MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
We wrap up our look at the new football districts with Class 8A, District 7.
• East Lake
• North Port
• Palm Harbor University
• Sarasota Riverview
Out with the old
East Lake and Palm Harbor University both move up one classification while two holdovers from the previous district, Countryside and Clearwater, remain in the same classification. Dunedin moves down two classifications. North Port and Sarasota Riverview also are moving up one while three other teams from their previous district — Bradenton Manatee, Sarasota and Venice — remain in the same classification.
In with the new
Every team in this newly formed district is coming up from what used to be Class 5A (now 7A). East Lake and PHU come in from one district and are joining forces with North Port and Sarasota Riverview from another.
Five things to expect this fall
East Lake will be in some shootouts: The Eagles' offense will be one of the most prolific in Pinellas County with quarterback Pete DiNovo, tight end Stephen Buric, receiver Artavis Scott and running back Tyler Lane all returning. But the defense had just three players who saw significant playing time last year start in the spring game against Osceola. And the Warriors moved the ball in that game. The Eagles do not have many easy games in the fall to help the newcomers on defense jell. East Lake’s first five games come against teams that had winning records last year, including four that made the playoffs.
Sarasota Riverview will have a new look: Longtime coach John Sprague retired in the spring after leading the Rams the past 30 seasons. He compiled a 209-103 record and made the playoffs 16 times, including state final appearances in 1988 and ’90. Todd Johnson, a former star at the school who played at Florida and six years in the NFL, is the new coach. Though he spent last year on staff, Johnson is moving away from a run-oriented attack to one that is more balanced.
PHU’s defense will improve: The offense still has enough playmakers to move the chains despite the loss of running back Kenny Blanch, who transferred to Tarpon Springs. The bigger concern is fixing a defense that gave up 20 points or more in nine of 10 games last season. New coach Matt Lepain is a former defensive coordinator at Largo who fielded one of the top-ranked units the past few years. The results showed in the spring. While PHU’s defense bent a little, it didn’t break down in the red zone. And that was a big reason the Hurricanes beat Boca Ciega in the spring.
North Port will struggle: The good news is Manatee and Venice are no longer in the district. The bad news is there still are holes in a defense that gave up 40 or more points four times last season.
East Lake can make a deep run: After consecutive playoff appearances as a district runnerup, the Eagles are poised to win a district title provided they find enough playmakers on defense. And there is a realistic chance they could advance to the region final and a possible matchup with defending state finalist Plant.
Players to watch
WR Hunter Beam, PHU: Becomes a bigger part of the offense with departure of Blanch.
TE Stephen Buric, East Lake: Sure-handed receiver will also see time on defense.
QB Pete DiNovo, East Lake: Second-year starter has targets to have monster season.
QB Billy Pavlock, PHU: Multidimensional force could approach 1,000 yards rushing and passing.
QB Devontae’ Williams, Sarasota Riverview: Threw for 106 yards in spring game vs. Sarasota.
Mark your calendars
East Lake at Sarasota Riverview, Oct. 21: These are the best teams in the district on paper and the winner will likely secure a playoff berth. The Eagles have not fared well against the Rams in the past. But East Lake should be tested after a tough early-season schedule.
“It’s a two-sided coin being in a four-team district. On one hand it’s good because you only have to win a few games to get into the playoffs. But on the other hand it can be bad because you end up with a lot of games on the schedule that don’t mean as much.” — East Lake coach Bob Hudson
1. East Lake
2. Sarasota Riverview
3. Palm Harbor University
4. North Port
Also in the series:
Class 2A, District 5