To preview the 2012 high school football season, The Tampa Tribune is counting down the top 10 teams in Hillsborough County. These preseason rankings were voted on by Tribune writer Bill Ward, high school sports editor Doug Jacobs and correspondents Mike Camunas, Jarrett Guthrie and Scott Purks. Today: Tied for No. 4 Hillsborough.
Earl Garcia enters his 20th season at the helm of Hillsborough's football program. And for all but one of them -- 2008 -- his Terriers have reached postseason play. And even that year, the Terriers had a winning record. What was it like sitting out of the playoffs?
''It wasn't a happy time,'' Garcia said. ''We've always felt like that if you're still playing at Thanksgiving, you've done your job. That year, we didn't get the job done and we don't ever want to feel that way again.''
In 2012, Garcia fully expects to be part of the playoffs. And considering his squad plays in the same district as state champions Armwood and Jefferson, that will not be an easy task. Internally, the Terriers also face the task of some major changes to the coaching staff, which includes the loss of longtime defensive coordinator Dean Eychner (now head coach at Brandon).
Fueling Garcia's optimism is a defense that could be one of his best and most athletic ever. That unit is led by several standout seniors, including end/linebacker Jordan Sherit, linebackers Nigel Harris, Turhan Johnson and Jaykwon Hosey, defensive back Jeremiah Green and safety Robert Wilson. Hillsborough recently added another solid senior to the defense when cornerback Jakarius Crittenden, a starter last year at Sickles, transferred to the school.
If the defense can carry the load early on, Garcia is hoping his promising sophomore quarterback, Dwayne Lawson, can develop into the same type of athlete former Terriers stars Jarred Fayson and Tarean Austin were under center. Last fall, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Lawson was a starter on the junior varsity but he has shown tremendous potential since arriving on varsity last spring.
KICKOFF CLASSIC: Aug. 24 at Plant City
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 at Middleton
PREVIOUS TOP 10 TEAMS: 10. Durant; 9. Sickles; T7. Tampa Bay Tech; T7 Jefferson; 6. Gaither.