Which team is tops in Hernando County?
It’s relevant after some surprises last year. Nature Coast, normally a district title contender, stumbled to a 5-5 record and missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Hernando made strides to stake its claim to the No. 1 spot with a 9-2 campaign and a pair of rising stars. But Springstead went the deepest in the postseason last fall, reaching a region semifinal before losing to Gainesville, and returns the North Suncoast’s dean of coaches, Bill Vonada. Who comes out on top this year?
What they’re saying
Richard Hart, Nature Coast linebacker: “Last year, we just weren’t playing hard enough and were not finishing the whole game. People want to win this year. …Our team kinda came together a little bit more. We’ve got a few more people and stuff. The offense is kinda new, new coaches are switching things up. We’ll have a better season than last year. District champions.”
Malcolm Hudson, Hernando defensive lineman: “We like to believe we work harder than everybody. We put God first, and when it counts, we come together as a team. We just feel like we’re the top dog.”
What we’re saying
Matt Baker: It’s a duel between Nature Coast and Hernando, and I’ll give the Leopards a slight edge. I don’t know if it’s possible for an established player like junior linebacker Darren Hambrick to have a breakout year, but I do think his production can explode this fall.
And I’m very interested to see how Hernando gets the ball in Tyrail Hawkins’ hands — and what he does with it from there. The junior athlete already has an offer from Georgia Southern.
The Sharks can still reclaim the top spot behind a big offensive line, an explosive running back (Matt Breida) and a fast defense. Go ahead and circle that Oct. 28 showdown between Hernando and Nature Coast on your calendar now.
John C. Cotey: You’ll get no argument from me, Matt. Hernando is the best team, and I’m not really sure it’s even close. I think Nature Coast is going to be better, and Springstead is always there, but the Leopards have much to like.
Hambrick and Jeremiah Jackson (a 6-1, 205-pound sophomore who had five touchdowns rushing in the spring game) are going to be outstanding linebackers, and Hudson (six sacks in 2010) anchors what should be a solid line. Throw in a pulverizing running game and you have the makings of another strong, fast and physical county champ.