Who will emerge as the surprise team in Pinellas County?
Countryside will be good. So will East Lake, Lakewood and Largo. That much we know. The uncertainty comes from trying to figure which team will come out of nowhere to have a winning season or contend for a playoff berth.
What we’re saying
Bryan Burns: Indian Rocks Christian has finished above .500 the past two seasons yet missed the playoffs both times after going 1-3 in district behind perennial power Fort Meade, up-and-coming power Berkeley Prep and future power Clearwater Central Catholic.
Now in a more manageable district (2A-5), albeit one with nine teams as opposed to five, the Golden Eagles are in a good position to end their two-year postseason drought.
Casey Woods takes over as the full-time starter at quarterback after a near 50/50 split of the reps last season with Kyle Craichy, who transferred to preseason 2A-5 favorite Admiral Farragut in the offseason.
Woods has a legit Division I-A prospect to throw to in 6-foot-5 receiver Sean Culkin and maybe the best protection in the county in the form of 6-2, 285-pound lineman Devonte’ West.
And IRC’s defense should again be formidable. In meetings against teams not named Fort Meade or Berkeley Prep the past two seasons, the Golden Eagles surrendered just 12 points a game.
Look for Indian Rocks to grab one of the district’s two postseason spots and challenge Admiral Farragut for the title.
Bob Putnam: Gibbs finished 3-7 last season, hired a new coach and is stuck in the ultra-competitive Class 5A, District 8. So it was easy to write off the Gladiators as a contender.
But the team has plenty of playmakers to turn things around. Gary Simon, a receiver/defensive back, already has several D-I offers.
Emmanuel Stewart is an explosive running back who will get 25 touches a game this season. Devontae White and Devontay Williams are mobile quarterbacks.
The only question is how the line will hold up. New Gladiators coach Antonio Knox had them in the weight room this summer to add bulk. And the defense will be one of the most aggressive and athletic in the county. If everything comes together, Gibbs could stay in the thick of the playoff race.
What they’re saying
Knox: "There are some people who are doubting us. That just gives us fuel. We know we have to earn respect and that’s what I’m trying to preach to the kids. I think we can be great on defense, and we can create a lot of matchup problems with the skill guys we have. It should be a fun season."
Admiral Farragut coach Chris Miller: "We haven’t played them in awhile, but Indian Rocks Christian always is a good football team. Mark Buchanan has been the coach for a while and had some success. They have a good defensive lineman, receiver and quarterback. I expect them to be tough."