and the weight room was unavailable due to construction at the high school, Short couldn’t hold summer workouts and build on that spring win, so he’s hoping some of that enthusiasm is still left over.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that didn’t see much playing time last year that we are eager to see,” Short says. “We’ll be relying on them this year.”
Two of those young guys will be under center — sophomore Hassan “Duke” Corley and Tampa Catholic junior transfer Austin Swank. Freedom will employ a two-quarterback system while running the triple option this year. Corley is more athletic, and Swank is more of a thrower, but both are capable signal callers, Short says.
“We’ll use each of their strengths to our advantage,” the coach adds.
Carson, a natural wideout who had to play running back last year and led the team with just 224 yards rushing, will be counted on to be one of the wings in the triple option. Carson says he is gunning for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Short wants to get the ball in his hands in space as much as possible.
“If Jimmy buys in, he can have a huge year,” Short says.
Junior Osman Hafiz and sophomores Jordan Gentry and Devin Lee will share the carries in the backfield, and Bradley “Tre” Cole and Chris Xander-Gomez will get time and carries as well.
The offensive line is small, and will be built around junior tackle/guard Hudson Brown, who is the biggest starter at 6-foot, 235 pounds, and sophomore center Doug Ruggero. Both also will play on the defensive line, which is a work in progress.
Linebackers Aubin Maka Maka (four sacks last season as a junior) and Hafiz give the Patriots some talent in the middle of the defense. Maka Maka is still new to the game, playing just his second year, but is Freedom’s best-looking prospect at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds.
Bradley Cole, who played for Freedom as a freshman before transferring to Tampa Catholic and Wharton last year, is back for his junior season, and will be joined in the defensive backfield by sophomore Jordan Gentry and junior Romell Taylor.
Short says he has enough young talent to improve on last year’s record, but his District, 3M-4, consists of three powerhouses who are considered State championship contenders in 2022 — Wharton, Armwood and Tampa Bay Tech.
Otherwise, the non-district schedule could yield a few Freedom wins.
Hafiz says a new group of leaders is ready to rewrite the Freedom narrative of the past few years.
“We’re like an upwards graph,” says Hafiz. “If you’re looking at the stock market, it’s like that, we’re going up.”