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Leesburg expects to improve in Oates 2nd season
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Leesburg expects to improve in Oates 2nd season
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Leesburg expects to improve in Oates 2nd season
Leesburg expects to improve in Oates 2nd season
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Related Articles
2018 Leesburg Yellow Jackets Football Archives
Leesburg coach Mark Oates talks with his players during a scrimmage at the school. Oates is back
for his second season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. (Paul Ryan / Correspondent)
Carver Heights Quarterback Club, Leesburg High School, Leesburg, Florida
2018 Leesburg Yellow Jackets Football Archives, Leesburg coach Mark Oates talks with his players during a scrimmage at the school. Oates is back for his second season as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. (Paul Ryan / Correspondent), Carver Heights Quarterback Club, Leesburg High School, Leesburg, Florida
Leesburg Yellow Jackets vs. Bushnell South Sumter, High School Football Game

Friday Night Lights: Leesburg expects to improve in Oates’ 2nd season

By Frank Jolley
Daily Commercial
Friday, August 24, 2018
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2018, 7:28 p.m.

For many teams, losing the area’s top offensive player would signal the start of a rebuilding phase.

Not at Leesburg High School.

Mark Oates won’t allow it.

Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ head coach and his staff tweaks their philosophy and game-day approach,
and prepares for a new season. The second-year coach is just as upbeat about this season as he
was last year, when quarterback Wyatt Rector — the Daily Commercial All Area Offensive Player of the
Year — passed for more than 3,200 yards and ran for nearly 1,000.

Rector accounted for 44 touchdowns as a senior.

"Certainly we lost some key guys,” Oates said. “Wyatt graduated and went to Western Michigan. Our top
receiver, Dray Graham, has gone on to play basketball at Limestone College in South Carolina, and
tight end Travon Alston moved with his family to South Carolina. But I really believe we are in a better
place than we were at this time last year.

“Our kids have really worked hard this summer to get ready for the season. We’re stronger than we
were last summer and our veterans know what we expect of them. And, most importantly, we have
some talented players ready to step in and replace what we lost. I’m really excited about this group of
players.”

With Rector gone, Oates has southpaw A.J. Graham set to go under center. Graham stepped in when
Rector suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2016 and was one of Rector’s favorite targets last year,
catching 40 passes and averaging 18.9 yards per reception.

Graham, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, is smaller than Rector, who stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 230
pounds. Nonetheless, Oates believes Graham brings attributes to the table that Rector didn’t possess.

“I feel like A.J. throws the mid-level pass a little better than Wyatt,” Oates said. “He also throws with a
little better touch than Wyatt. He’s also an effective runner, just like Wyatt. I have plenty of confidence in
A.J.’s ability to get the job done for us.”

One of the Yellow Jackets’ key additions is expected to be running back Tayquan Pinellas, a 5-foot-6,
195-pound battering ram transfer. Pinellas played previously at Kissimmee Osceola, one of Central
Florida’s winningest programs.

Last season, Pinellas was one of four running backs at Osceola who surpassed 400 yards rushing.
He finished the season with 431 yards rushing — second best on the Kowboys — and averaged 5.7
yards per carry.

Osceola was 10-1 in 2017 and reached the Class 8A-Region 2 semifinals before falling to eventual
state champion Orlando Dr. Phillips 17-13 in the final minute of the game.

“Tayquan gives us the potential to have a great power running game,” Oates said. “Plus, he comes
from a tremendous program at Osceola and he’s brought that winning mindset with him. One of the
first things he did after coming here was to ask if he could speak to the team. He’s going to be a leader
by example.”

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are hoping to toughen up against the run after surrendering a pair of
400-plus yard games last season — one each to Lake Minneola’s Fred Jackson and South Lake’s
Kelley Joiner.

“Our defensive coaches think we’ll be better this season,” Oates said. “We’re going to be stronger on
that side of the ball and I believe our kids will play with a lot more confidence and tackle better than we
did last year. That was a problem last year and we’ve spent a lot of time teaching our kids to get their
arms around the ballcarrier and take him down.”

And while Oates can often seem like the ultimate eternal optimist, he is also a realist. Following a 4-6
record in his first season at the helm, Oates is not predicting a state championship for the Yellow
Jackets.

He’s not even predicting a playoff berth.

“But,” he said, “if we win most of our games, we’ll probably be in the playoffs. In fact, if we can go 1-0
each week ... who knows what can happen?”



This article was provided by Gerald Lacey
Gerald Lacey is the senior sports writer covering Leesburg High School Sports for the Carver Heights
Quarterback Club™. You can reach him at:
geraldlacey@leesburgyellowjacketsfootball.com