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 Robinson.
This is the last year Mike DePue will be the head football coach at Robinson High and he is, to say the least, emotional.
"We had a preseason gathering with all the players and their families and about 300 showed up, and I looked out and thought this is really something special," DePue said. "I got up to say something and it was tough.
"There's going to be plenty of tears shed this year — good tears."
There's also going to be plenty of victories because this year's team appears good enough to make a serious run at a state championship.
The strongest part of the Knights' 2012 edition is its offensive line, led by University of South Florida-commits Conner Rafferty and Bruce Hector. If Brooks Lovely bounces back well from a knee injury, Robinson could be as formidable up front as it has been in years, and maybe ever.
The main benefactor from the line's prowess will most likely be running back Martin Ruiz, a hard-nosed runner who gained 783 yards last year while averaging seven yards a carry.
"I love my offensive linemen," Ruiz said. "I know I couldn't do what I do without them."
The other player who might benefit the most from the Knights' O-line is quarterback Zain Gilmore, who transferred in the offseason from Blake, which struggled last season along the offensive line.
"Gilmore is a talent and he's working hard to learn our system," DePue said. "He has the potential to do some great things for us once he gets our system down."
Defensively, Robinson is deep along the lines and at linebacker, where players will often platoon. Expect Ruiz to also play plenty at safety, helping to shore up the defensive backs, who include shutdown cornerbacks Carlos Duclos and Terrance Baldwin.
One of the few question marks remains at kicker, a position the Knights haven't worried much about the past few years with Kody Thomas taking care of the duties. With the regular season a few weeks away, Cody Hodgens or Aaron Root remain in a battle for the starting kicker slot.
KICKOFF CLASSIC: Friday at Clearwater
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 at Jefferson
PREVIOUS TOP 10 TEAMS: 10. Durant; 9. Sickles; T7. Tampa Bay Tech; T7 Jefferson; 6. Gaither; T4. Hillsborough.