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What does Sunlake need to do to get to the playoffs?
The Seahawks went from a program-best four wins in 2009 to 8-2 last fall. But a tough district — and double-digit losses to Pasco and Land O’Lakes — kept Sunlake from its first trip to the playoffs. First-year starting quarterback Cameron Stoltz and the rest of the Seahawks are moving in the right direction, but what do they need to do to break into the postseason?
What they’re saying
Senior lineman Nate McCoole: “This unit has been playing together as a team for four years now. I think we’re really coming together. The camaraderie this year is unbeatable. I think there’s no conflict, there’s nothing like that. I think the biggest thing is, we have the skill set. We have the coaching. Now it’s time for us to kick it into gear and do it.
“I think (Stoltz) is going to be just fine. I’m not worried about it at all. We’ve got the run game and stuff like that. I think we’re going to go a long way this year.”
Senior athlete Rashaud Daniels: “I think it’s more mental. I think as far as ability on our team, we’ve got the players to get it done. We’ve just got to have it in our head.”
What we’re saying
Matt Baker: Another change in districts would help. The Seahawks go from a district with Pasco and Land O’Lakes to one with the Gators, Hernando and Nature Coast. That’s some stiff competition.
But Sunlake coaches will point out that they’ve already competed against good talent. Coach Bill Browning was impressed by his team’s performance in team camps against powers like Lakeland, which should give the Seahawks confidence heading into the season.
Sunlake has plenty of experience. A large junior class last year means a large group of seniors this fall. That includes Daniels, a dynamic playmaker, the 300-pound McCoole and Stoltz, who has spent all of the summer hearing about how great his predecessor, Jacob Jackson, was. The offense should be fine.
The key stretch comes in three consecutive weeks in October: at Nature Coast, followed by home games against Hernando and Land O’Lakes. Win one or two of those games, and Sunlake has a chance to continue to take its program to new heights. Lose all three, and the playoffs will have to wait another year.
John C. Cotey: I don’t want to say the Seahawks’ district is easier than last year, but I will say this: Put them in the mix with Hernando and Nature Coast Tech behind the Gators, and I like their chances.
Last year, the Seahawks had to go 2-0 against Pasco and Land O’Lakes, with no margin for error, and both of those teams just had too many weapons.
What do they need to do this year to make the postseason? Go 2-1 against Land O’Lakes, Hernando and Nature Coast and win the other district games. It won’t be easy, but the Seahawks may just find it a little less daunting.
The Seahawks should have one of their more muscled groups, and that will fit right in with the slobber-knocking ways of Nature Coast Tech and Hernando, neither of whom will be airing it out. Even the Gators will probably run the ball more, so the postseason may hinge on the wars in the trenches.
If Sunlake can win those, despite losing some key components, it can be right in the middle of the playoff muddle.