The new football districts are pretty screwy (8A? Really?) and shake up the matchups we’ve come to know and love over the past few years. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at a district a day. Up today: Class 5A, District 8.
Out with the old
Befitting its bloated student population, Steinbrenner takes a quantum leap to 7A, while fellow third-year program Strawberry Crest makes a similarly daunting jump to 6A. St. Petersburg Catholic moves to a formidable 3A district with Berkeley Prep, Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic.
In with the new
Jesuit, Lennard, Middleton and Robinson are holdovers in 5A (formerly 3A) and are joined by Blake, Lakewood and Spoto, which moves down one classification, and Dunedin and Gibbs, which moves down two classifications.
Five things to expect this fall
1. Expect the unexpected: Robinson and Spoto come in as unknown entities. Both teams’ rosters were gutted by graduation, but the Spartans replenished with an influx of out-of-area transfers, and the Knights’ rookies are too fast and athletic to dismiss.
2. Tiger or Titan? Already this offseason, heralded Middleton WR Richard Benjamin has transferred to Tampa Bay Tech (his old school) and back to Middleton. Apparently, Benjamin’s mom never signed off on the move back to TBT. We’re not going to pencil him in on either roster until the first day of school.
3. Tiebreakers may be inevitable: In a nine-team district that includes three playoff teams from last season (Jesuit, Lakewood and Robinson) and three others (Blake, Middleton and Spoto) that were in contention until the final two weeks, parity is bound to take place. And with so many games — and chances — for teams to redeem themselves in the district, there is a strong possibility the champion and runnerup could be decided in a season-ending shootout.
4. Hold that line: Lakewood is loaded at the skill positions, but an offensive line that was touted by coach Cory Moore in the offseason was manhandled by Lakeland in the spring game. How well the linemen rebound from that performance will go a long way toward determining if the Spartans make the playoffs.
5. Coaching debuts: New Middleton coach Alonzo Ashwood will bring a winning attitude from his time as a Hillsborough assistant, but he’ll need more to take the Tigers to their first playoff berth since 2005. There are two other new coaches in the district, Dunedin’s Max Smith and Gibbs’ Antonio Knox. Both are trying to turn around teams that had losing records last season.
Players to watch
DL Dante Fowler, Lakewood: FSU recruit will concentrate on tackling ball carriers instead of becoming one.
WR Travis Johnson, Jesuit: 6-foot-4 rising junior is top target on a team loaded with them.
WR Geronimo Allison, Spoto: Poised to flourish in Spartans’ spread after missing past two seasons.
DB Gary Simon, Gibbs: Gifted athlete has several Division I-A offers and could see time as a receiver.
WR Bryce Walker, Jesuit: Speedster can eat defenses alive when they double-cover Johnson.
Mark your calendars
Lakewood at Spoto, Nov. 4: Our pick for most intense contest of the year, considering Lakewood essentially has eliminated Spoto from playoff contention the past two seasons.
“It’s the 4.25 district. I read in the paper where the two running backs from Dunedin say they’re going to have 1,000 yards each. There’s a lot of skill players out there. Spoto’s got kids, Middleton’s got kids, Blake’s got kids, Lakewood’s loaded and Jesuit. It’s going to be a very interesting district.” — Robinson coach Mike DePue, using 4.25 as a half-joking reference to the district’s average 40-yard dash time
Also in the series so far:
Class 2A, District 5
Bob Putnam, Joey Knight and Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writers