When we went looking for the stars of 2013, we zipped right past the pretty-boy quarterbacks, the speedy running backs, the hard-hitting linebackers and the fancy-footed wide receivers and defensive backs.
This year, they’ll be taking a back seat to those referred to, lovingly, by their coaches as the big uglies.
Most definitely, it’s the Year of the Offensive Lineman.
Has there ever been a year with better blockers? Doubtful, but maybe.
Has there ever been a year with a more high-profile, highly-recruited group of better blockers?
We brought in Lakewood’s Isaiah Wynn, St. Petersburg Catholic’s Reilly Gibbons, East Lake’s Mason Cole, Alonso’s Gary Brown, Tampa Catholic’s Corey Martinez and Weeki Wachee’s Marcus Applefield — that’s more than 100 BCS offers right there — for a photo and felt guilty about not inviting Countryside’s Giovanni Negron, Plant City’s Montel McBride, Plant’s Ray Raulerson and Hillsborough’s Frank Carter, to name just a few.
But hey, you can only fit so much beef into one little photo studio.
HomeTeam spring top 10
1. Plant: A college prospect at just about every position, the Panthers should be, dare we say it, a state contender once again.
2. Largo: Donavan Hale, Jarvis Stewart and Raheem Harvey might be Tampa Bay’s best QB-RB-WR combo.
3. East Lake: QB Pete DiNovo left the biggest hole in Tampa Bay, but the Eagles are still very strong everywhere else.
4. Sickles: We’re bullish on the low-profile Gryphons, who have lots of nice, yet-to-be-discovered pieces.
5. Jefferson: People are sleeping on Deiondre Porter’s 2012 season. Time to wake up
6. Armwood: We don’t think Armwood will be this low after spring, but we have some questions.
7. Clearwater Central Catholic: Got stronger in the offseason with some additions, and without question is Tampa Bay’s best bet to win a state title.
8. Lakewood: Sent two WRs to Division I schools and lost its quarterback. But there are plenty of capable replacements.
9. Pasco: Don’t ever question the Pirates’ ability to reload. They will once again rule the North Suncoast, and maybe beyond.
10. Countryside: The Cougars will have a strong offensive line again, and the rest will fall into place like it always does.
10 other teams that probably don't agree with our top 10
Northeast: Athletes galore. Now, can any of them play offensive line?
Hillsborough: Lost a ton of talent, but return promising QB Dwayne Lawson and hey, it’s the Terriers, they are good for eight wins always.
Wharton: They have the best QB in Tampa Bay in Chase Litton, some good WRs and DBs, and a solid RB in Jeff Keil. Hmmmm...
Alonso: Nice BCS pieces at RB, OL and WR. If a QB steps up, time to adjust our list.
Tampa Catholic: So many good pieces at key positions. They SHOULD be a Top 10 team, but give us a month to observe.
Newsome: Overselling loss of Worth at expense of returning talent? Probably. We’ll apologize at the end of the month.
Durant: See Newsome, replace Worth with Jamarlon Hamilton.
Jesuit: If Matt Thompson proves as proficient a coach as he was a coordinator, the Tigers will win eight or nine games.
Tampa Bay Tech: Another team with tons of athletes and issues on the line.
Robinson: So many holes, but that’s what May is for. High on the list of teams to check back with at the end of spring.
Big shoes to fill
ATH Malik Johns, Pasco: He can offset the loss of Janarion Grant in the return game, and might try to do so in the backfield, too. The closer he gets to doing so, the better the Pirates will be.
RB Patrick Brooks, Plant: The Panthers replace Wesley Bullock, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, with a guy we suspect will become a two-time 1,000-yard rusher.
QB Donavan Hale, Largo: Juwan Brown was near-perfect last season and his leadership cannot be underestimated, but neither can the potential of Hale, who will be a star. In fact, we were tempted to put him down as a breakout star, which he will be.
QB Spencer Preston, Newsome: It will take three players to replace Will Worth, but at quarterback look for Preston, an athletic, solidly-built lefty who might end up reminding you a little of his predecessor.
QB Tyrell Hubbard-Smith, Lakewood: A talented athlete, Hubbard-Smith has bounced around a bit but is back where he started and ready to pick up where Tracy Johnson left off.
QB Darius Autry/Travis Forehand, Robinson: These rising juniors will vie for the chance to replace zone-read extraordinaire Zain Gilmore Jr., who amassed more than 2,300 yards last season. Autry is 5-foot-10, Forehand 6-5.
QB Noah Johnson, Armwood: In terms of fleetness, grace in the clutch and leadership, no one can replace Alvin Bailey. But Johnson, a 6-foot rising junior who played slot receiver and corner last year, has the smarts and athleticism to flourish in Armwood’s pistol formation.
RB CJ Maner/DeShawn Smith, Nature Coast: Maner Smith will be two of the guys trying to win the job replacing some of the 3,012 yards and 34 TDs Matt Breida ran for the last two years.
QB Jordan Leston, East Lake: The Clearwater transfer is going to have lots of competition to replace Pete DiNovo, including last year’s backup Jake Hudson.
Sekendric Biddines, James Swain and Chucky Krasuski, Northeast: Yeah, it takes this many guys to replace Auggie Sanchez.
FB Kadarius Griffin, Durant: He’s not the load Jamarlon Hamilton was, but at 5-11, 185 he can still bring it. Give him some time.
WR Nate Craig, Pasco: The 6-3, 185-pound athlete landed three college offers after a nine-TD freshman season, including Ohio State. He’s probably the jewel of the 2016 class, which he will prove this spring and fall.
LB Jordan Griffin, Armwood: Quietly had 120 tackles last year with four sacks. Time to turn up the volume.
ATH Joc Ellison, Lakewood: He could be the team’s savior at QB …or WR. He’s that good, and that versatile. Either way, keep an eye on him.
ATH Jaylen Pickett, Zephyrhills: After a solid sophomore season (457 receiving yards), he’s poised to attract Division I attention this spring.
DB Chavez Pownell, Jefferson: Might be the best DB in Hillsborough County. Had four picks and nine breakups last year. If you didn’t know, now you do.
DB Robert Priester, Robinson: Super fast, multi-talented and impressed in 7-on-7. Watch him go this spring.
WR/DE Alex Carswell, Strawberry Crest: With quarterback Tristan Hyde throwing his way, he is capable of replacing Karel Hamilton’s big numbers …as well as picking up a dozen sacks or so.
LT Giovanni Negron, Countryside: The Cougars seem to produce a few great linemen every year, and this year won’t be any different. Let’s see if he live up to his offseason buzz.
WR Jonathan Thomas, Nature Coast: The 6-foot-3 athlete has the size and leaping ability to become one of the North Suncoast’s top receivers. He already holds offers from UMass and Toledo.
S Nate Ferguson, Freedom: Had a coach describe him as unreal. Well, now is the time to let everyone else see it.
QB Issac Holder, Sickles: After sharing snaps with senior Nate Mills last season, Holder enters spring drills as the Gryphons’ guy. High ceiling? Coach Brian Turner suggests Holder has a vaulted one.
LB Juwuan Brown, Jefferson: Back injury kept him quiet last spring. What keeps him quiet this time around? Nothing.
QB Taylor King, Carrollwood Day: Veteran coach Lane McLaughlin says this 6-foot-4 Freedom transfer possesses as strong an arm as any he has seen locally. “The ball whistles when he throws it,” McLaughlin said.
LB/TE Caanan Brown, CCC: Should be a one-man wrecking crew for the Marauders this spring.
QB Colby Brown, Plant: Has waited his turn, and history tells us he will have a big senior season, starting today.
QB Savion Smith, Boca Ciega: Athletically gifted, still working on his throws, but if he puts it together this spring, heads up.
ATH Tymere and Shymere Carter, Anclote: The twins are among Pasco County’s top athletes and line up everywhere from receiver to pass rusher.
RB Chris Atkins, Durant: He had three 100-yard games last year. He could get twice as many this year as the Cougars break in a new fullback.
WR/KR Ryan Bowerman, Countryside: JV MVP can score from just about anywhere on the field, and Cougar coaches won’t hesitate to get him the ball.
RB Cortavious Givens, Admiral Farragut: Givens’ repaired knee wasn’t strong enough to lift him to his previous heights at RB, but down to his final spring and with Todd Macon graduated, it’s now or never for the Blue Jacket back.
Five coaches with their hands full
1. Donnie Abraham, Clearwater: The coach-in-waiting tag is gone. So is his starting quarterback and best defensive player, who both transferred in the offseason. No playoffs since 2004, a tougher district and a culture of losing makes the road long for Abraham.
2. Mike Lawrence, Wiregrass Ranch: Lawrence was the offensive coordinator last year, so he knows the problems he faces: a 22-game losing streak, 107 points in the past two seasons and a brutal Hillsborough County district.
3. Rick Kravitz, Gibbs: The former USF defensive coordinator returns to Pinellas County, becoming the Gladiators’ fifth coach in nine years. He starts without two of the team’s best three players, who transferred this spring.
4. Shawn Taylor, Robinson: This Knights alumnus loses his entire O-line and a ton of offensive talent, and enters a merciless nine-team district. Oh, he also replaces the program’s winningest coach.
5. Matt Thompson, Jesuit: Armwood’s ultra-successful defensive coordinator gets his first head coaching gig at a private-school pressure cooker. Hey, Matt, anyone tell you Jesuit has won 13 in a row against TC?
Staff writers Joel Anderson, Matt Baker and Joey Knight contributed to this report.