If there’s one thing Land O’ Lakes High football coach Brian Wachtel addressed this offseason its replacing defensive starters. After losing Shaheed Salmon (117 tackles, 8.5 sacks), Darius Wells (60 tackles, 6.5 sacks), Colin Irwin (116 tackles) and Deionte Strozier (5 interceptions), the fifth-year coach knows there’s still spots that need to be filled.
“We need to continue to get better at executing on what we do offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Wachtel said. “We had some question marks going into the summer, but a lot of new guys step up and showed us who they are.”
Land O’ Lakes will be working extra hard to get out of the tough Class 6A-District 6, especially after going 8-2, only to miss the playoffs.
“You have to bring it week in and week out to compete in it,” Wachtel said.
Sunlake’s new starters
Its no secret Sunlake (9-2 in 2013) had the county’s best defense that allowed just 78 points, but what may not be public knowledge is coach Bill Browning and company lost nine of 11 defensive starters. Browning said finding replacements for Ben Wood (111 tackles, 10 sacks) and Zion Osbourne (10 sacks) has been “a work in progress,” but he’s confident in finding new defensive stars, just as he did at the start of last season.
“We’ll get it done,” said Browning, who, as the father of Sunlake’s football program, enters his eighth season. “We’ve done it every year, so far.”
Not in the mix will be senior running back Nathan Johnson, who has seen time at linebacker, but Browning said the coaches would like to keep him on offense, where he rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior.
Mustangs with muscle
As Andy Schmitz takes over for his father, Scott, who retired after 33 seasons of coaching high school football, he’s brought rejuvenated optimism to Mitchell, which has about 50 players on varsity.
“The kids are excited,” Schmitz said. “(The numbers) are a little up from last year, but we’ve got pretty good balance, but some guys up front are young and there will be some learning on the go this season.”
Schmitz said he was pleased with the turnout in the weightroom during the summer.
“These kids are big and talented and now strong,” Schmitz said, “but many just haven’t done it at the varsity level. That will change.”
Mitchell opens the season hosting Anclote on Aug. 29.
Rams’ talented backfield
Ridgewood will feature one of the top backfields in Pasco County this fall, with up to five viable candidates. Coach Jay Fulmer returns the county’s leading rusher, Glass Wilson, who rushed for 1,518 yards and 14 touchdowns and with returners Clarence “Tank’’ Farria (331 yards) and Darnell Lindsey (250 yards), the Rams have a solid trio. Add in two more backs with state championship experience and the Rams’ are that much more dangerous. Brothers Alex and Justin Mayorga transferred from 1A powerhouse Blountstown and the duo combined or more than 1,000 yards for the state runner-up Tigers, with Alex rushing for a team-high 750 yards and eight touchdowns. Justin rushed for 305 yards and two scores.
“Biggest thing I think we bring is the attitude to win,” Justin said. “Really what it takes to win and just continuously winning is win during the week, because Monday through Thursday you have to keep practicing hard, going 100 percent. Once it comes game time, everything just comes second nature and it becomes simple and everything just falls into place.”
Ridgewood, 3-7 last season, travels next to Pasco in the preseason classic Friday.
Cobras QB gets defensive
Most teams want their quarterback off the field, not playing defense. At Hudson, however, its QB will be on the defensive side of the ball. Joey Caruso will likely see time at safety and linebacker this season, as the senior is receiving college interest for his defense.
Caruso saw limited time on defense last season, making only four tackles and an interception. Hudson lost 11 seniors from 2013 that contributed on defense including leading tacklers Shaun Michael (92) and Scott Carly (93). Caruso is excited to play both sides of the ball.
“We’ve lost some players, but I think we have come closer together as a team,” Caruso said. “My role this year is gonna be different than it has been in the past. I’m going to have a lot bigger role defensively and offensively. I’m going to be looked at as a playmaker on offense and defense. ... I feel like I can make a big impact on both sides of the ball.”