Middleton High lineman Matt Parker was well on his way to reaching double digits in sacks last season, getting a team-high six through six games.
But Parker had to leave the game against St. Pete Catholic due to pain in his right knee. He said he couldn't remember how the injury occurred, but knew the result wasn't good.
An MRI revealed a torn meniscus. Parker's season was over.
"It hurt him mentally," Middleton coach Jason Stokes said. "With him, he knew we were winning. But he's been rehabbing and he's looking good."
Parker's knee required surgery, forcing him to use crutches for a month. After intense physical therapy, he returned to the team for the spring jamboree.
Now, the senior is determined to make up for lost time.
"(My knee) is not where it was last year, but I can still go," he said.
Parker split time on the offensive and defensive lines last season but will be asked to lead the defensive front this fall as the nose tackle. At 6-foot, 275 pounds, Parker might not possess the ideal Division I measurements, but Stokes said he's sure to be one of the best in the county this season.
"He's not 6-foot-4 or 6-3, but I don't think many kids in this county could block him one-on-one," he said.
Stokes said he rarely has seen Parker's combination of strength and skill in a lineman.
"He has such a motor," Stokes said. "And he's so technically sound."
Parker said he has the ability "to take on a block and read a block. I was happy with what I did last year, but I strive to do better. If I gave up three sacks last year, this year it has to be zero sacks."
Aside from his ability to make plays on the field, it's Parker's leadership on the field and in the locker room that will empower the Tigers this season. A four-year varsity starter, Parker has fully embraced the idea of leading by example.
"I feel like (if) I don't show I'm 100 percent into the team, everyone else won't have confidence in our team. I'm all about showing you have to be coachable. I take it extremely serious."
STADIUM: Abe Brown Stadium, 4801 N. 22nd St., Tampa
CLASS-DISTRICT: 2A-5 (with Lennard, Jesuit, Robinson, Steinbrenner, St. Pete Catholic and Strawberry Crest)
COACH: Jason Stokes (11-10 overall; 5-5 second year at Middleton)
LAST SEASON: 5-5
Sept. 3: at King
Sept. 10: at Plant City
Sept. 24: at Robinson
Oct. 1: Lennard
Oct. 8: Strawberry Crest
Oct. 15: Steinbrenner
Oct. 22: St. Petersburg Catholic
Oct. 29: at Jesuit
Nov. 5: Leto
Nov. 12: Blake (Raymond James)
No.NamePos.Ht.Wt.Yr.1Jyhaad GrantDB-WR6-1170Jr.2Anthony ThomasDB-RB5-8175Jr.3Clethan SuttonRB-LB5-8180Jr.4Aaron MidthusQB6-1180So.5Tevin SuttonLB-RB6-1205Jr.6Richard BenjaminWR-DB6-1180So.7Aydric BrownWR-DB5-8160Jr.8Anthony McleodLB-TE6-1190Jr.9Frank ChurchwellLB-OL5-10210So.10Steve SmithWR6-2180Sr.11Tellis LawrenceWR-DB6-2175Jr.15Mark HolmesRB5-9160Jr.20Dwight BakerOLB6-2175So.21Rawn CosbyLB5-11180Jr.22Armani SampsonRB-CB5-8160So.23Marqueil JacksonWR-DB5-9155So.24Denerio DooleyRB-DB5-8155Jr.28Brian JonesWR-DB5-11160Fr.29Josh PeaseLB-RB6-0215Jr.30Brandon TillmanLB6-0200Fr.31John TaylorFS-WR6-1175Jr.32Leon CusicLB-FB5-11220Jr.33Jalen WoodallLB5-10185Fr.34Taylor ByrdRB-DB5-10160So.42Tarek AlstonLB-RB5-9185Jr.51Cory GreenOL-DL6-0200Jr.52Isaiah NelsonOL-DL6-0250Fr.54Matt ParkerDL-OL6-0275Sr.55Kilu FontaineOL-DL6-4275Jr.58Ramone RichardsDL-OL5-10200Jr.59Antonio WingfieldOL-DL6-0210So.61Soloman PyattOL-DL6-1260Fr.62Angel MoralesOL-DL5-10200Fr.63Nate PyattOL-DL5-11280Jr.65Devon HarrisOL/DL5-10260Jr.70Jeff SaintMartinTE-DE6-2210So.72Willie HannahOL-DL5-10200Jr.74Jeremy HunterOL-DL6-0230Jr.76Francis JustinOL-DL6-3260Jr.80Joetavious HenryWR-DB6-1180So.81Mike DegreeWR-DB6-0175Jr.82Tyrone GonzalesDE/OL6-0185So.88Demetree TaylorDE-TE6-3215Jr.