PUNTA GORDA — Sometimes things get chippy at Charlotte High football practices, but that’s a good thing.
At least, if you ask the Tarpons’ secondary.
They love getting the offense riled up if they can. They take pride in getting in quarterback John Busha’s head and many times he comes right back at them — all in good fun, of course.
It’s a dress rehearsal of sorts for both sides so when they get in a game like Friday’s matchup with Braden River, the offense can block it out and the defense’s jabs can connect in just the right way.
“We go 100 percent the whole time,” junior defensive back Tai’Viahn Kelly said. “We get hyped, call out the offense. We get the quarterback mad, the line mad. We just blow it up. We call them out and then do the same thing on the field (on Fridays).”
A lot of the Tarpons success thus far this season stems from the defense. They’ve held their first three opponents to a total of 22 points, have eight forced turnovers and two defensive touchdowns.
They believe they are one of the best defenses in the area and the secondary thinks they are the strongest position group. That’s the confidence and swagger they carry onto the field each week.
“We all like competing with each other. Who’s gonna get the most tackles, who’s gonna get the most interceptions?” senior Jeremiah Harvey said. “I’m always gonna be confident with my guys, especially with the group we have this year. We have 10 seniors starting on defense and we know the standard that’s set at Charlotte.”
A lot of it starts with Harvey at safety. Though he’s electric on both sides of the ball, he prefers playing defense and says his offensive snaps are his “break plays.”
In Charlotte’s 49-14 win over Fort Myers, Harvey intercepted a pass at midfield and returned it for a touchdown to open up an early 14-0 lead against a team that won 10 games in 2018.
He’s been a fixture on defense since he was a freshman playing alongside his brother Nycarion. In the team’s biggest game that year, a 28-24 double overtime win over Fort Myers in the regional championship, Harvey was the one the Green Wave decided to pick on.
Attacking a freshman corner thrust into the spotlight may have been the right call on paper, but Harvey, like any time he is circled by an opponent, took it personally.
“Two fourth down stops, they picked on the little freshman,” Harvey remembered. “I had two pass deflections and a lot of tackles. I just made plays. (I take it personally) 100 percent. I take it personally when they go after anyone in our secondary. We just make them pay for it.”
Harvey is the leader of the group, followed by Kelly, who plays his fair share of offense as well; senior Jamal Warren, the team’s interception leader with three; and junior corner Jaden Opalach, who Harvey views as the most underrated player on defense.
They haven’t been tested much this season because teams haven’t opted to throw against them, but this week will be different. Braden River’s air attack should be the first measuring stick, but the Tarpons like their chances.
Not only does the back end produce an uptick in energy and confidence throughout the defense, its ability to hold on coverages helps give the pass rushers a few extra seconds to get to the quarterback.
“It works hand in hand,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said. “You gotta pressure the quarterback and you gotta cover them to allow them to get back there. We love everything about our defense right now. We’ll see how good they are Friday night.”
A lot of their success has stemmed from strong communication on coverages and play calls. It’s kept them focused and decreases the risk of explosive plays.
With high expectations for the team and the unit, Kelly says focus and a positive mindset is key. If they can stay the course, he believes this could be the makings of something special.
“We got a lot of energy,” Kelly said. “We’re always pushing each other to be better. If we keep bustin’ our ass, I believe we could possibly be the best defense to come through here. We’ve got the talent to do it.”