Spring football practices officially kick off around the state on Saturday. Preps columnist John C. Cotey breaks down the area’s most intriguing players and story lines.
10 Players to Watch
1. Countryside’s Gray Crow has never thrown a pass in Pinellas County, but he’s the best quarterback in the county and will start proving it this spring.
2. Largo sophomore Juwan Brown has Division I-A written all over him. If Crow isn’t the best, then Brown is.
4. I’m cheating here, but Tampa Bay Tech’s backfield should be interesting to watch. Devontae McCloud takes over for Maurice Hagens, running back Cludner Lecount is primed for a breakout season and the same can be said for quarterback Jonathan Williams.
5. Newsome running back Conner Powers had last season cut short by a knee injury. His recovery will go a long ways toward determining if the Wolves can win another district title.
6. Plant’s James Wilder Jr. Just because he’s James Wilder Jr.
7. Berkeley Prep’s Nelson Agholor is one of the most complete athletes in Tampa Bay, and he should post big 2010 numbers.
8. I can’t decide between Pasco’s Janarion Grant or Hakeeme Ishmar. Grant is a running back who led the Pirates in rushing and receiving last season, but Ishmar is a speedy receiver who will be new starting quarterback Jacob Guy’s favorite target. Pasco coach Tom McHugh is lucky he doesn’t have to choose.
9. Ja’Juan Story has been the hottest player this offseason, and
Nature Coast will be crawling with scouts. It wouldn’t kill some of them to check out Hernando running back Alvin Delaine while they’re up that way, either.
10. Alonso lost most of its offense (see Bennett, C.J.) but running back Brandon Holloway is back. One of the more exciting players in the area, his speed and elusiveness makes him a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
10 Teams to Watch
1. Hillsborough has added some key components, like former Spoto lineback Rodney Williams, former Armwood defensive back Quinton Brown and former Robinson running back Tim Randolph, but the team’s search for a quarterback will be the most important of the spring.
3. Don’t sleep on Pasco, my early favorite to be the 2010 Super Special Sensational Sleeper in a region that will include Nature Coast, Land O’Lakes, Lakewood, Jefferson and Spoto. I said it.
4. Largo has churned out 2,000-yard rushers Dexter McCluster and Brynn Harvey, and 1,000-yard rusher D.J. Key, all in the past four years. This spring, it has to replace every starting lineman, which is a tall, tall task.
5. Plant, the defending Class 5A state champions, will have a tougher path in 2010 – Lakeland should be better, Bradenton Manatee is definitely going to be better – and have to replace nine starters on defense and their top five receivers. Finding someone for quarterback Phillip Ely to throw to is paramount.
6. Plant City has some of the best rising juniors around in quarterback Bennie Coney and running back Dazmond Patterson, and along with Notre Dame commit Jordan Prestwood could be setting up coach Jason Strunk for a run like the Raiders had from 1997-99 when they went 7-3, 10-1 and 9-3.
7. Jesuit has won one playoff game since 2004. Is the magic coming back under new coach James Harrell? Not right away, but the first spark will be lit this spring.
8. Though they are in a district with Largo and Sickles, Boca Ciega could have the league’s best offense behind three-year starting quarterback Shaquille Bradford, receiver Tyree Clark and budding running back star Denzel Dillard. It’s time for coach Stevie Thomas to produce a serious playoff contender.
9. Chamberlain was a county power for years. After a tumultuous spring amid numerous defections and two coaching changes, the Chiefs went 1-9 for the first time since 1976. Will a smoother spring make a difference? It should.
10. Lakewood and Spoto. These teams play in the same district along with Jefferson, the big favorite. Whoever can plug their big holes (See Reedy, Bernard) best this spring could give Jefferson a run.
10 Coaches to Watch
1. Jesuit’s Harrell is regarded as a defensive wiz, and he has brought in former Armwood offensive coordinator Chris Taylor and former NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde to help out. He is expected to win. Now. And often.
2. In one year at Freedon, Harrell changed the whole vibe about the program and led the Patriots to the playoffs. All new coach Tchecoy Blount has to do is keep that going.
3. Mark Nash is a great fit at Nature Coast. Hernando was gaining on the Sharks for county superiority, but Nash will speed up Nature Coast’s pace. He inherits the best athlete he’s ever had as a head coach in Story, and the Sharks will love him.
4. Jared Davis inherits the best team in Pinellas County over at Countryside (no pressure!) with at least five Division I-A recruits (Alex Dixon, Tyler Moore, Tyler Pierson, Terry Johnson and Crow). His first order of business? Finding someone to replace running back Alton Taylor’s 1,900 yards and 32 touchdowns.
5. Tarpon Springs turns to Atif Austin, who has enough talent (running back Darius Daniels, defensive tackle Brodrick Lee, offensive lineman Zach DeBell) to win another district title for the Spongers.
6. Armwood’s Sean Callahan made a gutsy change at offensive coordinator despite the Hawks leading the county in points in 2009. Is it the beginning of the end in Seffner, or the beginning of another run at a state title? (I’ll take the latter).
7. Is 25 old enough to be a head coach of a high school football team at, say, Wesley Chapel? (I’m looking at you, Ben Alford).
8. Remember when Jason Stokes led Bloomingdale to the 2008 playoffs and was the toast of the county? Whatever happened to that guy? I kid, I kid. …Entering his second year at Middleton, Stokes’ Tigers will be better and may just make a run at the runnerup spot in their district.
9. John Davis is back at Clearwater Central Catholic, and he has some work to do. It won’t be long before the Marauders are back in the postseason and making a run.
10. Gibbs’ Donnie Abraham did a fantastic job in 2009, but it won’t be as easy in 2010. He’s got to find new coordinators, a starting quarterback and replacements for a Division I-A lineman (Tim Jackson) and Iowa State signee Jarvis West.
5 things to chew on
1. Plant (5A), Armwood (4A), Jefferson (3A) and Robinson (2A) all have legitimate chances to win state titles. I think one of them will, and another will finish as runnerup. I haven’t decided who’s who just yet.
2. By the way, what’s the over/under on the number of players off those four teams who will sign with Division I-A colleges? I’m setting it at 19.5.
3. What is Dunedin doing? Who fires their coach four days before the start of spring, other than an administration with no appreciation for the importance of spring football? Firing Mark Everett was no surprise, it had been a hot and heavy rumor for a month now. But the timing? Really? My guess? Largo defensive coordinator Matt Lepain is hired as the new coach before spring practice is over.
4. Pinellas County’s talent pool will be shallow this year. Consider: of the 32 players named to first team last year, 28 were seniors.
5. I’m not sure what Coach-QB/Father-Son relationship will be more funto watch this spring: Jon Gruden and Deuce at Carrollwood Day School, or Jay Fulmer and son Will at Gulf.