We wrap up our daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams with one of Hillsborough County’s most competitive leagues.
This is one of Tampa Bay’s best districts, with just about every team in it a playoff contender. Plant hasn’t lost a district game in ages, and Wharton was the runnerup the past two seasons. Among the contenders, only Wharton is retooling, with everyone else returning key players at key positions, but especially at quarterback where Spencer Preston (Newsome), Isaiah McIntyre (Bloomingdale) and Chris Oladokun (Alonso) are returning starters, and Plant’s new starter, Rex Culpepper, has been in the system for two years and already has college offers from Florida, Miami and Ohio State, to name a few. Even Riverview, which isn’t expected to contend, has experience at quarterback with Keisean Young. If Plant is the team to win the district as many expect, the battle for second will be fierce once again.
Plant hasn’t lost a single district matchup in nearly a decade, let alone a district crown. And while the Panthers do have some major holes to fill and Culpepper’s skill set has yet to be seen, Bob Weiner and Co. always seem to find a way to get it done. The Panthers had a few close calls last season — including a 50-40 shootout with Bloomingdale — and it’s possible we could see more of those this season. But with known playmakers on both sides of the ball and oodles more with the potential to join that club, we expect Plant to slip by unscathed.
Next in line
Bloomingdale and Alonso. If McIntyre is the breakout star we expect, the Bulls will be a tough team to contend with this season. Their receiving corps is very good, they added Fred McCoy, Riverview’s leading rusher last season, and the defense should be solid. The Ravens disappointed last year, but Oladokun, who threw 23 touchdowns with only three interceptions in 220 attempts, had a huge offseason, and has a group of emerging weapons to throw to and will almost certainly eclipse his 48 percent completion percentage this year. Defensively, both teams will need to be better, after allowing more than 20 points a game.
In essentially a rebuilding year, Newsome went 5-5, beating Alonso and losing to district runnerup Wharton by a point. The Wolves are one of those teams that are always solid and never an easy put away, and they return a lot of offensive firepower. Athletes Chris Bryant and Bruce Anderson combined for more than 7 yards a carry and 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns and will run behind a solid offensive line. They also return the bulk of the defense, led by Anderson and linebackers Brett Lindbeck and Alex Waring. We’re pretty sure the Wolves will surprise some people this year.
Wharton is difficult to project, because so much will depend on the quarterback play, and coach David Mitchell has yet to name a starter. But the offensive line is very good, and wide receiver Auden Tate might be the district’s most dangerous weapon. While the Wildcats won’t be experienced at quarterback in a quarterback-heavy league, the defensive backs should help even out any disadvantage. Wharton may struggle early, but don’t be surprised to see it grow into a team that has a say in the playoff race.
29 Consecutive district wins by Plant
7,236 Days since Plant’s last district loss (Oct. 29, 2004 to Armwood by a 49-0 score)
3 Games last season in which Newsome’s Chris Bryant averaged more than 10 yards a carry
4 Players Newsome has returning that had at least two sacks last season: Waring, Lindbeck, Makhana Suber and Nick Raffaele
2010 Last time any player other than Chase Litton threw a TD pass for Wharton (Ryan Hatter)
98.8 Percentage of 2013’s passing and rushing yards that graduated from Wharton
94 Combined catches last year by Bloomingdale’s Logan Crouse and Doug Sandberg
131 Yards Alonso’s Chris Oladokun averaged in non-district games
269.4 Yards Oladokun averaged in district games.
748 Rushing yards by Riverview QB Keisean Young
Players to watch
RB/S Bruce Anderson III, Sr., Newsome: A co-captain, Anderson will be counted on to carry the load on offense and shut down the opposing running game from in back on defense. He is the returning team leader in tackles (87).
DB Derrick Baity, Sr., Plant: After losing current Division I defensive backs Austin Hudson (Wisconsin), Mazzi Wilkins (USF) and Bernard Rogers (Toledo), the secondary might be the Panthers’ biggest question mark. Baity, who has moved from cornerback to safety this year, will help hold it together. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete had 40 tackles and three interceptions in 2013.
OL DeAndre Brown, Sr., Wharton: A returning starter, the hulking left tackle is 6-5, 280 pounds and should be one of the best blockers around. He’ll be more important this season as he protects the blindside of a new quarterback and leads the way in a running game that may rely on the power game.
ATH Roosevelt Lawrence, Sr., Alonso: No. 56 on our HomeTeam 100, Lawrence makes waves all over the field — recording 569 kick and punt return yards while coming up with 70 tackles and four interceptions on defense. “He’s the kingpin of our secondary,” coach Brian Emanuel said.
QB Isaiah McIntyre, Jr., Bloomingdale: He threw for a career-high 337 yards against Plant and added a pair of 200-yard games, and his ability to run if needed (he had a team-high 379 yards and eight rushing TDs) makes him one of the area’s top offensive weapons.
QB Keisean Young, Sr., Riverview: A dynamic runner who played some at running back and quarterback last season, and had a 200-yard game against Brandon, he is entrusted with running the offense and surely will produce his share of breakout plays.
Mark your calendar
Plant at Bloomingdale and Alonso at Newsome, Sept. 19: The first brush strokes on the district canvas are painted this night, but besides that, these are rematches of games that were both fabulous last season. Plant beat Bloomingdale 50-40, and Newsome toppled Alonso 38-26. Plant threw for 519 yards, Newsome rushed for 456 yards, Alonso passed for 347 yards, and Bloomingdale threw for 337 yards. Career highs all around. We can’t possibly hope to see 154 points, 22 touchdowns and 2,045 yards of offense from the four again — or can we? — but we are expecting some compelling football.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Plant’s Patrick Brooks, 927
Rushing TDs: Riverview’s Keisean Young and Bloomingdale’s Isaiah McIntyre, 8
Passing yards: Alonso’s Chris Oladokun, 2,003
Passing TDs: Oladokun, 23
Receiving yards: Wharton’s Auden Tate, 815
Receiving TDs: Bloomingdale’s Logan Crouse, 6
Tackles: Bloomingdale’s Ryan Voyles, 106
Sacks: Bloomingdale’s Tyler Jahn, 8
Interceptions: Alonso’s Roosevelt Lawrence, 4
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
“I think the chess master in me about coaching in this district particularly is there are such different styles. You’ve got a Newsome team that is a running team but always well coached. You’ve got Plant who’s always balanced on both sides of the ball. You’ve got Wharton who always gives you trouble defensively. Bloomingdale is kind of a question mark with Booth leaving, but they certainly have some players.” — Alonso coach Brian Emanuel
Correspondent Steve Lee contributed to this report.