TAMPA – 2017 is a substantial year for junior Dane Belton.
The 6’1″, 185-pound Jesuit safety/wide receiver is entering his second season as a full-time starter. Belton is a 2019 prospect who performed at a high level as a sophomore with 49 tackles, three interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Playing alongside a defense that allowed just 10.7 points per game a season ago, Belton and his group finished 13-1 losing to American Heritage 21-14 in the Class 5A state semifinal.
He’ll be a starting safety and an occasional slot wide receiver and punt returner this season.
Belton talked about his progression in a full-time role as a sophomore.
“At the beginning of the season, I had all these good players around me. They already had starting experience so I asked them questions how it would be for the first game,” Belton told Prep Sports Scouting. “I was nervous at first but as the season went on, I felt comfortable with my team. In the playoffs, I felt comfortable. It was almost like we were playing for four years.”
He credited his teammates for helping him mature on and off the field. Travell Harris, a current Washington State athlete was a cornerback and wide receiver for Jesuit the last four years. Also, University of Florida running back Malik Davis played a part in Belton’s rise.
“It was a great experience. Travell helped me a lot, him playing both ways and now that I’m playing both ways,” he said. “When I was just on defense, he would help me out with receiver moves when I plan man in the slot against fast guys.
Practicing against Malik, it would help me with my open field tackling. He’s so elusive you had to be fundamentally sound to tackle him.”
Belton enjoys playing for head coach Matt Thompson. Hired in Dec. 2012, Thompson has guided the Tigers to four straight district titles and a 41-11 overall record.
“It is great. He’s [Thompson] a defensive minded coach, he knows every position on our defense like the back of his hand,” Belton said. “On the field, he gets the job done and off the field, he’s a chill and cool guy to hang around with.”
The Tigers open up the season at home, a place they’ve gone 16-1 over the last two seasons. The lone loss came against eventual state champion Orlando Bishop Moore in the 2015 state semifinal. It will be Durant visiting Jesuit next Friday and Belton says it is all about business.
“I got to make sure it is all about business,” he said. “I have a lot of friends on that team, but you know at the end of the day it’s not about who is your friend, it’s about getting a win.”
A two-sport athlete as a freshman, Belton played outfield for the baseball team. He made the team again as a sophomore but chose not to play to focus on football.
His football life started at the age of 8. He was first a right guard and defensive end, but in Year 2, he played running back, quarterback and safety.
Belton says he discovered his confidence last season.
“After the big games I’ve played at Jesuit, having the experience and going into camps with everyone saying “that’s Dane”, I think it is great to work in those camps and boost confidence,” he said.
He pointed to his ability to attack the ball in the air, coverage in zone and man, speed and tackling as his biggest strengths. Tackling is still something he wants to continue to improve.
No offers have come yet for the junior, but he’s generated interest from Tennessee, Virginia Tech, USF, Iowa, Iowa State and Washington State.
Even with two years left in high school, Belton has legitimate aspirations with football.
“I definitely want to go to the league,” he said. “That’s been the dream since even before I started playing football.”
He plans to study to become a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in college.
Belton came out of his shell a bit more as a personable and likable kid at Jesuit. He’s seen often at other sporting events supporting his school. For now, the focus is to take his game to the next level and I think he will be able to do that. Belton is a gifted safety who should earn Division I offers before the end of the year.
Favorite players to watch – Derwin James, Karl Joseph
Playlist before games – Lil Fo, Tee Grizzley, Kodak Black
Favorite movies – Meet The Fockers
Favorite TV shows – Love & Hip Hop Atlanta, Last Chance U
Fun fact that you think nobody knows – “I was really good at the drums. I played from age 9 to 13. I still play sometimes.”
Nickname from teammates or friends – “The Great Dane”, “Bruno Mars”
Game film: Belton’s Hudl tape
Jake Perper is the founder of Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.