SARASOTA — Reese Vita has a responsibility to his teammates, his coaches and the community.
Entering his third season as the starting quarterback for the Cardinal Mooney football team, Vita carries the weight of an entire team on his shoulders.
There’s an added pressure that comes with playing the most visible, and arguably the toughest, position on the field, but, for Vita, the opportunity to lead and challenge his teammates to greatness often outweighs the pressure to perform.
“I’m the type of quarterback who tries to make light of every situation, but I’m also pretty serious when it’s time to get down to business,” Vita said. “I’m the guy who’s there for everyone when they need it.”
Last season, Vita threw for nearly 1,350 yards and 13 touchdowns while leading Cardinal Mooney to its first district championship since 2006 and a berth in the regional playoffs.
Vita picked up right where he left off last season, throwing for four touchdowns in Cardinal Mooney’s 43-6 Kickoff Classic victory over Bradenton Christian Aug. 22.
Now, in his senior season, it’s up to Vita to maintain that same level of drive and precision for the Cougars to reach their full potential and fulfill their ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
A former Manatee Wildcat, Vita learned early on that his arm would only carry him so far. Lacking the height of a traditional pocket passer, Vita began to rely more on his legs and his head — two of a quarterback’s most important assets — to gain an edge.
Since the 2013 season ended in November, Vita has spent countless hours studying film and working on his speed and endurance to give Cardinal Mooney more of a dual-threat option.
“I always thought I wasn’t very fast and couldn’t run the ball,” Vita said. “I wasn’t blessed with height, but you can always work on speed. Every year, I make it a point to get better and I try to take that into account.”
Vita, who has received interest from several colleges, ranging from Division IAA to Division III, will suit up for his final season opener Friday night and begin what he hopes will be another championship season.
And although he’ll undoubtedly feel the pressure when the lights come on and he steps onto the field at LaBelle, Vita understands that at the end of the day it’s up to him to not only lead the Cougars to greatness but remind his teammates to enjoy the sport as much now as they did growing up.
“I just try to have as much fun as I can because I’ve got nothing to lose,” Vita said. “At the same time, I do consider myself a leader and I have to live up to my own standards of being a leader. Every day, I make an honest commitment to myself to get better. If I’m not taking steps to get better, then I’m not (doing my job).”
BY THE NUMBERS
10 - The number of seniors on this year’s roster.
273 - The number of points Cardinal Mooney scored in its seven victories last season.
2 - The number of games the Cougars lost by less than three points last season.
0 - The number of district games Cardinal Mooney lost last season to capture its first district title since 2006.
13 - The number of touchdowns quarterback Reese Vita threw last year.
CMHS 2014 Football Roster
1 Blair Perry SR WR/DB
2 Tristan Hillerich SO WR/QB
3 Tommy Vassallo SR WR/DB
5 Nate Maxham SR LB
6 Sean Morris Jr. SR DB/WR
7 Alex Sobczak JR DB/RB
8 Tyler Garris SR LB
9 Jake Santiago JR DE/TE/QB
11 Julian Rivera JR DB/WR
12 Jacob Jessup SR QB
15 Reese Vita SR QB
21 Bryce Williams FR DB/RB
22 Jake Lafemina JR K/P
23 Mitch Arimura SR TE/DL
24 Jaz Mongeon JR RB
25 Vinny Conetta SO SS
28 Robby Howard SR K/P
40 Sam Leonard SR LB/FB
42 Kyle Boose SO DL
45 Matthew Strauss SO LB
51 Kyle Novak JR OL
53 Ronnie Carabbia SO LB
54 Brad Atwood JR LB
55 Nick Ackerson JR OL/DL
56 Eric Orsini JR OL
58 Dillon O’Neill SO OL/DL
66 Kevin Barker SR OL
70 Armando Fontana JR OL
72 A.J. Kwiatkowski FR OL
74 Quinn Campbell JR OL
80 Chad Wilkins SO DE/WR
Josh Smithers, seventh year
What are your initial thoughts on this year’s team?
We are very young on the offensive line, but we’ve got great defensive backs, and offensively, skill wise, we’re as good as we’ve ever been. We have (31) guys and we don’t have any guys that can’t play. It’s just going to be a matter of staying healthy.
The guys are very team-oriented. The chemistry is very good, and they are all willing do what it takes to make the team work. We don’t have any “me” guys. I haven’t been this excited about a football team in a long time.
What are your expectations for this season?
A lot of our main players are seniors or guys who have played on varsity (before). We have a lot of guys with experience, so we’re just going to try and pick up where we left off. Our first goal is always to win a district championship and have the opportunity to play for a regional championship.
What would you say is the strength of this year’s team?
Our skill guys. They have a lot of experience and talent.
What is the one area that needs improvement?
Our offensive and defensive lines. We don’t have a lot of bodies, so they’re going to have to play both positions even if they didn’t necessarily want to.
Aug. 29 at LaBelle
Sept. 5 vs. Admiral Farragut
Sept. 12 vs. Lake Placid
Sept. 19 at Avon Park
Sept. 26 at Tampa Catholic (7:30 p.m.)
Oct. 3 BYE
Oct. 10 vs. St. Pete Catholic
Oct. 17 at Out-of-Door Academy*
Oct. 24 at Victory Christian
Oct. 31 vs. Bishop Verot*
Nov. 7 vs. Booker
*Denotes district game
**All games start at 7 p.m.
unless otherwise noted
PLAYERS TO WATCH
15 - Reese Vita, senior, quarterback
“He’s kind of the key,” coach Josh Smithers says. “To be able to utilize our (skill players) and for those guys to be able to do what they do, Reese has to play well.”
40 - Sam Leonard, senior, middle linebacker
8 - Tyler Garris, senior, linebacker
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