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Cotey: 10 reasons not to despair about next football season

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Thu. December 20, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

Cotey: 10 reasons not to despair about next football season

High school football season is …ov…ov…ov…

I can’t say it.

Go ahead. You try.

Feels weird, doesn’t it?

Ov …ovvvvvva…

But it is.

Let’s face it, we’re spoiled. We’ve had Tampa Bay area teams playing for state titles since, like, forever. Or at least 2000.

You have to go back even further to find a season that ended earlier than this one, when Hillsborough and Jefferson both lost on Dec. 3 to put the 1999 season to bed. That was so long ago that Leto and Seminole made the playoffs that season.

But two teams were playing that December, and this year, there was just one (Robinson).

The last time just one team played in December was 2006, but it was Plant, and the Panthers won a storybook state title, and everything was right with the world.

High school sports is cyclical, but don’t let that make you cynical. This is just a blip.

This year’s senior class was good. More than 100 of the players have college football offers.

Next year’s may be better.

Some are asking, is the streak that Tampa Bay, mostly Hillsborough County, has been on the past dozen seasons — eight state championships, 10 state runners-up — is ov …ov…

Over?

I don’t think so. Here are 10 reasons why not — all subject to change once the free agency period begins — and our first pre-preseason top 10:

1. Armwood: The Hawks need a quarterback in 2013, but there’s a ton of talent on the roster, maybe as many as 10 Division I-A kids, including BCS talent like safety Kyle Gibson and linebacker Byron Cowart. And don’t forget, two key contributors from the 2011 team — Greg Newton and Craig Carrington — will return after sitting out 2012. The Hawks will be a state contender next winter for sure.

2. Plant: With four state titles in seven seasons, don’t ever count out the Panthers. They just survived an injury-plagued season with probably their least talented team since 2005 and still beat Armwood and Robinson. Quarterback Colby Brown has a season under his belt and is about to get the Plant 7-on-7 offseason treatment, and leading tackler and linebacker Andrew Beck heads up a defense likely to be much improved.

3. East Lake: Replacing record-setting quarterback Pete DiNovo is impossible, but graduation may not hurt as much as you think. The Eagles return arguably the best offensive lineman (Mason Cole), best wide receiver (Artavis Scott) and best young prospect (George Campbell) in all of Tampa Bay, as well as their leading rusher and tackler from a roster that had 28 juniors on it.

4. Largo: The Packers were a huge postseason disappointment, and this was clearly their year, but they’re hardly rebuilding. Largo loses only 13 seniors, though some really good ones. But both lines are back, Donavan Hale steps in at quarterback, Jarvis Stewart is Tampa Bay’s No. 1 running back for 2013, Frankie Hernandez might be the best linebacker around, and Reggie Campbell and Raheem Harvey are a receiving tandem second to none except for maybe East Lake’s Scott-Campbell connection.

5. Clearwater Central Catholic: The Marauders return running back Diquan Walker (1,161 yards, 15 TDs), linebackers Ethan Thompson, Caanan Brown, Kyle Brittain and Branden Junk, two returning quarterbacks and strong offensive and defensive lines. There’s no reason 2013 won’t be another state semifinal year for CCC.

6. Sickles: Jesuit’s former quarterback of the future, Issac Holder, should take over what could be a devastating triple option, and back Ray Ray McCloud should approach 1,319 yards and 12 TDs again.

7. Tampa Catholic: The Crusaders return a ton of starters, including BCS recruits T.J. Harrell and Corey Martinez. And if they can win their battles with CCC, look for a playoff run in 2013.

8. Alonso: I’m not sure too many teams return a better trio of proven seniors-to-be than the Ravens — tight end Marcus Mosley (37 catches, 585 yards, 1,000-yard rusher Ish Witter and 6-3, 280-pound lineman Gary Brown. They’ll have to find a quarterback, but he gets to throw to Derius Davis as well, so there is hope for 2013.

9. Northeast: Talent-wise, the Vikings are loaded. They just need to get tougher in the trenches to maximize that talent. Quarterback Ryan Davis is a future star, and running backs Keith Harrington and Donterio Fowler are two of Tampa Bay’s most versatile weapons. The Vikings had only five seniors on the 2012 roster, and they return 100 percent of their passing yards, 99.5 percent of their rushing yards and 97.9 percent of their receiving yards.

10. Pasco: The Pirates will be slammed by graduation, but the JV team hasn’t lost in forever, and they return quarterback Ben Chandler and fabulous freshman Nate Craig-Myers, who is as good a player to build a team around as anyone.

Others we considered: Robinson, Wharton, Tampa Bay Tech, Gibbs, Countryside, St. Petersburg, Durant, Hillsborough, Jesuit, Lakewood, Land O’Lakes, Zephyrhills.

Photo: Armwood's Kyle Gibson breaks up a pass intended for Gainesville Hurricanes receiver Chris Thompson. Courtesy of the Gainesville Sun.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JohnnyHomeTeam.

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