We’re rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams in the area. Today we look at a four-team Pinellas/Manatee County league:
For nearly a decade, Largo has been dominant in games that matter, winning a Pinellas County-record nine straight district titles. The Packers lost some playmakers, which could put their streak in jeopardy. But the offense still is in good shape with quarterback Donavan Hale and receivers Reggie Campbell, Jonathan Crawford and Brandon Drayton all returning. Venice, last year’s runnerup, has the talent to be at the top and nearly beat Largo last year. Dixie Hollins, led by quarterback Tyrie Adams and receiver Davontae Harrington, should put up numbers on offense but will have to show a lot of improvement to compete for a playoff berth. Osceola is rebuilding after losing its top two running backs and most of its offensive line. But there is enough talent with players like running back Wilan Harvey and linebacker Jamieson Craske to pull off an upset or two.
Largo is in a transitional period with former standout Marcus Paschal taking over the program from Rick Rodriguez, who retired from coaching after a successful 15-year run. Despite the changes, expect the Packers to remain atop the district. Sure, there are holes to fill, especially with the team’s top rusher, receiver and tackler all graduating. But Largo still has a lot of talent on offense with Hale poised for a breakout year provided he remains healthy. The regular-season schedule is tough with five games against teams that made the playoffs last year. But the district schedule is manageable considering every other team has major holes to fill.
Next in line
Venice has been a consistent winner, averaging nine wins each of the past seven years. That type of success could be difficult to sustain with the Indians graduating 21 of the 45 players on last season’s roster, including running back Terry Polk, who had a team-high 1,846 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns. Still, Venice has enough on defense and the offensive line to contend for another postseason appearance.
Dixie Hollins and Osceola bring up the bottom half of the district. Both teams can move the ball, but each has to find a way to come up on defense against the contenders. Each gave up more than 35 points in games against Largo and Venice last year.
6 Games in which Largo scored 30 or more points last season
8 Playoff appearances in the past 11 seasons for Venice
8 Seasons since Dixie Hollins’ last playoff appearance
25 Seasons George Palmer has been coaching at Osceola, currently the longest tenure of any coach in Pinellas County.
Players to watch
QB Tyrie Adams, Sr., Dixie Hollins: It’s no secret that the Rebels will live and die by the play of Adams. Aided by the weapons of Jacquez Hill and Davontae Harrington last year, Adams completed more than 57 percent of his passes for 2,477 yards and 25 touchdowns. Ball control was an issue for Adams, however. The 14 interceptions and five fumbles handicapped the Rebels’ offense at times.
WR/LB Jonathan Crawford, Sr., Largo: Already known as a hard hitter on defense, Crawford could have as big of an impact on offense, especially after catching seven passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns against Palm Harbor University in the spring.
RB/WR/DB Wilan Harvey, Sr., Osceola: Harvey will be one of the players expected to fill the void left by Jamil Morris (1,100 yards, 16 touchdowns). Wilan ran for 421 yards and averaged more than 10 yards per carry last season. He also proved valuable in the secondary, pulling in all five of the team’s interceptions.
WR/DB Langston Provitt, Jr., Venice: The Indians’ top returning player led the team in receiving yards with 328 last season.
Mark your calendar
Venice at Largo, Oct. 17: This is a rematch of one of the more entertaining games of 2013. Largo trailed 21-7 with 3:58 remaining before rallying with two scores, the last coming on a 36-yard Hail Mary pass from Donavan Hale to Reggie Campbell as time expired. Jarvis Stewart ran in the conversion for a wild 22-21 win. Both teams are projected to be at the top of standings, and the Indians again pose the biggest threat to Largo’s attempt to win 10 straight district titles.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Osceola’s Wilan Harvey, 421
Rushing TDs: Harvey, Dixie Hollins’ Tyrie Adams, Largo’s Jonathan Crawford, 3
Passing yards: Adams, 2,477
Passing TDs: Adams, 25
Receiving yards: Dixie Hollins’ Davontae Harrington, 823
Receiving TDs: Harrington, 9
Tackles: Osceola’s Jamieson Craske, 87
Sacks: Craske, 3.5
Interceptions: Harvey, 5
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
“I’m trying to put my stamp on a few things with some new ideas, but this is still the same ol’ Largo Packers and our goal is to keep that tradition of winning district titles alive.” — Largo coach Marcus Paschal
Staff writer Jacob Lynn contributed to this report.