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: No. 9 Sickles.
Sickles High football coach Brian Turner has a lot to feel positive about as his team gets ready for the start of the football season. The Gryphons return 15 starters from last year's team that was 8-3 overall, including a forfeit victory against Armwood, and 4-2 in Class 6A-District 8.
"We have more back on offense than defense but it's close," said Turner. "We have our quarterback back which is big. We run a spread offense with multiple formations. We are a downhill running team.
"We have a lot of kids that like to compete. We have seven kids going into their third year of starting and our JV team wasn't bad, but I think they are one year away."
Senior quarterback Nate Mills leads the offense. Mills completed 64-of-133 passes for 1,148 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions last season. Wide receiver senior De'Andre Mathis had 13 catches for 265 yards and a team-leading six touchdown receptions and senior receiver Balal Salat led the team with 30 receptions for 529 yards and had five touchdown catches.
The offense also is scheduled to return running backs senior Jared O'Donoghue, sophomore Ray McCloud and junior Yhaquille Grant, who had 497 yards and scored three touchdowns rushing.
McCloud and O'Donoghue combined for 388 yards rushing and five touchdowns. McCloud also caught 12 passes for 133 yards and one TD.
The Gryphons' returnees on defense include seniors Adekunle Olusanya, Haiden Nagel and Tony Valdez along with O'Donoghue, who is a defensive lineman in addition to playing fullback.
Nagel had a team-high 95 tackles at linebacker, Olusanya had 93 tackles at safety last season and is moving to linebacker, and Valdez added 37 stops at defensive back.
"We play a lot of fronts," Olusanya said. "We run a 4-2, but our defense can switch to a 4-3 or 3-4. The defensive signals are called from the sidelines. I'm the quarterback of the defense."