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. The next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at a district a day. Up today: Class 6A, District 6.
• Land O’Lakes
• Nature Coast
• River Ridge
Out with the old
This is a mix of four districts. Sunlake, Mitchell, Land O’Lakes, Hernando and Nature Coast all move up a class to 6A (formerly 4A).
In with the new
The four Hernando County teams — Central, Hernando, Nature Coast and Springstead — are all in one district now and more connected to the bay area after being stuck in districts with Alachua, Citrus, Lake and Marion County schools in recent seasons.
Five things to expect this fall
Fight for first: Land O’Lakes, Hernando and Springstead all made the postseason last year. Sunlake was good enough to go, too, but was stuck in a district behind Pasco and the Gators. Nature Coast and Mitchell were both .500 teams last season. Should be plenty of competition for 6A-6’s two playoff bids.
Missing in action: How will Sunlake respond without quarterback Jacob Jackson, who accounted for more than 1,200 yards throwing and more than 1,000 yards rushing in a ground-breaking season for the Seahawks program? If the Seahawks can find a quarterback, they could match their win total (eight) from a year ago.
Coaching debuts: Four schools are breaking in new coaches. Brian Wachtel moves from Mitchell to Land O’Lakes. Mitchell welcomes back Scott Schmitz, the program’s first coach. Longtime Nature Coast assistant Charles Liggett takes over after Mark Nash resigned for family reasons. Ryan Benjamin was hired at River Ridge when Gary Allen called it quits because of health issues.
Purple people eaters: Hernando gave up fewer than 10 points a game in 2010. Led by Darren Hambrick, Malcolm Hudson and Zach Pritz, the Leopards might be even stingier defensively this season. Hernando made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005, and the Leopards, who shut out Crystal River 56-0 in the spring, are a good bet for a return trip.
Eagles clipped: Springstead struggled to move the ball consistently in its spring shutout loss to Pinellas Park. In three varsity quarters, the Eagles gained just 121 yards against the Patriots. QB Brian Beeker and RB Devean Huff together rushed for more than 2,100 yards in 2010 but have graduated. Right now, it doesn’t look like the Springstead roster has anybody that can duplicate those numbers.
Players to watch
ATH Rashaud Daniels, Sunlake: Racked up nearly 1,000 combined yards rushing and receiving last season and scored 16 touchdowns.
LB/RB Richard Hart, Nature Coast: Defensive leader will get the first crack at replacing 1,300-yard rusher Ike Bailey.
ATH Tyrail Hawkins, Hernando: Rising junior will play a variety of roles to help the Leopards win; already holds an offer from Georgia Southern
TE Kent Taylor, Land O’Lakes: North Suncoast’s top recruit could double his numbers — 35 catches, 571 yards, nine touchdowns — from a season ago.
LB/RB Shadow Williams, Land O’Lakes: With Jackson Cannon forms the best linebacking duo on the North Suncoast; will also get a chance to unleash his punishing running style.
Mark your calendars
Hernando at Land O’Lakes, Sept. 23: District play starts with a bang as these favorites face each other in the opening week of 6A-6 action. The winner in the Swamp will have the inside track for the district title.
“It always made sense to me that everyone in (Hernando) county should be in the same district. I like that much. Now, not only are you playing for county bragging rights but for a district title as well. And having the Pasco schools in the district means games will be closer and we won’t have to travel as far as Gainesville and Tavares.” — Liggett
1. Land O’Lakes
3. Nature Coast
6. River Ridge
Also in the series so far:
Class 2A, District 5