We’re breaking down a football district a day — from 2A to 8A. Today: Class 6A-6.
Listed in order of 2011 finish with overall/district record
1. Hernando (8-3, 7-0)
2. Sunlake (10-2, 6-1)
3. Nature Coast (6-4, 5-2)
4. River Ridge (7-3, 4-3)
5. Mitchell (6-4, 3-4)
6. Springstead (4-6, 2-5)
7. Central (1-9, 1-6)
8. Land O’Lakes (0-10, 0-7)
* Land O’Lakes forfeited its 7-3 (5-2) season due to recruiting violations
Did you know?
Two long streaks ended last fall. Hernando’s district title under coach John Palmer was its first since 1997. That’s the same year Land O’Lakes began its 14-year playoff streak, which ended last season.
Four things to expect this fall
Hernando will compete again: The Leopards lost two of their most important figures — Palmer and Army-bound DL Malcolm Hudson — but have strong replacements. First-year coach Dwayne Mobley starred at Hernando and fared well as a middle school coach, while the defense should be fine with Division I linebacker prospects Darren Hambrick and Jeremiah Jackson.
The Land O’Lakes rivalry will intensify: Last year’s Gators-Seahawks duel helped clinch Sunlake’s first trip to the playoffs. Both teams have new quarterbacks — Ethan Weilant at Land O’Lakes and Josh Zifer at Sunlake — and lose some of the area’s top players. Gators TE Kent Taylor is at UF, while the Seahawks graduated four starters on the county’s top offensive line. Both should rebound this year and will vie for trips to the playoffs.
River Ridge getting closer: Ryan Benjamin’s first year as his alma mater’s head coach ended with the Royal Knights’ first winning record since 1999. River Ridge looked good in a spring scrimmage at Countryside and the Anclote jamboree. A large line, talented running back corps and a bulked-up QB Josh Maisel could lead to an even better fall in 2012.
Hernando County can be optimistic: Nature Coast has the potential to stop hovering around .500 with better quarterbacks and solid linemen, including DE Rohan Blackwood, a 2014 prospect with an offer from UMass. Springstead has more experience, including a more seasoned QB Tyler Mahla and D-I prospects Will Allen and Luke McLeod. Central continues to rebuild but should be more competitive this year under coach Mike Einspahr.
Players to watch
RB Dan Barber, Mitchell: The 5-foot-8 Barber averaged 13 yards per carry in the first three games but was limited late with an ankle injury. Coach Scott Schmitz calls Barber a “football player’s football player” and has high hopes for him.
ATH Tyrail Hawkins, Hernando: The do-it-all Leopard could line up at any skill position. He racked up more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and landed a D-I offer from Ball State.
WR/DB Eddie Burgos, Sunlake: The standout sprinter and weightlifter is one of Pasco County’s top all-around athletes. He should improve on his five-touchdown junior season.
RB Matt Breida, Nature Coast: The 1,600-yard rusher had one of the top performances in county history — a 355-yard gem against Central. He’s landed offers from Toledo, Akron and others while earning interest from Duke.
RB Harrison Wood, Land O’Lakes: The 5-foot-9 Wood was the Gators’ most consistent offensive threat last year, rushing for 10 TDs and almost 800 yards. Expect a big senior season.
Mark your calendars
Sunlake at Land O’Lakes, Oct. 19: The Seahawks’ first victory against their crosstown rival helped clinch the school’s first trip to the playoffs last fall. Both teams have the talent to push for the district title, so don’t be surprised if there’s more than bragging rights at stake this fall, too.
1. Land O’Lakes
4. Nature Coast
5. River Ridge
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