Indian Rocks Christian
Coach: Mark Buchanan (10th season, 57-39)
Last season: 10-3
Colors: Blue, red and white
Stadium: The Eagles Nest, 12685 Ulmerton Road, Largo
Playoff appearances: 1998, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013
Last appearance: Beat Moore Haven 24-22; beat Naples First Baptist 28-14; lost 28-14 to Hialeah Champagnat.
Aug. 29 at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7
Sept. 5 at Carrollwood Day, 4
Sept. 12 at Admiral Farragut, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Northside Christian, 7
Sept. 26 vs. Shorecrest, 7:30
Oct. 3 vs. Bradenton Christian, 7:30
Oct. 10 vs. Canterbury, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Cambridge Christian, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Tampa Catholic, 7:30
Nov. 7 vs. Calvary Christian, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Indian Rocks Christian at Carrollwood Day, Sept. 5: The biggest — and earliest — test of the season for the defending district champion Golden Eagles comes on the road against last year’s runnerup. The game should be close considering the last three meetings were decided by eight points or fewer. It also should have postseason implications with the last two games playing a major role in deciding the district champion. Damian King came up big for IRC in last year’s 14-6 win with 89 yards rushing, 34 receiving and a touchdown. The win allowed the Golden Eagles to ultimately clinch the district title and host three straight playoff games, including their first state semifinal appearance.
Healthy numbers: Due in large part to its state semifinal appearance, IRC’s football program has become a big draw among students. The varsity team has 45 players while the middle school program has about 35. Those are strong numbers for a school that has an enrollment of roughly 240 at the high school level.
Split schedule: The first four games of the season are all on the road, including two against playoff contenders Carrollwood Day and Northside Christian. But the final six are all home. The most intriguing game in that stretch is against Tampa Catholic on Oct. 31. TC also made the state semifinals (Class 3A) a year ago.
Tight end factory: IRC has a knack for producing big, quality tight ends — from Sean Culkin (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), who is now at Missouri, to Ryan Ferguson (6-4, 185), who is a preferred walk-on at Florida. Sam Veltman could be the next big one. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore played well in the spring and should have a significant role in the passing game.
Leaders of the pack: No team in 2A-5 returns as much production from its starters as IRC. Of the 4,707 yards the Golden Eagles gained last season, 95.8 percent of that was by underclassmen. And the Golden Eagles could have more firepower. St. Petersburg Catholic running back/receiver Jacquan Fuller (1,680 all-purpose yards) has applied to attend IRC.
Plugging the holes: The only question mark on offense was up front. IRC graduated two starters on the offensive line. Still, Golden Eagles coach Mark Buchanan said he has capable replacements. Kal Miranda, who started about half the time last season, will fill one of the holes. The other newcomer will be Taylor Cowgill, who moves from middle linebacker to center. They will team up with holdovers Jay Dempsey, John DeVries and Jake Ellis on a revamped line.
RB/DL Theo Anderson, Jr.: His speed was a big reason he rushed for 1,090 yards and 19 touchdowns and had 10 sacks as a defensive end.
WR/DB Damian King, Sr.: The Division I recruit is the team’s top returner in receiving yards (615), interceptions (six) and touchdowns (24). He also is a threat in the return game.
WR/LB Chris Licea, Sr.: His biggest role will be on defense, where he put up solid numbers last season — 115 tackles, four sacks and three interceptions.
RB/LB Zeke McGaughy, Jr.: Despite battling injuries last season, McGaughy still rushed for 920 yards and scored nine touchdowns.
QB Garrett Ross-Johnson, Jr.: In the offseason, Ross-Johnson thought about giving up football to concentrate on baseball. He returned and should improve upon the 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns he had last season.
WR/DB Tristan Denisac, Sr: He recorded 49 tackles and three interceptions last season and will be a leader of a veteran secondary.
QB/DL Christian Frost, Sr.: The son of former IRC basketball coach Joe Frost had four sacks in 2013 and returns on a veteran defensive line.
FB/DL Fisher Jones, Sr.: The two-way player is a devastating blocker in the run game and a force on the defense with 57 tackles and six sacks last season.
K/P Clark Sullivan, Sr.: He’ll handle all of the kicking chores. Last season, Sullivan made 46-of-52 PATs and was 1-of-3 on field goals.
“On paper, this is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been here.” — Buchanan, who is entering his 10th season
Photo: Theo Anderson