The Buccaneers know what most people are saying about them.
They know many think Hollywood-Chaminade Madonna is going to roll past them on Friday night. But guess what? That just gets Benjamin more excited to play.
“We’re just ready for another (playoff game),” offensive lineman Martin Weisz said. “Of course, it’s a more formidable opponent, Chaminade-Madonna. … But we’re ready to play a really good team, one of the top teams in the state and up there in the nation, as well. We’re ready. We’re ready for the challenge.”
The Lions are rolling right now, coming off a blowout first-round victory against American Heritage. And they feature several Power 5 prospects, including Alabama wide receiver commit Xavier Williams, Auburn running back commit Shaun Shivers and Kentucky safety commit Keontra Smith.
But none of that has Benjamin intimidated.
“We’re playing the top team in the state. We know that,” coach Ron Ream said. “They’re a cut above us, but we’re preparing as hard as we can. We’re going to load up as much as we can on them, and we’ll see what happens.”
And the Bucs have some Division-I players of their own. Quarterback Jordan Travis, a Groza Award finalist, is a Louisville commit and is working on a prolific season. Travis has 2,179 passing yards and 24 touchdowns through the air this year, as well as 845 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
Protecting him on the offensive line is Weisz, who is bound for the University of Virginia. Travis has Kaiir Elam, a top-100 junior and one of the most explosive athletes in the county, Will Nicklaus and Kai Rosado to throw to. Those three receivers have combined for 1,451 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
“What (Elam, Travis and Weisz) have done is raise the level of a lot of other kids,” Ream said. “We’re playing at just about top performance right now.”
This is the biggest game most of these players will have ever played in. Since 2012, Benjamin has played in an independent conference and was not eligible for an Florida High School Athletic Association state title. Playing for an independent conference title just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
“We dropped out of the FHSAA playoff system in 2012 and ended up winning our conference title game that year,” Ream said, “which was a nice win for the kids. But it wasn’t the FHSAA playoffs.”
Benjamin has had some success in the state playoffs, making it to the state championship game in 1978, 1979, 1992 and 1994. But the Bucs haven’t made it to a state semifinal since 1999. If they pull off the upset Friday, they’ll have a shot at winning the program’s first title.
“We’re really pumped up because it’s the first time we’ve been in the regional finals in 12 years,” Weisz said. “It’s a real big deal, not only for the school, but for us as well. Most of us, we’ve never been in a playoff game like the one we were in last week.”