Coach: Tom McHugh (eighth season, 70-16)
Last season: 7-4
Colors: Red and black
Stadium: W.F. Edwards Stadium, 1204 S.R. 52, Dade City
Playoff appearances: 1977, 1983, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Last appearance: Lost 17-7 to Citra North Marion.
3A state championship: 1992
Aug. 29 vs. Sunlake, 7:30
Sept. 5 at Fivay, 7:30
Sept. 12 at Wesley Chapel, 7:30
Sept. 26 at Nature Coast, 7:30
Oct. 3 at South Sumter, 7:30
Oct. 10 vs. Weeki Wachee, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Hernando, 7:30
Oct. 24 at Central, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Zephyrhills, 7:30
Nov. 7 vs. River Ridge, 7:30
Mark your calendar
There’s no doubt Pasco has been the best team in the Pasco County since 2008, but Sunlake isn’t too far behind. The Seahawks are 36-7 the past four seasons, and beat Pasco last year 17-6. The rematch is the season opener Aug. 29, this time in Dade City. Pasco plays district favorite South Sumter on Oct. 3 in Bushnell, and don’t be surprised if a playoff spot isn’t on the line when the Pirates host arch-rival Zephyrhills on Oct. 31, which will surely be the Pirates’ biggest game of the season. Pasco won last year’s highly-charged edition of the 9-Mile War 24-16.
Seasoning under center: Last year, quarterback Grant Starling was thrown into the starting role on the eve of a Week 4 game against Nature Coast. With a handful of games and an offseason preparing for the starting role under his belt (after throwing for 10 touchdowns), Starling should be better. Truthfully, if the Pirates are going to bounce back after a 7-4 season, he has to be.
Sharing the load: This could mark the first season since 2009 the Pirates haven’t produced a 1,000-yard rusher. But that’s okay. The Pirates have an abundance of capable backs, and maybe someone emerges from a committee that includes senior Brandon Lee, juniors Eric Wilson and Jakiah Felder, and freshman Cameron Smith to become the No. 1 back.
Dual duty: Bowman Archibald was recruited by many BCS schools as a tight end, but don’t be surprised to see Pasco line him up just as much as a wide receiver.
Never count out McHugh: Pasco may have had a bumpy road last season, but that didn’t stop the Pirates from making the playoffs for the seventh straight time under coach Tom McHugh; only John Benedetto, who took Land O’Lakes to 12 straight postseasons, has a longer streak.
Fine line: McHugh thought last year’s offensive line was the best he’s ever had, but it underachieved. This year’s group — which includes Jamal Mention (6-6, 313), Jeff Mitchell (6-3, 288), Austin Wade (6-0, 245), Cole Blevins (5-7, 205) and Mark Jernigan (6-1, 250) — could be what last year’s group was supposed to be.
DL/TE Bowman Archibald, Sr.: The University of Miami commitment and No. 10 player in the HomeTeam 100 should wreak havoc from the defensive line. And he can also play linebacker, while his soft hands, size (6-6, 250) and speed make him a top receiving target as well. McHugh called him the “new Jimmy Graham.”
DT Andrew Ivie, Sr.: Along with Archibald, Ivie, a Florida commit, gives Pasco its best defensive line ever. Ivie (6-3, 260) possesses a strong bull rush and spin move, and is virtually unblockable one-on-one.
OL Jamal Mention, Jr.: Mention will be one of the to-line recruits in the 2016 class and will be the key in Pasco’s power sets this season.
WR/DB Tyree Austin, Sr.: No one on his team causes McHugh to scratch his head more than the 5-11, 165-pound Austin, because every time he runs a route, makes a catch or bats away a pass, the head coach wonders where all the college offers are.
LB/FS Brandon Debyah, Sr.: The Pirates’ leading tackler (109) and top returning sackster (3.5) from last year will help on both sides of the ball, and another 100-tackle season should loom.
RB/LB Cameron Smith, Fr.: You won’t hear McHugh talk up too many freshmen, but Smith (5-10, 210) has big-time potential, will start at linebacker and see action at running back.
WR/DE Sherwin Emmanuel, Sr.: At 6-4, 190 with a knack for catching balls and rushing quarterbacks, Emmanuel reminds us of former Pirate Hakeeme Ishmar, now at FAU.
WR/DB Issac Johnson, Jr.: The son of the quarterback by the same name that led Pasco to the 1992 state championship has a bunch of ability and could have a breakout season.
DL Cameron Crews, Sr.: Playing alongside Ivie, Bowman and Emmanuel should give the 6-1, 245-pound end plenty of opportunities to make plays.
K/DB Brandon Ray, Sr.: Okay, we know, Ray is hardly new to the scene. But the 6-0, 185-pounder didn’t finish the season with Pasco last year, and his return could be a boon. Ray was exceptional as a sophomore (second on the team in scoring with 93 points). And if he regains that form it’s a huge plus for the Pirates.
“We did some good things last year. I expect to have another good season.” — McHugh