The Charlotte Tarpons are no strangers to postseason football.
The 2018 football season was no different as the Tarpons went 8-2 during the regular season, earning another trip to the playoffs to finish 9-3 overall.
And the two losses last year during the regular season were against extremely talented teams, Venice and Palmetto. The loss against Palmetto was in the final game of the regular season, when a number of Tarpons starters were on the sidelines with injuries. The Charlotte defense limited the offensive opportunities of their opponents in 2018, posting three shutouts during the regular season.
However, this year they find themselves in a new district, 6A-12, grouped with a deep number of worthy adversaries including the aforementioned Palmetto, Braden River, Peace River rival Port Charlotte and Southeast. Charlotte will have their work cut out for them during the upcoming season, but this scenario is hardly foreign to a team that has been a perennial postseason entry.
The Tarpons lost a number of key players to graduation, but also having the good fortune of a number of players returning, with plenty of depth at the skill positions on offense and critical components on defense with a powerful linebacking corp and a seasoned secondary.
Charlotte sent eight players on to the collegiate ranks, with 19 players falling off the roster to graduation. However, the program’s expectations remain the same every year, and the Tarpons record of success speaks volumes about their ability to remain competitive.
“We have a saying on a lot of our shirts, tradition never graduates,” said Binky Waldrop, who’s entering his 21st year at the helm as the Tarpons head football coach. “These kids who are stepping up for all those guys last year, they know what’s expected of them, to go out and compete for a district championship; go to the playoffs.”
The Tarpons possess a great deal of depth at the skill positions, making their offense a potent force the opposition will have to contend with throughout the season. Junior quarterback John Busha, junior receivers Freddie Fletcher and Niqueu Graham and running backs Jeremiah Harvey, Ashar Thomas and Tai’Viahn Kelly.
The Tarpons lost all five of their starting offensive lineman to graduation. However, all five of Charlotte’s starting offensive lineman for 2019 are seniors, and some had the opportunity to play late in the season in 2018 because of injuries sustained by last year’s starters gaining invaluable experience.
Players to watch
Versatile senior Jeremiah Harvey, who has the ability to play almost anywhere on the field; junior quarterback John Busha and senior middle linebacker Malakai Menzer are among the Tarpons to keep a close eye on in 2019.
“He’s a really smart kid, he can play anywhere on the field,” said Waldrop, when referring to Harvey. “Having someone like that is priceless. He knows what he’s doing everywhere. He starts on defense. Seldom do you see a kid with that type of football IQ. It’s very impressive.”
Busha’s strong arm, athleticism and ability to run brings a lot of excitement to the program, said Waldrop.
“The kid is competitive, he’s just a winner,” said Waldrop, when referring to Busha.
Linebacker Malakai Menzer may be the Tarpons best player on defense.
“He’s just a really good football player,” said Waldrop said of Menzer.
Under the Radar
Sophomore kicker Tyler Amaral, a multi-sport athlete, is also a member of the Tarpons soccer team, will be an important variable in the equation this fall.
“We’re real excited about him,” said Waldrop. “He has a great leg. To have him for three years puts a smile on my face. I think he’s going to be really good.”