Sickles, Gaither, Tampa Bay Tech, Steinbrenner, Freedom, Wiregrass Ranch
Sickles had the best season in program history, finishing 9-1 in the regular season, winning its first district title and going three games deep into the playoffs before losing a tight battle, 19-14, to Kissimmee Osceola. In the district, Sickles was dominant, going 5-0 while outscoring opponents by a combined 215-51. Gaither ended up as the district runner-up after pulling off a relative upset, 14-10, against Tampa Bay Tech.
Sickles might have been the hardest hit by graduation, especially along the offensive and defensive lines. Gone to graduation are defensive linemen Josh Black and Devin Santana, who combined for 35 sacks. The Gryphons also lost O-lineman Zach Hudson and wide receiver Chett Levay to graduation. Gaither, meantime, must find a replacement for graduating quarterback Alex McGough (1,258 passing yards, eight touchdowns) and Tampa Bay Tech will need to find a leader in the absence of linebacker Fred Russ (109 tackles).
This might be a disturbing thought to many area schools, but Sickles running back Ray Ray McCloud III, who finished 2013 with 2,316 rushing yards (178.2 a game) and 26 touchdowns, is bigger, stronger and maybe a little faster. Sickles quarterback Isaac Holder also looks better after a successful junior season in which he threw for 1,821 yards and 18 touchdowns and rushed for 572 yards and eight touchdowns.
Name a school and McCloud has pretty much received some interest if not an offer. Holder recently received an offer from Ball State. Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Deon Cain also has multiple offers, the latest coming from North Carolina State. In college, many project Cain will move to wide receiver. At Freedom, defensive end Scott Patchan has verbally committed to Miami.
Once again, Sickles must be considered the heavy favorite, especially with McCloud and Holder returning. If the Gryphons can get a little more help up front, they also must be considered contenders for a run at a state title. Tampa Bay Tech and Gaither hope to have something to say about that, but the Titans and Cowboys must step up to give the Gryphons a hard time.