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If nothing else, the first half of the local prep football season was marked by one deluge or another, be it in the form of rain, significant injuries or suspensions. To which we say, thank goodness it’s fall, both on the calendar and thermometer. Perhaps this tinge of crispness in the air means the weather delays, and perhaps the injury scourge, are behind us. Which isn’t to suggest the season’s first six weeks were a total wash. Before pressing on to tonight’s action, we pull on our ponchos and wade back in time to offer our midseason report.
Coach of the Half-Year
At the risk of further un-appreciating Durant’s Mike Gottman, whose staff might be the most underrated around, our nod goes to retiring Robinson coach Mike DePue. We still maintain those state-record 11 defensive TDs (in only five games) are a bit flukish, but credit DePue and his staff for employing a plethora of coverages, hammering home the art of stripping the ball, and generally plugging their kids into positions where big-play chances increase. Their offense (185 rushing yards a game) isn’t shabby either.
Honorable mention: Gottman, Strawberry Crest’s John Kelly
Player of the Half-Year
Count his mesmerizing 2011 season, and Armwood’s Alvin Bailey has been our Player of the Year and a Half. The type of player for whom defensive spies were created, Bailey (679 total yards, 10 TDs) has nonetheless flourished, particularly when it counts. In last week’s winning fourth-quarter drive against Sickles, he had two receptions for 51 yards. Think about it: Has any local player in recent memory delivered so often in the clutch?
Honorable mention: Strawberry Crest WR Karel Hamilton, Wharton CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Carrollwood Day ATH Andy Embody, Berkeley Prep RB Chris Williams
Upset of the Half-Year
Coming off an abysmal 2011 season in which it won one game (against Leto) on the field, Strawberry Crest served notice with a 21-7 season-opening thumping of Plant City. We’ve since learned the Chargers (2-3, but two points from 3-2) are a bona fide team under new coach John Kelly. But considering their previous season and the one-half, 49-7 annihilation they suffered against Durant in the spring jamboree, no one saw that win coming.
Honorable mention: King 28, Strawberry Crest 16; Plant City 23, Gaither 21
Rookies of the Half-Year
(Or more specifically, guys having breakthrough seasons)
Ray Ray McCloud, Sickles: In five games, this 160-pound sophomore has run for 622 yards.
Tristan Hyde, Strawberry Crest: Unassuming sophomore has 1,341 passing yards, 12 TDs
Bubba Olivera, Berkeley Prep: Senior newcomer has 17 catches, 441 yards, six TDs
Brad Mayes, Berkeley Prep: Solid so far (763 passing yards, seven TDs) but the sophomore’s big tests loom
Ervin Micheal, Plant City: This 5-6, 155-pound freshman ran for 427 yards in first four games
Milestone of the Half-Year
With last week’s 36-28 win against Jefferson, Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia clinched his 20th consecutive winning season at the school. Think about that: Every Terrier on the roster has known nothing but winning football at Hillsborough his entire life.
Four story lines to follow in the second half
1. Down-to-the-wire districts: At this point, we can only venture an educated guess at how three district races — 6A-8, 5A-8 and 3A-5 — will unfold, and that’s exciting. At least four teams (and maybe five) remain viable playoff candidates in 6A-8. Robinson, Jesuit and Lakewood, meantime, remain gridlocked in 5A-8; and we wouldn’t be stunned to see Berkeley Prep, CCC and Tampa Catholic duke it out in a 3A-5 district tiebreaker.
2. They’re rivalries again: Tampa Catholic hasn’t topped Jesuit in 13 years, and Robinson hasn’t topped Plant in eight. Based on what we’ve seen so far, those trends conceivably could be halted in November. Conceivably, we said.
3. Davis’ run at the record: Hobbled by a recent knee injury, Carrollwood Day senior Robert Davis finds himself 997 yards shy of Hillsborough County’s all-time rushing yardage record with four regular-season games remaining. The record’s still within reach, but Davis will need a stellar finish and at least two playoff games.
4. Clear Friday forecast: We’re counting on no more weather delays the rest of the season. We’ve had enough in six weeks to last the remainder of the decade.
Joey Knight can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.