Coach: Jason Stokes (fourth season, 22-13; seventh overall, 38-28)
Last season: 5-6
Colors: Navy, silver, gray and white
Stadium: Cowboy Stadium, 16200 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa
Playoff history: 1985, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013
Last appearance: Lost 34-14 to East Bay.
Aug. 29 vs. Chamberlain, 7:30
Sept. 5 at Newsome, 7:30
Sept. 12 at Plant, 7:30
Sept. 19 vs. Freedom, 7:30
Sept. 26 vs. Durant, 7:30
Oct. 3 at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Sickles, 7:30
Oct. 24 at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30
Oct. 31 at Steinbrenner, 7:30
Nov. 7 vs. Plant City, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Gaither vs. Sickles, Oct. 17: Last season, Ray Ray McCloud III rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns as the eventual district champion Gryphons trampled Gaither 48-6. Coach Jason Stokes is looking forward to reversing that outcome. While he admits stopping McCloud will be tough, he’s not worried about motivating his guys for the district rivalry game. “No one on this team has ever beaten them,” Stokes said. “So it’s going to be a big deal.”
Penalty problems: In an effort to expand the playbook, Stokes installed two new systems in the offseason. And with only two weeks to teach it to the guys before the spring game, Stokes was pleased overall with how his team performed in an 8-6 spring game loss to Sickles — aside from the penalties. Mistakes may have held the Cowboys down, but it’s something they are working to fix before the regular season begins.
Mazur’s time: Last season David Mazur backed up three-year starting quarterback Alex McGough. Now that the current FIU quarterback has moved on, it’s Mazur’s time to shine. At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Mazur is lighter than McGough. And while Stokes said his arm isn’t quite as good as McGough’s, his football IQ and the way he reads the field will be a huge advantage for the Cowboys. “He gets us in and out of plays a lot, which is one thing we didn’t do a lot with Alex. With David, we audible a lot with him and he sees it well.”
Run, Gaither, run: Gaither’s run game sputtered last season, as the Cowboys rushed for only 1,061 yards as a team. This year, Stokes expects that to change. It has to, he said. Running backs Curtis Wilder, Alex Rodriguez and Stanley Washington will take a front-and-center role, as Stokes intends to stress the importance of a run game to help his team control the clock and form an offensive identity.
No more PB&Js: After Stokes witnessed his Cowboys lose focus last season during a midseason losing streak, the seven-year coach took away his team’s privileges. They lost access to their locker room and had to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of catered meals before Friday night games. It appears, though, the Cowboys learned their lesson. “Fundamentally, we were just not consistent. Very rarely did we have 11 guys doing their job,” Stokes said. “I think this year, the guys are a little more focused.”
RB Curtis Wilder, Sr.: With a new emphasis on the run game, Wilder could produce a lot more than his 278 yards in 2013. Stokes will likely lean on the 5-foot-8, 180-pound running back to lead the way in the ground game.
WR Sam Ford, Sr.: As the Cowboys’ leading returning receiver, Ford should be a big piece of an expanding offense, Stokes said. Last season, Ford had six receptions for 116 yards. And with last year’s three leading receivers gone, Ford should be able to bring a whole lot more.
RB Malik Huff, Sr.: Huff didn’t stand out last season, finishing with just 15 yards rushing and 72 receiving. But in the spring game against Sickles, he made sure people knew he was there. Huff scored the only touchdown on a 40-yard run and also threw a 27-yard pass on a trick play.
WR Logan Young, Sr.: Though on the varsity roster in 2013, Young didn’t make a huge impact for the Cowboys. In Young’s final season at Gaither, Stokes thinks the 5-foot-10, 165-pound receiver could make a difference. Young should help fill the holes at wide receiver left by Jeff Suarez and Penn State signee Amani Oruwariye.
RB Stanley Washington, Sr.: Washington had just 71 yards rushing and one touchdown last season as part of a struggling run offense. But now that the Cowboys are devoting more of their attention to helping it grow, Stokes thinks the 5-foot-10, 178-pound back will be a huge part of its success.
QB David Mazur, Sr.: Though he served as McGough’s backup last season, the new starting quarterback has some reps under his belt. Mazur completed 7 of 28 pass attempts for 142 yards and a touchdown. Stokes has seen improvements and describes him as a “solid high school quarterback.”
“I don’t know if anyone can stop (Ray Ray). I think if we can just keep him off the field, that will probably be our best strategy.” — Stokes