Fall football practices for Tampa Bay football teams officially kicked off this week. We’re rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity teams in the area. Today we look at a mostly all-Hernando and Pasco district.
South Sumter rolled through the district last year, scoring 34, 51, 63, 69 and 38 points (twice) in its victories. Hernando came closest to slowing the Raiders, losing by 20. Will that change in 2014? Probably not, though Pasco should give South Sumter a game. If the Pirates can’t upset the Raiders, it will have to fight off Hernando, Nature Coast and Zephyrhills for the other playoff spot. The Pirates sneaked by the Leopards and Zephyrhills by a touchdown each, and lost to the Sharks, so the district should be competitive. Weeki Wachee and Central are hoping for an improvement, the Bears especially after an 0-10 season.
South Sumter (12-2 last season) lost its starting quarterback (transfer), but who needs to throw the ball when you return four starters on the offensive line — and two running backs in Anderson Faulk and James Taylor who combined for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns last season. The Raiders are also strong on defense, with 6-foot-6 and 6-3 bookends on the defensive line and 5-11, 283-pound Montel Presley in between at tackle.
Next in line
Pasco traveled a bumpy road to the playoffs last year after dismissing its starting quarterback and losing some key players to injuries. But with smoother sailing in 2014, the Pirates should take a big step back to their old ways. There’s still questions to answer at quarterback and running back, but the defense is top-notch and makes them a playoff contender. Zephyrhills may disagree. The Bulldogs have plenty of skills position players, but need to beef up the lines and the defense in order to make a charge. And they’ll have to beat Pasco on the road, in all likelihood, to slip past. We’ll have to see it to believe it.
Bill Vonada takes over at Hernando, but he may need a year or two to get the Leopards headed in the right direction again (but don’t mention the word rebuilding around him). They lost virtually every yard of rushing offense to graduation and transfer, though quarterback Tyler Kline has shown some potential and might keep them around in the playoff race. Nature Coast has the district’s top offensive line prospect, Christian Pellage, blocking for talented running back DeShawn Smith (719 yards), with Dylan Miller leading the way on defense. The Sharks beat Pasco last year and the Leopards only lost 7-0, so they could be a threat.
3 New coaches in the district — Central’s Chris Sands, Hernando’s Bill Vonada (first year with the Leopards), Nature Coast’s Justin Worden
7 Straight seasons Pasco has made the playoffs
7 Straight seasons Zephyrhills has missed the playoffs
Players to watch
DL/TE Bowman Archibald, Sr., Pasco: The University of Miami commitment and No. 10 player in the HomeTeam 100 should wreak havoc from the defensive line. And he can also play linebacker, while his soft hands, size (6-6, 250) and speed make him a top receiving target as well. Coach Tom McHugh called him the “new Jimmy Graham.”
LB/DL Steven Delaine, Sr., Hernando: With 55 total tackles and nine for a loss a year ago, Delaine is emerging as a leader of the defensive unit. Vonada calls him the voice and spirit of the defense.
ATH Jaylen Pickett, Sr., Zephyrhills: At No. 44 in our HomeTeam 100, Pickett came up big for the Bulldogs last year, and coach Reggie Roberts expects him to do the same in 2014. As a junior, he recorded 12 touchdowns and 808 rushing yards while adding 75 receiving yards and 36 tackles on defense.
RB/DB DeShawn Smith, Jr., Nature Coast: The Sharks’ leading rusher last season (719 yards, nine touchdowns) is poised for an even bigger performance this year. He plays well in big games, as evidenced by his three touchdowns against Pasco last season.
RB Devante Smith, So., Central: Expectations are high for Smith, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound bruiser who also runs a 4.4-second 40. “He could be one of the top two players in (Hernando) county,” Sands said. He gave fans a taste of it last season against Pasco with 16 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns.
OL Brice Spaulding, Sr., Weeki Wachee: Spaulding was the starter at center last season, and with Marcus Applefield now suiting up for Rutgers, the senior will be the anchor of Weeki Wachee’s offensive line. As a three-year starter, he and senior David Hokanson will help bring along the younger linemen. He’ll guide a line that coach Mark Lee says is the deepest he’s had since coming to Weeki Wachee.
Mark your calendar
Nature Coast vs. Pasco, Sept. 26: This was one of the more entertaining games of 2013 with Nature Coast pulling out a 29-28 victory on Smith’s winning 50-yard run in the fourth quarter. Pasco is sure to be a bit testy after relinquishing a late lead in last year’s game. And in such a crowded district race, this could decide either’s playoff fate early in the season.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: South Sumter’s Anderson Faulk, 1,100
Rushing TDs: Faulk, 21
Passing yards: Pasco’s Grant Starling, 573
Passing TDs: Starling, 10
Receiving yards: Weeki Wachee’s Dayonta Patterson, 344
Receiving TDs: Pasco’s Bowman Archibald, 2
Tackles: Nature Coast’s Dylan Miller, 114
Sacks: Zephyrhills’ Lorine Parker, 6
Interceptions: Weeki’s Patterson, Nature Coast’s Joseph Leonard and Zephyrhills’ Antwione Sims, 2
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
6. Weeki Wachee
“One thing we have to develop as a program is mental toughness. Pushing through the wall when things get tough out there on the field is our biggest issue. Last year, the players fizzled downward toward the end of the game, and we want them to push through that.” — Sands
Staff writers Kelly Parsons and Bob Putnam, and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.