Coach: Bob Hudson (12th season, 78-47)
Last season: 13-1
Colors: Royal blue and white
Stadium: East Lake Stadium, 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, East Lake
Playoff history: 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Last appearance: Beat Palmetto 13-12; beat Pinellas Park 45-0; beat Port Charlotte 49-15; lost 31-24 to Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer.
Aug. 29 vs. Palm Harbor University, 7:30
Sept. 5 vs. Largo, 7:30
Sept. 12 at Dunedin, 7:30
Sept. 19 vs. Clearwater, 7:30
Sept. 26 at Tarpon Springs, 7:30
Oct. 2 at Seminole, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Countryside, 7:30
Oct. 24 at Pinellas Park, 7:30
Oct. 31 at Northeast, 7:30
Nov. 7 vs. St. Petersburg, 7:30
Mark your calendar
East Lake at Pinellas Park, Oct. 24: These teams met in the regular season and again in the region semifinals last year, with East Lake winning a combined 87-12. Given the talent both teams have returning, the Patriots should make it more competitive this season and there’s a good chance both could have another rematch in the playoffs. The game also will have plenty of hype with players from both sides talking smack throughout the summer on social media.
One step closer: Since 2011, East Lake has had the greatest success in program history with two region final appearances (2011-12) and a state semifinal showing last season. After losing in overtime to eventual state champion Palm Beach Dwyer, the Eagles’ next logical goal is to make the state championship game. That task will be tough considering East Lake graduated four key starters who are now playing for Division I programs. If the Eagles can reach the state semifinals again, they likely will have to travel to Fort Lauderdale to face St. Thomas Aquinas, the overwhelming favorite to win the Class 7A title. But the Eagles still have talent with several Division I recruits, led by George Campbell, Carson Lydon and Justin Strnad, to make that happen.
Speeding things up: In the spring, East Lake coach Bob Hudson implemented a hurry-up, no-huddle offense. The strategy was to prevent defenses from using an array of blitzes, which would help an Eagles working in three new starters. East Lake had success in its spring game with Jake Hudson throwing for more than 200 yards and the Eagles building a 38-14 lead against Osceola in the three quarters the varsity played. Now Coach Hudson is utilizing his whole playbook with a no-huddle attack.
Under the radar: Lost in the shadows of East Lake’s high-scoring offense was the performance of its defense, which posted a school-record five shutouts and allowed just 114 points, an average of eight per game. That unit should be the team’s strength with six returning starters and plenty of others who got significant playing time last season. The most experience is at linebacker with Lydon, Jake Hansen and Dylan Renaker all returning.
Numbers game: East Lake has about 160 players in its football program with roughly 65 on varsity. That helps fill any holes the Eagles have to replace. East Lake also benefitted from having so many blowouts last season (there was a running clock in the second half of nine regular-season games), which allowed the Eagles a chance to give their backups playing time. So even though East Lake has just 10 returning starters, there are plenty of others stepping into new roles who already have varsity playing experience.
WR/DL George Campbell, Sr.:The four-star recruit showed why he is the Eagles’ top deep threat with five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Osceola in the spring.
QB Jake Hudson, Sr.: The second-year starter looked comfortable running the no-huddle offense in the spring, finishing 12-of-14 for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the first half against Osceola.
K/P Daniel LaCamera, Sr.: The Texas A&M commit has one of the strongest legs in the county with 80 of his 101 kickoffs going for touchbacks last season. He also nailed a 53-yard field goal.
FB/LB Carson Lydon, Sr.: The Virginia Tech recruit quickly emerged as a defensive playmaker last season with 149 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions. He leads a veteran linebacking corps that is the strength of the defense.
OL/DL Julian Santos, Jr.: A starting guard last season, Santos has moved to left tackle to take the place of Mason Cole, who is now at Michigan. Santos became a bona fide Division I recruit in the spring and recently picked up an offer from Tennessee.
WR/DB Justin Strnad, Sr.: The Wake Forest recruit fills the leadership void in the secondary created by the departure of Devin Abraham. Last season, Strnad had 81 tackles and three passes broken up.
OL/DL Zach Castle, Sr.: The returning starter gives the Eagles much-needed experience on a line with three newcomers.
RB/DB Drew Couto, Sr.: The team’s top returning rusher had 463 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last season.
LB Jake Hansen, Jr.: He takes over as a full-time starter after finishing with 71 tackles and two interceptions last year.
WR/DB Bryce Miller, So.: Played well in 7-on-7 tournaments this summer and will have a bigger role in the passing game.
FB/LB Dylan Renaker, Sr.: The wrestling standout has a key role on both sides of the ball. He had 77 tackles and two sacks last season.
DL Regis Steighner, Sr.: Finished third on the team in sacks last season with five and performed well in camps this summer to land a scholarship offer from Stetson.
“This is a tough district with so many teams improved. Like any team, we want to be in the playoffs. But we lost a lot of guys, and we’re just trying to do enough to be there at the end.” — Bob Hudson