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Two-sport start KJ Valentine has emerged as the top QB for Bartow

Scorebook Live logo Scorebook Live 7/31/2022 Bill Kemp

BARTOW, FLORIDA – KJ Valentine has emerged on top of the quarterback depth chart at Bartow.

During recent summer 7-on-7 tournaments, Bartow head coach Richard Tate said it would be a battle between two juniors, Valentine and Drew Fitzgerald, who was working with the team most of the summer during conditioning while Valentine was spending the summer pounding the hardwoods with Yellow Jackets perennial power basketball team.

But on Thursday, Tate acknowledged Valentine would be the guy to replace the graduated Lin Johnson, who threw for 2,651 yards and 28 touchdowns over the past two seasons, which also included back-to-back playoff appearances. Valentine was the backup to Johnson last year and started the spring game while Fitzgerald recovered from a broken arm.

“Valentine is a pretty good athlete, he is probably going to be our guy,” Tate said. “Drew has worked his fanny off. He has been here since February trying to be the quarterback.”

KJ Valentine, who also stars on the Bartow basketball team, has taken the lead in the battle for the starting quarterback job for the Yellow Jackets. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live KJ Valentine, who also stars on the Bartow basketball team, has taken the lead in the battle for the starting quarterback job for the Yellow Jackets. Photo by Bill Kemp

There are plenty more starting jobs up for grabs with camp starting Monday. Bartow lost 24 players from the 2021 roster – 18 to graduation and six more wandered off through the "portal."

“We lost some to Lake Gibson, Lakeland and Lake Wales.” Tate said. “It’s not a total rebuild but we are trying to replace some good players for sure. It’s a fun team right now, and it’s going to be a young team that has a very bright future.”

Tate said look for the offense to pound the ball and move the chains as much as possible, ideally, a 70-30 run-pass ratio.

“In high school, you have to move the ball on the ground to win some games and work the clock,” he said. “We will be a combination of things, but I am a little old school, so we will run some two-back stuff, which I still believe in.”

Look for senior Trequan Jones to get plenty of carries at running back and senior King Burch to pound the ball from the fullback slot. Quavion Bird and Jase Thomas will also see action at running back.

“Burch is a tough running back,” Tate said. “We have starters but we need guys to spell them on both sides of the ball. We’ll have some packages for some guys to give us some depth at some places.”

Bartow senior King Burch strikes the Heisman pose during summer conditioning drills in July. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live Bartow senior King Burch strikes the Heisman pose during summer conditioning drills in July. Photo by Bill Kemp Bartow senior running back Trequan Jones catches a pass during summer drills on campus in July. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live Bartow senior running back Trequan Jones catches a pass during summer drills on campus in July. Photo by Bill Kemp

Tate said he has full confidence in the Yellow Jackets’ air attack to break some big plays while keeping defenses from stacking the box to stop the run.

“Play-action will be our passing game. We’ll do some trips stuff, but we are not going to throw it 25 times per game. We will throw when we need to throw and get some things done,” Tate said.

“The offensive line is going to be fine. I like our group up front. Sheldon Jones is the returning guy at guard and Brett Tyree returns at left tackle.”

Bartow assistant coach Robert Whitaker works with lineman during summer drills in July. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live Bartow assistant coach Robert Whitaker works with lineman during summer drills in July. Photo by Bill Kemp

Defensively, the Yellow Jackets will base out of a 3-4 set, anchored by Bird at tackle and Jase Thomas rotating between defensive end and outside linebacker. Burch will plug the holes at middle linebacker and sophomore Tavares Murray will lead the secondary from one of the defensive back spots.

“We got youth over there. It is probably our youngest spot across the board,” Tate said. “It’s a good group of kids and we are just going to have to fly around and have some fun."

Bartow players brave the heat during summer conditioning drills which saw the thermometer climb into the upper 90s. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live Bartow players brave the heat during summer conditioning drills which saw the thermometer climb into the upper 90s. Photo by Bill Kemp

Bartow will look for a third consecutive trip to the playoffs coming out of 4A District 8 stacked with Winter Haven, Ridge Community and Haines City. The Yellow Jackets will open the season Aug. 26 hosting Martin County but will first travel to Fort Meade for a Preseason Classic Aug. 19.

Bartow head coach Richard Tate (center) is joined by King Burch (2) and Trequan Jones (22) during a media day event on campus in July. Photo by Bill Kemp © Provided by Scorebook Live Bartow head coach Richard Tate (center) is joined by King Burch (2) and Trequan Jones (22) during a media day event on campus in July. Photo by Bill Kemp
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