LAND O’ LAKES — Bill Browning has his work cut out.
He has to rebuild the county’s best defense, again, and find a way to teach a crop of new players, again.
“Some years are more difficult than others,” Browning, the father of Sunlake football, said. “We have a lot, a lot, a lot of shoring up to do and there’s a lot of teaching going on out here right now. We have to get tougher and we will.”
From Pasco County’s top defense, which allowed only 78 points and had four shutouts, 41 sacks and 10 interceptions, nine of the 11 starters are gone, including Ben Wood (111 tackles, 10 sacks) and Zion Osborn (10 sacks).
Defense will be Sunlake’s main focus, but Browning said many areas need addressing, making his summer to-do list longer.
“We’re looking at everything, but we have more holes to file defensively than anything else,” Browning said. “That’s high school football — it happens. I love the challenge of it, my staff loves the challenge of it.”
“We need to find more kids on offense. Obviously we fed (running back Nate Johnson) last year, but I need to find more playmakers because he needs a breather, once in a while.”
Johnson was second in the county with 1,504 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, all coming on 252 carries.
But who will be the quarterback? Is it Dayton Feiden, who is rehabbing his knee this spring, or sophomore Justin Hall, who’s “having a tremendous camp, thus far,” Browning said.
Browning already has 92 kids out this spring and then gets a freshman class from nearby middle schools, so depth shouldn’t be a concern.
“At Hernando, we had just 19 kids on varsity,” Browning said. “When that happens, you worry about injuries and conditioning a lot more. Now, with 92, you have so many kids that I have to worry about with grades or other problems. Either way, it’s a challenge and I always look forward to it.”
Browning has always encouraged kids to try football, and give it time. That is exactly how Sunlake has become one of the county’s most dominant teams.
Depth and talented players help, but Browning has preached patience, which now makes Sunlake the top team opponents want to knock down, especially those from Class 6A-District 6 such as Mitchell, Fivay and crosstown-rival Land O’ Lakes.
“The hallways here have turned out some pretty good players over the years and they’ll do it again because that, again, is high school football,” Browning said. “It’s a lot of work to keep track of the kids, but building a winning football program is, too. I tell the kids they need to be up to the challenge because my staff and I always will be.”
COACH: Bill Browning (eighth season)
2013 RECORD: 9-2
KEY LOSSES: LB Ben Wood, RB/DB Wanya Lamar, DL Nick Larry, DL Zion Osborn, OL/DL Tommy Speer, WR/DB Joe Jean-Baptiste, FB/LB Jacob Guzman, QB Esteban LeWallen, LO/LB Jarrett Stark, OL/DL Oasin Speicher, WR/DB Ricardo Williams,
KEY RETURNERS: RB/LB Nathan Johnson, QB Dayton Feiden, C James Reynolds, TE/LB ryan Reiss, RB/LB Logan Wolfe, LB Austin Yeloushan, K/P Chris Wilkinson, WR/DB Nick Vales, QB Justin Hall
SPRING JAMBOREE: Thursday at Wiregrass Ranch, 7 p.m.
SPRING FOCUS: Last season, the Seahawks’ defense was key to their first Sunshine Athletic Conference title and a return to the playoffs that ended in a heartbreaking loss. However, Browning and company have their work cut out as they have to replace nine defensive starters from the county’s top unit. Wolfe and Yeloushan are the only two returners. Like last season, expect Johnson to carry the load offensively, as the powerful, but speedy back will look for another 1,500-yard season.
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.