LAND O’ LAKES — There’s not much more James Pensyl can do.
The nearly 6-foot-7, 215-pound left-handed senior quarterback led Pasco County with 2,345 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season as the Gators went 8-2.
Yet, the team missed the playoffs.
So the Oregon State commit has two goals this season: Get into those pesky playoffs and, of course, replicate — if not better — those top-notch numbers.
“I’m going to take Land O’ Lakes as far as I can,” Pensyl said. “I want to have good numbers, but as long as we’re winning, I’m happy. We did a lot of good things last year, but this year has to be different. I feel like there’s a lot of talent in our district, but I also feel we’re the best team in it, too.”
Indeed, there is a lot of talent in Class 6A-District 6, including Spring Hill Springstead, Mitchell and in-town rival Sunlake, which defeated the Gators 28-21 in overtime last season that pretty much propelled the Seahawks into the playoffs.
That loss still stings, which is why Land O’ Lakes is already looking forward to hosting Sunlake this season.
“We’ve got a big circle on that game (on Oct. 17),” Pensyl said. “We know it will be a different atmosphere, but it’s also an important game, not only for the community, but for both teams’ playoff hopes.”
Despite losing pivotal players from 2013, the Gators are optimistic they can continue to use their ultra-hurry-up offense centered around Pensyl. Coach Brian Wachtel and offensive coordinator Josh Scroggins recognize Pensyl can be — and should be — the one to lead the way to the postseason.
“The maturation is there and ongoing,” Wachtel said. “He’s probably done growing now, but also filling out. He’s way ahead in the system because he’s been in it a couple of years, so now he’s making better decisions and doing a nice job of leading.”
“He’s finally seeing the bigger picture and seeing the field like a coach,” Scroggins said. “He used to have some indecisions, but he’s making smart (decisions) now, and the offensive line has come a long way, too, so he’s going to have time to sit back there. And if you give someone like him time, he’s going to be able to do a lot.”
The Gators are going to rely heavily on senior left-handed quarterback James Pensyl, but he has weapons around him in speedy receiver Ethan Weilant (457 yards, 6 TDs) and bulked-up running back Larenz Scroggins (588 yards, 4 TDs). An improved offensive line led by Jordan Ferrante should give Pensyl plenty of protection, too.
The Gators lost many defensive leaders — Shaheed Salmon (117 tackles, 8.5 sacks), Darius Wells (60 tackles, 6.5 sacks), Colin Irwin (116 tackles) and Deionte Strozier (5 interceptions) — so Jo Von Parrish (85 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Noah Randall (66 tackles, 2 sacks) will have to lead the way to match the offense’s success and shut down opponents.
Having a great season and missing the playoffs is tough, but the Gators look to rebound and get past the rest of Class 6A-District 6, especially in-town rival Sunlake. For Land O’ Lakes, the key might be picking up a road win at Spring Hill Springstead and getting revenge on the Seahawks at home to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
♦ About The Gators
Stadium: Gator Stadium, 20325 Gator Lane, Land O’ Lakes
Class-District: 6A-6 (with Fivay, Mitchell, Spring Hill Springstead and Sunlake)
Coach: Brian Wachtel (19-11, fourth season)
Last season: 8-2
Aug. 29: at River Ridge
Sept. 5: Anclote
Sept. 12: at Ridgewood
Sept. 19: Mitchell
Sept. 26: Gulf
Oct. 10: at Hudson
Oct. 17: Sunlake
Oct. 24: at Fivay
Oct. 31: at Spring Hill Springstead
Nov. 7: Lecanto