TAMPA —Later this week, spring football will kick off again as local teams are allowed to start their 20 practices for their games later in May. Today, we’ll ask, and answer, a half dozen of the burning questions headed not only into these spring practices, but the season in August.
1. Can Sunlake reload, again?
Every year coach Bill Browning loses a large senior class. The departing 2014 class is no different, seeing 20 seniors, including defensive stalwart Ben Wood, leave the 9-2 Seahawks that won the program’s first conference title. Many wrote off Sunlake prior to the 2013 season, saying too many holes from the previous senior class would leave the team helpless in a tough Class 6A-District 6. But, as Browning pointed out, he had 90 players in camp last August and returns one of the county’s top rushers Nathan Johnson (1,504 yards, 16 TDs). Sunlake should be reloaded and ready.
2. Will Pasco return to being Pasco?
Despite making the playoffs, thanks to winning five straight to end the season after starting 2-3, a 7-4 season and exiting the playoffs in the first round is considered by most in Dade City a down year for Tom McHugh’s team. Pasco loses senior leader and playmaker Malik Johns (1,832 all-purpose yards, 22 TDs), plus four-star wide receiver Nate Craig has transferred to Tampa Catholic. With returning defensive lineman Andrew Ivie and linebacker Brandon Debyah, no worries for the Pirates defense. However, for the first time since before McHugh took over, Pasco may be lacking on offense. McHugh makes his players resilient as anyone, so Pasco’s not down for the count just yet.
3. What does Land O’ Lakes have to do to return to the postseason?
For starters, get another immaculate passing season from rising left-handed quarterback James Pensyl (2,345 yards, 22 TDs). The Gators are looking at more of a spread offense headed into this season. That’s not surprising since Pensyl loses his top two receivers, but returns his top rusher and two speedy receivers. But Land O’ Lakes will have to fill many defensive holes, including Shaheed Salmon and Darius Wells, and that defense will have to stop not only Sunlake, but the rest of 6A-6.
4. Is Ridgewood a contender to win a district title?
In 5A-7, in which Anclote won its first district title at 5-5, absolutely. What coach Jay Fulmer has done, if not somewhat quietly, is rebuild a struggling program that may not have had a JV team, but has made the best of what’s on hand. This includes the county’s top rusher, Glass Wilson (1,514, 14 TDs), who now has gained Division-I attention by getting a USF offer. Despite finishing only 3-7, the Rams had a 3-2 district record and return all playmakers and lose only eight seniors. Ridgewood also benefits from playing in arguably a weak district that will see Anclote in a rebuilding year, Hudson looking for a new offensive weapon, River Ridge losing a big senior class and Gulf and Wesley Chapel combining for only one win a year ago.
5. Will this be Wiregrass Ranch’s year to get its first district win?
Since the Bulls moved to Class 7A, they’ve not fared well in their 7A-District 8, which includes Tampa Bay Tech, Gaither and Sickles. But coach Mike Lawrence has made strides, including snapping a long losing streak and finally showing promise against district opponents, including losing 27-20 to Steinbrenner. Better believe this is Lawrence and company’s top goal this season.
6. Can there be a postseason team that won’t be one and done?
Four Pasco County football teams entered the postseason and all four exited in the first round of the 2013 region tournament last fall. Pasco and Sunake put up the biggest fights, despite both facing long road trips to tough opponents, while Hudson and Anclote relished their playoff berths even after suffering heavy-handed losses. Pasco teams are trying to make the second or even third round of the playoffs, especially since only three county teams have made a region final: Pasco, Land O’ Lakes and Hudson.
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.