One of the issues with the football program at Admiral Farragut has been instability with the coaching staff. In recent years, there has been a tremendous revolving door. But that trend seems to have come to a half which current coach Chris Miller, a former player at the school who is in his third year as head coach, hopes will pay off.
"This is the first time in 15 years every kid knows one coaching staff," Miller said. "I think that is starting to pay off. They understand schemes and characteristics."
Initially, Admiral Farragut will succeed on the legs of tailback Josh Burch. A returning starter, Miller raves about his skills.
"He is a tremendous talent and very fast with good instincts, a real good football player.
Noah Silverger, a junior, will join Burch in the backfield on offense and on defense will play linebacker where he will be teamed by a potential budding star. Miller is excited by freshman linebacker Chris Myric, who was a middle school legend of sorts who averaged 20 tackles a game.
Admiral Farragut will use a lot of lineman both ways including Hayden Buttner (defensive end/left tackle), Tim Main (tight end/linebacker) and Curtis Diez.
No matter the outcome of the season, Miller is already likes this year's team.
"This is a great group of guys," Miller said. "By far this is the best group of guys, character-wise."
While many local football fans may be pointing at Northeast as the top dog in south Pinellas County if not the entire county, don't be surprised if Boca Ciega rises to the top.
The Pirates have a tantalizing combination of strong, seasoned linemen, speed at both wide receiver and running back, and arguably the best quarterback in the county.
While former Tampa Bay Storm star and current Pirates coach Stevie Thomas may being thoughts of high-flying offense to mind, he suggests it will be old school at the Gulfport school.
"We're going back to old high school football, ironman football, where guys have to go both ways," Thomas said.
That might not be good news for opponents. On the line, the Pirates boast
star Julius Forte, a defensive end, Johnny Hartsfield, a defensive end, Cody Hampton, a defensive tackle and defensive/offensive tackle Matt Vest. All will play line on each side of the ball.
"We have guys who can get the job done for us on the line," Thomas said.
Offensively, quarterback Orhian Johnson will lead Boca Ciega. His size, ability to run and strong arm is not unlike former Bradenton Southeast star Adrian McPherson.
Thomas describes his skill positions players as "loaded" with running backs Darrian Skinner, Mundrae Francis and Darius Johnson who Thomas calls "special." Additionally with wide receivers Sherrod Clinton, Aaron Kincy, Boca Ciega might have plenty of distractions to take a lot of heat off of Johnson to keep defenses honest.
In coach Chris Rivera's second season at Calvary Christian, there won't be a stud running back in Rivera's Wing-T offense. Rather, he will use what he calls a "backfield by committee.
"We're going to go with the hot hand," Rivera said. "You never know what kind of defense you will run up against. Some defenses are good against a trap. Others are good against a sweep. Some running backs can do well in different situations. Pat Tomeny and A.J. Williams will be two of those committee members. A third back, Jordan Ankrod, could log playing time at wide receiver.
"He has really blossomed," Rivera said.
How well Calvary Christian does may depend on quarterback Buddy Adzima.
"He is the lynch pin, the key," Rivera said. "If he can run the show, that will be very important. He just needs to stay away from turnovers."
Rivera is banking on play from three players to solidify his defense: strong-side linebacker Blake Rowland, defensive end Steven Carrick and middle linebacker Nate Ustianowski.
"They are pivotal to the defense," Rivera said. "They are the heart and soul of the defense."
Rivera is looking forward to getting the season underway.
"We could be pretty good," Rivera said. "But we may be a year away from peaking."
Consider Steve Dudley to already have a victory in the 2007 season. Just a few days before Canterbury's season was set to kick off, he found out that his two best players, QB/DB Brandon Hamilton and WR Johnny Lancaster, had decided to return for their senior seasons.
Both baseball stars on one of the county's top baseball programs, the two were going to dedicate the fall to honing their baseball skills for next year's major league draft or to obtain a college scholarship.
But earlier this week the duo changed their minds. It's a load off of Dudley's mind.
"I was a little disappointed," Dudley said last week before learning of the two's double-reverse of sorts.
The return of Hamilton and Lancaster means Canterbury could have one of the better Class A programs in the area. Joey Cuda, who Dudley refers to as a "beast" at 6-0, 215, is a big linebacker for a Class 5A team much less Class A. On offense, Cuda, who Dudley said is "naturally strong" will play fullback.
"He pounds the ball effectively and at linebacker he is the strongest and fastest on the team," Dudley said. "He brings it."
Because of the return of Hamilton and Lancaster, Dudley will return to a high powered spread offense. At wide receiver, Dudley has freshman Emery Ellinger, who "has a lot of potential" and junior Ryan Laurent who "is the fastest next to Cuda. He's quick."
Naturally being a small school, Canterbury will have a lot of players playing both sides of the ball, but on defense, Dudley suspects linebacker/safety J.D. Davis, a transfer from Gibbs, to join Cuda as a defensive leader.
The best play that may have taken place for Clearwater in recent years came off the football field.
Just a few weeks ago, quarterback Luke Loucks, who had verbally committed to play basketball for Florida State, decided to come out and play football for his senior year. Loucks, who was also recruited to play quarterback at Florida State, among other schools, was undecided through the summer whether to focus solely on basketball or to play football as well.
Loucks' decision was obviously welcome news to Clearwater High School coach Tom Bostic.
"All along he was telling me he was going to play," Bostic said of Loucks. "But there was a period there where we might have had to look to go another direction. We'd all along he was telling me he was going to play but there was a period there we might have had to look to go another direction. We'd have to go with it and deal with the hand that was dealt us.
"But I was sure glad with his decision. I was hoping we wouldn't have to go with Plan-B."
Loucks is a pro-style quarterback with a gun for an arm. He is easily the best quarterback Clearwater has had in the past decade. And he has a solid receiver as a top target, Chris Sackman.
Bostic raves about Sackman's potential.
"He could be the best I have ever had," Bostic said. Given the fact Bostic is coaching in his fourth decade, that's quite a statement.
"He runs great routes," Bostic said. "When the ball is there, he makes great catches. He has great concentrate."
Sackman also will play free safety.
Defensively, the Tornadoes have Joe Marshall as a tackle, and he could be the best in Pinellas County. He already has been offered a scholarship from Wisconsin.
On paper, the Tornadoes could be a force and certainly will light up the scoreboard with Loucks and Sackman. But if Clearwater is to have a good year, the Tornadoes must come out of the gate strong. In the past few years, Clearwater has lost most games to begin the season and either was too far behind to make a run at the playoffs, or had to win several games in a row at the end of the season with little margin for error.
While Bostic is aware of the slow starts, he thinks it maybe a bit overblown.
"There was only one game last year we were out of and that was [Boca Ciega]," Bostic said. "Against Largo [to open the season] we only lost by nine points and we were in the game.
Clearwater Central Catholic
Two years ago Clearwater Central Catholic (CCC) coach Mike Jalazo said prior to the season that his team had a "chance to be pretty good."
The result? The Marauders had their best season in school history before losing to Pahokee in the state semifinal.
This year, Jalazo happened to mention the same thing, and he wasn't bragging about repeating that feat.
The Marauders have had a nice run in recent years, advancing to two state semifinals and last year a region final.
"We've been to a region final four years in a row now, and twice to the state semifinal," Jalazo said. "We've had a good run."
What makes Jalazo so optimistic about his team this season is a combination of experience and depth, usually a good combination that leads to a successful campaign.
"Last year was supposed to be a rebuilding year and we get to the region final,": Jalazo said. "And if we catch a break or two we were back in the state semifinal. It's been a good run.
"Sometimes I watch us and think we have a chance to be real doggone good."
The Marauders lost a couple of stud linebackers but have a virtual smorgasbord returning in addition to Dan Wood who is transferring into CCC from Shorecrest and is regarded as one of the top linebackers in the area.
CCC also returns much of its skill position players, including starting quarterback Brent Henderson who at times looked to be a budding superstar. Combined with a deep and experienced offensive line, scoring points shouldn't be a problem for CCC.
"We're pretty deep everywhere," Jalazo said. "We felt we have set a standard at the school in the last few years. Could we melt down? Sure. We can't get too full of ourselves.
"But we are always in the playoffs just by the way we compete. I'd like to believe this is the standard we have set. But you have to stay healthy and do the right things."
But like the team two years ago that oozed talent, this year's team has top flight talent as well, but not over-the-top like Riley Cooper (Florida), Colin McCarthy (Miami) and Kevin Young (South Carolina).
Linebacker Kyle Rettig will lead what should be a strong defense. The 6-3, 230-pound Rettig will play defensive tackle and linebacker. He lists Notre Dame, Penn State and Vanderbilt among his college choices.
Surrounding Rettig will be Danny Wood, a transfer linebacker from Shorecrest, Brian Ackerman, Jamaal Alderman and Rob Fregosi, among others.
On offense, the Marauders have Henderson who, in only two starts was held to less than 100 yards passing. He threw for 15 touchdowns and completed nearly two-thirds of his passes.
Despite the team being its deepest in years, Jalazo isn't about to start making plans for a state final trip.
"If we don't play our best every week, you never know."
For the first time in eight years dating back to his coaching days at Clearwater Central Catholic, Countryside coach John Davis won't have a budding Division- quarterback to work with.
In succession, Davis has coach Jay Davis (North Carolina State), Harrison Beck (Nebraska/North Carolina State) and L.D. Crow (Stanford).
As a result, Davis became something of a local quarterback guru by developing pro-style quarterbacks in an often pass-happy offense. But this year, Davis will have to earn his stripes if the Cougars are to develop another quarterback to pick up where Davis/Beck/Crow left off.
"I'll have to coach a little," Davis joked. "I almost forgot."
Davis will likely go with a two-quarterback system between Ryan Eppes, a junior and Jimbo Chmelik, a left-handed sophomore.
"We are building around what they can do," Davis said. "One is not stepping way ahead of the other. I project we'll use both of them and do what they do best.
"They are not totally dissimilar. The thing about it is, they can run the same type of offense. So why not use both?"
Davis confessed each quarterback has individual attributes that the Countryside offense can use in specific situations. But the key is not to tip off opposing defenses that a certain play is coming because a quarterback is entering the game.
"We will have to do a good job of disguising," Davis said.
But the way Davis spoke, if deciding what quarterback to use is his biggest concern, this will be an easy season. But it is not.
"The quarterback position right now is the least of my worries," Davis said. "I feel good about the quarterback position. That is not a worry. But we have other areas of concern.
"We have only one returning offensive lineman. We have to find some linemen. I like our receivers, but they are not real deep. We have four or five guys running every route and that is a concern.
"On defense we lost all of our linebackers."
But if the Cougars play like they did against Alonso Aug. 24 in the kickoff classic, Countryside won't give up easy.
Alonso jumped out to a 21-0 lead on three turnovers in the first quarter. But Countryside began to make its own turnovers and rallied for a 28-21 win.
It helps that Dawrence Roberts is expected to be a key players for Countryside at tailback.
"He will be as good as there is in the county," Davis said.
It seems Dunedin, which advanced to the region semifinal round last year before being tripped up by Manatee, has enough skill positions players and linemen to make a repeat performance if not advance further in the playoffs.
"We have a good group of offensive linemen, three starters, and we're pretty excited about the prospects," Dunedin coach Mark Everett said.
The three linemen are Zack Benson at center, Chavez Sermons, a tackle Chad Sunday, a guard. The offensive line could get stronger if Everett moves Sermons' twin brother Leland, who will primarily play defensive tackle, to play both sides of the ball.
With a seasoned offensive line, it could create holes for the Falcons running backs. The running backs returning for Dunedin are skilled. Led by Darius Bellamy and Zack Benson, who may be a sleeper. Benson missed much of last year with a broken
thumb. But when he did play late in the season he shined.
Darius Anderson and Kerry NNataeeugo will share time at quarterback.
"It's a little bit like Chris Leak and Tim Tebow," Everett joked. "Certain plays one quarterback runs well and certain plays the other runs well."
On defense, the Falcons return Mike Towns, who set a school record for interceptions last year with eight. He'll be joined by Mike Kumbat at inside linebacker, and strong safety John Toston.
Everett admitted expectations are high but noted his players haven't let the expectations get to their egos. The last time Dunedin was predicted to have a strong season the team imploded early and won but two games. The current seniors were freshmen then and are determined not to have such a repeat.
"We had lightning the other day and had to pull the team off the field," Everett noted. "The players were mad. They wanted to continue practicing."
Rebels coach Mike Morey is hoping the suffering of a losing season with inexperienced players pays off with a winning season using experienced players this fall. What Morey didn't plan on before last season was that many other county schools would have a bumper crop of players as well.
"We played a lot of young guys last year to be better off this year," Morey said. "But Pinellas County seems to be better off this year too."
Morey is hoping that speed can overcome power. The Rebels seem to have plenty of talent at the skill positions, not so much up front. This was almost the opposite of two years ago when Dixie Hollins was one of the county's top teams.
"We're fast on defense; I think we will be strong on defense," Morey said. "On offense it's simple: we just can't turn the ball over and put the defense in bad situations.
"Overall, we are a lot faster. But we are not big. Two years ago we had six 300-pound linemen. But now we don't have anyone over 265."
But the Rebels might have one of the county's more underrated quarterbacks in Josh Brown who can burn teams with his arm and his legs.
"He's not just a quarterback," defensive back Ja-Far Fortt said. ""He can beat you with his arm and he can run."
Running back Jason Cole, another talented player with wheels, will help keep defenses from focusing on Brown.
"I think we will be better," Cole said. "I can't say how much better but we will be better. There's so much better communication between all of the players on the field. We've learned to talk to each other. We have a combination of speed and skills. When strength won't work, we have the skills."
Defensively, Fortt may be one of the better cornerbacks in the county.
Seemingly since the school opened, East Lake has been a run-first, run-second and pass only if you life depended on it.
In recent years the philosophy has changed a little, but East Lake is still a dominant run-oriented squad. That could change this season. Maybe.
"On paper, we could be alright," East Lake coach Bob Hudson said.
The Eagles will be led by Micah Powell, a three-year starting running back who has verbally agreed to play at Vanderbilt next fall. In just seven games last year Powell ran for over 750 yards.
But the change in the team's offense may come with quarterback Blake Robles, who Hudson raves about as a pro-style passer.
"We should throw a little bit more with Blake," Hudson said. "he's a very good passer, he has good footwork. He's technically sound. He throws really well and understands schemes well. He may set up other things for us but we will still run the ball."
Don't expect Hudson to come out with a run-and-shoot offense nor throw the ball half the time.
Hudson may just have his best offense yet. With Powell's legs and Robles' arm, the middle of the line could be softened up with Erin Murray, a 6-2, 250-pound fullback who also plays defensive tackle.
Also on defense will be Powell, who plays safety, Billy Byrne, a solid linebacker and nose tackle Justin Fredericks who is being recruited by several Division-1AA schools. "But at least now on third downs I won't have to hold my breath when we need to pass," Hudson joked. "I have to use this kid's tools. But if we are running for five or six yards a carry... well, I don't believe in fixing something that isn't broke."
There's a whole lot of question marks coming from Gibbs this season. And that's just the way first-year coach Yusuf Shakir wants it.
"Pass, power, option," is how Shakir describes his offensive philosophy. In other words, he wants his offense to be able to attack a defense in virtually any way. Versatility is Shakir's offensive goal.
"Running the ball, three-step drops, five-step drops, shotgun... if you can run all three and run the ball, you should be able to win," Shakir said. "I believe in being even-keeled. You have to keep the defense honest."
And Shakir thinks he has the players to do just that. With Larry Murphy and JaJuan Moorer at wide receiver, Devon McCullough at running back LaMar Hall at quarterback.
Shakir especially likes Hall.
"He has confidence about him," Shakir said. "He's calm."
Overall Shakir likes the overall speed of his team. But no matter what happens this year, Shakir is looking at a goal of many winning seasons to come.
"I'm excited about the first year but you want to make sure everything is in order," Shakir said. "You want to make sure the kids are playing hard. You want to make sure we make the community and the school proud. We're playing for the community."
Indian Rocks Christian
Golden Eagles coach Mark Buchanan believes his third year at the Largo school may be the charm.
His first year in 2005 the players had to be force-fed his system. His second year the team suffered a large number of losses to graduation and as a result, his team was largely young and inexperienced.
Now with the players having been with Buchanan for three years and having plenty of experience, Buchanan is expected to see the dividends.
"It's very exciting," Buchanan said. "last year we really played a junior varsity squad. We had lost a lot of kids from the previous year. So our outlook for this year and even the next few years is pretty bright."
Matt Oliphant, a senior, will be the starter at quarterback. Buchanan likes how Oliphant is at the top of his class academically, and it shows on the field. "He makes good decisions," Buchanan said. Buchanan will also try to work in Blake Farver.
"Matt has a strong arm and Blake is very coachable," Buchanan said. "Blake will not throw the ball 50 or 60 yards downfield but he can run."
Ethan Englebert and Lou Mason, tailback and fullback respectively, both juniors, will line up in the backfield. Mason ran for over 900 yards last year. Ryan Mercado will be the top wide receiver.
IRC will have a strong line Buchanan insists, led by T.C. Connors, Max Heard and Sean Harvey.
On defense, the Golden Eagles return leading tackler Darius Sabiddes at middle linebacker.
Keswick Christian coach Rick Sanson knows all too well that high school playoffs is virtually a separate season. The Crusaders were one of the top teams in Class 1B last year with a 9-1 regular season record.
But the stellar season was all for naught with a first round loss to Pine Castle Christian 32-13.
But to begin the 2007 season the Crusaders look strong, with several key players back from last year.
Three of the Crusaders top offensive weapons return. Running back Jared DiMaggio has racked up 2,800 yards the past two years. Last season DiMaggio ran for 1,431 yards and 18 touchdowns.
At wide receiver, Tarvin Jones will be Stacy's main target. Playing as a No. 2 receiver last season Jones grabbed had eight receiving touchdowns.
Maybe the best player is quarterback Jared Stacy who accounted for 22 touchdowns, 18 through the air and four on the ground.
Fortunately for the Crusaders' three-headed offensive monster Keswick Christian appearns to have a strong line, which is a rare commodity in small school prep football. Four-year starter Kolby Crider, who Sanson refers to as a "tenacious blocker" will team with Trae Span, a three-year starter who stands 6-0, 220, the biggest lineman on the Crusaders roster.
"He is our anchor," Sanson said.
The Crusaders look to have a strong defense with Jared Boddie at middle linebacker and Mike Curtis at linebacker weakside linebacker who Sanson said "has an uncanny ability to find the ball. On the line will be Roman Bruce and Daniel Darden. Doug Sanson, who had 11 tackles in Keswick's playoff loss last fall, will play safety.
"We have 10 starters back on offense but we los a lot on defense," Sanson said. "On paper, we look pretty good but obviously our focus this summer has been on defense."
Once upon a time, Lakewood was considered a dominant program. And coach Otis Dixon is stressing patience.
"We want to return to dominance," Dixon said. "It takes time."
But Dixon admits he is excited about this season. A coach gets that way when he sees potential.
"We have a handful of players," Dixon said.
First among those will be quarterback Jacquez Jenkins, a junior. He has a strong wide receiver to work with in Shayon Headly who Dixon describes as "an excellent weapon."
Also in the backfield is Bernard Reedy, who Dixon refers to as a "smasher." He will run along side Jakarri Johnson.
But without blocking the skill position players won't be able to do much. That's where Richard Pashcow comes in. The senior has NFL size for a lineman at 6-6, 290.
"We're excited about our offense," Dixon said. "We are way ahead of where we thought we would be."
Defensively the Spartans have speed in the secondary led by Paul Britten who qualified for the state track finals in the 200 meter run. At defensive tackle is Vauchard Goodridge, who Dixon said "moves well and could be a linebacker at the next level."
The Packers very well could be the cream of Pinellas County this year. Largo returns several players from a team that narrowly lost to North Fort Meyers in the Class 5A region semifinal playoff game.
Included in the returning starters are the Packers skill position players, among those fourth-year starting quarterback Leonard Johnson and running Brynn Harvey.
Last year as a junior Harvey led Pinellas County in rushing with 1,746 yards for 19 touchdowns. In the postseason games the Packers had, Harvey racked up over 500 yards rushing.
Unlike some other football preseason workouts, there seems to be a purpose with the Packers. The loss last year at North Fort Myers, a loss the Packers confess they let a late-lead slip away, still haunts them.
"The players don't want to [their high school football days] end on a downer like last year," Largo High School football coach Rick Rodriguez said. "They want to finish it. That's the bottom line: they didn't finish it last year."
The players seem determined, the coaches seem excited. Usually high school coaches are overly concerned with one area or two. But not so much the Largo coaches.
"We could be better than last year," Largo defensive coordinator Matt Lepain said. "We will be quicker than last year, faster. Because of that, I think we'll be better than last year."
Largo expects to have seven starters return on defense, three of which are three-year starters and one a four-year starter.
"They have the ability to get to the ball than last year," Lepain said. "They run to the ball hard."
The offensive line is possibly the only area that concerns the coaches.
"We have all kinds of skill position players," Largo offensive coordinator Dave Angelo said. "But the thing is we need blocking. I've seen teams with all sorts of skill position talent and when they didn't get blocking up front, it didn't matter. I've seen good teams fall apart because they didn't have blocking. That's the key, it all starts there."
The two biggest holes on the offensive line were made with the graduation of Kyle Peters and Leron Burnett.
The Packers will use many players on both sides of the ball. Staying injury-free will be critical. If a player goes down, it will likely create a hole on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Provided the Packers can find someone, or some players, to replace Peters and Burnett - no small task - Largo could go deep in the playoffs with the talent at on offense and defense.
For the first time in 28 years, Gerry Austin won't be prowling the sidelines at Northeast. But the Austin tradition continues as his son, Jay, is his father's successor.
And look for the Vikings' success to continue.
"He left me some players," Jay Austin beamed.
No less than running back Jeff Brinson and quarterback Armando Sanchez.
How good is Brinson, well, consider that Austin will continue to utilize his father's Wing-T offense, a running back is essential. But the colleges that are after Brinson tell how talented he is. Among his suitors are Iowa, Michigan State, Mississippi, North Carolina State, Purdue and South Florida.
Rivals.com has Brinson ranked as a three-star back.
Sanchez is rated as a two-star quarterback by Rivals. Earlier in the year he verbally committed to USF.
But it's not just skill position players Austin has at his disposal. Yet another star, defensive end Javontae Boyd, is also a three-star player in Rivals database. Colleges that are trying to lure the 6-3, 290-pound stud's services reads like a Who's Who of southeastern football: Florida, Clemson, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia as well as Rutgers.
If Northeast has a weakness, it's depth. Austin suggested for the team to have a truly memorable season, the players must stay healthy. Many of his starters are playing on both sides of the ball.
"There's not a lot of drop off [between a starter and a backup] but if you lose a Sanchez, you have lost your quarterback and a linebacker," Austin said. "If we lose Javontae, we lose two linemen and a special teams player. We have to stay healthy."
If the Mustangs are to make a run at a state title in Class A, this may be the year. Northside Christian coach Bob Dare returns 14 seniors who either started or logged significant playing time for a team that finished as a district runner-up to Class A power Fort Meade.
"My expectations are pretty high and so are there's," Dare said of his players. "I have good skill position players and three guys who can play quarterback. I have depth at the skill positions. Our linemen may be the thinnest as far as depth on the team, but for a Class A school there aren't many 6-2, 290-pound guys walking around. It's like that at most small schools and that is the case with us.
But the Mustangs might be able to hold their own. A taste of what may come was this year's spring game when Northside Christian beat Class 5A Seminole 27-7.
Drew Phillips and Tyler Stowell are senior quarterbacks who split time last year and will likely continue to do so this season. Dare will also utilize junior David Edwards, who he described as a "scatback."
At running back are senior Danny Speake, who was the Mustangs leading rusher last season and Dare expects "a breakout year," and Seth Cole."
"We also have three or four good receivers," Dare said. Most players will play both offense and defense. Dare noted how Northside Christian ended last season gave them an idea of how a strong team should be.
"We lost to [eventual Class A champions] Glades Day 61-18 in the first round of the playoffs so we got a chance to see what a champion is," Dare said. "I think that will help us."
The Warriors will have a hard time matching what the squad did last year. Osceola made the playoffs but through graduation got hit hard. Virtually all skill position players graduated including some strong linemen.
We've got a lot of holes to fill, Osceola coach George Palmer said.
But we'll see what happens. We lost most of our skill position players and had 10 kids from last year had a chance to go play in college.
Among the players Palmer will have to replace include quarterback Sergio Allen, defensive lineman and running back Nick Bennett, running back Justin Hart, offensive and defensive lineman Josh Wiillett and fullback/linebacker Bryce Williams. All five were some of the best players in the county much less top players for the Warriors.
In total, Osceola lost 18 seniors. But it's one thing to replace a player, quite another to replace one talented enough to continue playing in college.
If Osceola is to have a decent season, it needs help from linebacker/running back Sean Palmer, a defensive back/running back.
On the line, the Warriors will need strong play from center Billy Siegler, linebacker Sean Palmer, defensive back Matt Palmer, lineman Mike Jasivkiewicz, lineman Anthony Matacchiero and tight end Patrick Eschenfelder.
Steve Stapleton, a defense back, should anchor the secondary.
We have a real difficult schedule, Palmer said. Our district schedule (Boca Ciega, Lakewood, Bradenton Southeast) is brutal. Nobody we play won't have more than we have.
To get around the lack of experience, Palmer is hoping to use guile.
We hope to maybe outsmart some teams and certainly outwork some, Palmer said. The kids show up every day and work hard, that's all you can ask. Depth will be an issue as will team speed. We will have to control the football with first downs and play solid defense and make some plays to score. We'll try to shorten the game and keep it close until the fourth quarter and give ourselves a chance to win.
It's good fundamental football, that's all.
Palm Harbor University
Last year, first year coach Pete Just guided the Hurricanes to the best season in the school's 11 year history (3-7). Considering the distractions he had, Just could have easily earned Coach of the Year honors in the county.
Just a few weeks before preason practice began, beloved former coach Mike June, who resigned after the 2004 season, succumbed to his four-year battle with luekemia leaving behind a wife, three young sons and a daughter.
He also left behind many players on the Hurricane squad that were close to the former coach.
"We had a lot of players who played with him and knew him," Just said. Maybe because of June's memory, the team jumped out to a 3-2 start but hit a brick wall after the fifth week. "Obviously it was not a good thing for the players to deal with that sort of thing."
One reason for optimism from Just is returning starting quarterback, junior Sean Shelton. His brother Ryan Shelton is a promising fullback. Tailback Dajuan Bush is described by Just as "a shredder." Up front could be an underrated yet experienced line are seniors Cody Donnelly, Matt Farrell. At wide receiver Just confessed his team is "young but good."
Just is expecting Julian Matusewicz to make a good bookend at defensive back with Donnelly. Just also has high regard for linebackers Matt McGinty and Ryan Hoyt. Scott Santangelo is expected to be the anchor of the secondary.
"We have a nice mix of a few seniors and a lot of 10th and 11th graders," Just said. "Hopefully those 10th and 11th graders will come up big for us.
"We're hoping to get a winning record for the first time in school history."
The biggest difference in the Patriots now that coach Matt Lance is in his second year?
Well, for one, he knows who his players are.
Last year Lance, a former Countryside High assistant, was hired as Pinellas Park's head coach just a few weeks before fall practice began. Since, Lance has had not only time to learn who his players are, but implement an offseason program as well as guide his team through spring practice.
Last year it was almost as if Lance was riding a wave. This year he got to maneuver his surfboard through the waves.
It's absolutely different than last year, Lance said We are light years ahead of where we were last year. Now there's much more where we need to go but it's so much better this year to have a spring practice under your belt and have an offseason program dnd the kids are in a better position to make us better.
We kind of went through a weeding out process through the spring had our kids put an importance on offseason workouts.
Being around the school for a year has also given Lance a chance to lure other athletes at the school to come out for football.
There's never been a shortage of talent, Lance said. But you have to put a team together through chemistry and commitment. It's encouraging to see so many athletes come out from other programs.
Despite the bumps in the road last year, Pinellas Park was only completely out of two games, its last two.
Last year we lost a lot of close games, Lance said. There was a learning curve. Hopefully this year we have learned how to win those close games and get on a roll. But you have to go through that process. If we can figure out a way to win ball games, I think we will be all right.
Jason Redden returns on offense at quarterback. I might be a little biased but I think he is one of the better quarterbacks in the county, Lance said. In the backfield, Redden has Oraian Bentley, and sophomore, and Chris McKinnie, a good combination of strength and speed.
At receiver, Redden has Ricky Hunter, R.J. Joker and Jesse Woods, a tall, strong target at receiver who is a star basketball forward for the Patriots. Carlton Green is also what Lance calls a big play guy.
We have no shortage of talent to do some things, Lance said.
Defensively, Woods, 6-4, will play free safety. Last year he played defensive end. But Lance thinks with his speed and size he might be very attractive to a Division-I college as a defensive back if not back at defensive end.
A lot of schools are interested in him as a defensive end but I have a hard time projecting him there because he has such a motor. He can get to the football. In seven-on-seven camps and drills this summer he has held his own at free safety.
Offensively, he can make plays. He brings that relentless attitude on the basketball court to the football field. He loves to compete. Moving him to free safety might be a good move for him in the long run.
The key for Pinellas Park in its quest for a winning season may be health and depth. The Patriots aren't that deep of a team and need to stay free of injuries.
We will have a lot of guys going both ways, Lance said.
The one thing that second-year Green Devils coach Joe Fabrizio has noticed in preseason practices is how well his players seem to be understanding what he says.
"We're speaking the same language this year," Fabrizio said.
If that means anything, it could be the Green Devils could be better this year with another year under Fabrizio's system.
Despite losing his best defensive lineman Lawon Scott to the University of Mississippi, Fabrizio feels the defensive line will be even better than last year.
"We're not the strongest there, but we are solid on the defensive line," Fabrizio said. "The players have really stepped it up."
But offensive line play will be the key.
"We'll be as good as our offensive line will be," Fabrizio said. "That will be the determining factor."
That's because the Green Devils have an ample amount of talent in the offensive skill positions. Tae Jones, who Fabrizio said "has big play ability -- he's bullet-fast," and Lorenzo Arscott will give St. Petersburg a strong one-two punch. At wide receiver, Danny Terrell has the ability to slice through opposing secondaries. His father once started as a wide receiver at North Carolina State. "He has good genes," Fabrizio said. Robert Lemon will be throwing passes to Terrell.
Aside from the defensive line, Fabrizio expect big plays from linebackers Alec Hayes and Kelvin Powell, who Fabrizio described as "outstanding."
Fabrizio was a key cog in Sam Roper's coaching staff when Seminole was in its heyday. Fabrizio is sensing a similar vibe at St. Petersburg.
"We really have the same feel as we did at Seminole," Fabrizio said.
St. Petersburg Catholic
The toughest job in the county this year may be first-year coach Tod Creneti at St. Petersburg Catholic. The school has been mired in controversy recently having been placed on three years postseason ban and have a shakeup in its administration with not only Creneti being a new hire, but also John Gerdes being hired as athletic director.
Additionally with the postseason ban, several players transferred out. So if there are any excuses for a subpar season, Creneti certainly has his share. But losing or sympathy is not what Creneti is looking for.
"For starters, sure, you want to build the proper way, effectively and with a foundation," Creneti said. "But this program has expectations. Want to build a championship program. Whether we win a state championship or not, we want to be the best team in the state. You don't have to win a championship to be considered the best team."
And the possibility is there that Creneti could have a winning team in his first year.
"The cupboard is far from bare," Creneti said.
The Barons have a solid pair of running backs to carry on a tradition of strong runners. Courtney Feazell and A.J. Butler will be teamed in the backfield joined by Kevin Tapp at quarterback. Up front St. Petersburg Catholic has some beef in Jonathan Halapio (6-4, 290) and Adam Condron (6-3, 290).
Defensively the Barons could have the best front seven in years, specifically the linebacker corps. Kyle Kelso is a standout defensive end and will be joined by Halapio and Confron. At linebacker will be Tyler Pillion, Austin Plummer, Butler and Feazell.
"They are an extremely fast and physical group at linebacker," Creneti said. "I'm excited about the kids on defense. They may be unknown to others, but they are not untalented."
If work means success, Shorecrest will have a banner season.
"I have a group that is working like crazy," said Shorecrest coach Phil Heyford. "I had the best turnout for summer workouts that I have had since I have been here."
Given the fact Heyford is entering his 29th season as Shorecrest head coach, that's saying quite a bit.
But in his 29th year if the Chargers are to make the playoffs, it may be Heyford's best coaching job yet. Shorecrest has only seven seniors, two of which have never played high school football before. Heyford projects either a freshman or sophomore at quarterback, either sophomores or juniors at tailback and possibly a freshman at fullback when his Chargers take the field against Class A power Fort Meade at Lakeland Friday.
Two of the few upperclassmen on the Chargers roster are expected to be solid players, like Daniel Whitecage, an center/linebacker at 6-1, 202 and Zach Hirsch, a tackle and defensive end at 5-11, 193. Heyford expects a lot from Matt Van Law, a senior defensive tackle and guard.
At running back, Heyford is looking for production from Jack Schroeder and Toms Bernhards. Both will also play defensive back.
What will happen this year? Heyford isn't sure. He sees enough encouraging signs but is concerned at the inexperience.
"It's hard to predict," Heyford said. "Fort Meade, that's a tough one. I like how our players are working. We didn't get to the playoffs last year, but I'd like to get back there."
There will be some changes with the Seminole Warhawks this year. The biggest change will be replacing many seniors who graduated. But as much as can be expected in August, so far so good for Seminole coach Sam Roper.
"I like who we are getting good attendence," Roper said. "And I like how we have a pretty good work ethic. The heat is against us, but everyone has to practice in the same heat. It's not a secret to get yourself into shape.
"We have some young kids who show some promise. We just lack experience, that's all. We lack experience at quarterback and in just about every position."
The lone area where the Warhawks don't have inexperience is the defensive line, which may be the strong area of the team.
"That's the most experience," Roper said. "That's all we really have.
"The other positions, it looks like we have pretty good athlets at runing backs and three our four kids who are capable of catching the ball. In the secondary, we are young but they will come around.
But if experience is lacking for Seminole, depth is not. And Roper hopes to use this to his advantage. In the past, Roper has used mostly a one-platoon system where players often played on both sides of the ball. For the most part Roper's philosophy has been successful. But even a coach with Roper's resume is willing to try new things when it can be advantageous for his squad.
This year, with depth, Roper plans to use a two-platoon system.
"Our depth is the key," Roper said. "Because of our depth we are trying a two-platoon system. That is what we have seen in the past and have not gone two-platoon. We've gotten deep into the playoffs without a two-platoon. But when you get into that position, most teams whether us or anyone else, when you have to go against the Naples of the world and they have two fresh units running on and off the field, that works against you."
How well Seminole does this year depends on how quickly the young Warhawks develop.
"There's no cakewalk schedule," Roper said. "We will be lining up against some fairly good programs."
Back when Tarpon Springs used to be a power in Pinellas County -- not so long ago -- the team could be counted on as having a strong running attack.
"We were always known as "Tailback High," Tarpon Springs coach George Kotis said. "But we went away from that. Now, we have a crop of young ones and given some time, they should be good and we will be back to where we used to be."
The Spongers may be back. Marcelle Lewis is a lighting fast back who left defenders in his dust in a kickoff classic game against Gulf where he had nine carries for 89 yards.
Look for the Spongers running game to not just improve because of Lewis, but because of a seasoned senior dominated front line to open holes for Lewis. Beau Taylor and Josiah Fisk are solid receivers for quarterback Danny Reyes.
Line looks to be a strong suit for the Spongers in addition to the backfield. Defensive end Donnel Ingram is being wooed by Mississippi, among several other schools.
While Kotis isn't crazy enough to predict Tarpon Springs will run the table in the regular season, he admits it's not out of the question.
"Our goal is to go 10-0 and that is realistic if your team is solid and the foundation is there," Kotis said. Any time you play well you have the chance to win. We were used to being a championship-caliper team. That hasn't happened recently."