Spring football always introduces us to new faces, gives us a glimpse of turnaround teams and proves that the elite players are still very much top-tier talents. Our thoughts after teams stowed away the pads for spring:
Trent Chmelik, Countryside: The junior, who is taking over as the full-time starting quarterback, threw for three touchdowns and ran for another against Citrus.
Donavan Hale, Largo: The Packers have installed a spread offense with longer routes to take advantage of Hale’s cannon of an arm. Against Palm Harbor University, Hale threw for 291 yards and three touchdowns. After that performance, Hale picked up offers from Indiana and Virginia Tech, which both want him as a quarterback.
Sherwin Emmanuel, Pasco: The 6-foot-6 defensive end has the size and athleticism to be a star and drew rave reviews in a spring game win over Land O’Lakes. Don’t be surprised if the converted basketball player dominates as a senior in his only full football season.
Gage Holt, Jesuit: The fullback was just a backup last season for the Tigers, but the 5-foot-10 “hybrid guy,” as coach Matt Thompson refers to him, caught pass after pass in Jesuit’s spring game win vs. Dixie Hollins, accruing 113 receiving yards, including a 35-yard touchdown.
Patrick Lukert, Steinbrenner: The junior-to-be linebacker had a breakout performance in the spring game, getting in on three sacks in two quarters of action against Alonso.
Brad Mayes, Berkeley Prep: Yeah, we know, he’s a known commodity. But he looked bigger, stronger and the ball seemed to shoot out of his hand in the spring game win. If the Bucs turn him loose, with guys like Jacob Mathis and Cade Weldon to catch his passes, look out.
Jeff Smith Jr., Clearwater Central Catholic: The dual-threat quarterback, who is in his first full season as a starter, put up big numbers against always tough Immokalee with 193 yards passing and 114 rushing.
Derrick Walker, Alonso: Quarterback Chris Oladokun is a known commodity and a major-college prospect for the class of 2016. As impressive as Oladokun was in a comeback win over Steinbrenner in the jamboree, it’s worth remembering Walker was the player on the other end of Oladokun’s passes, catching two touchdowns and totaling 101 receiving yards in the final quarter.
Mitchell Wilcox, Tarpon Springs: The tight end/defensive lineman became a coveted prospect with several offers, including one from USF. In the spring jamboree, Wilcox caught two passes for 38 yards and was in on several plays in the backfield as a pass rusher against Northeast.
Jordan Williams, Dunedin: On a team devoid of depth, the Falcons will rely on their most versatile player to make plays on both sides of the ball. Against Seminole, Williams had a touchdown reception, scored on a punt return and recorded an interception, all in the final five minutes of regulation.
Kal-El Williams, Pinellas Park: The rising senior is named after Superman, for crying out loud. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, he is a pounding fullback who will also play linebacker. Williams was a main ball carrier last season and his load will increase this year.
Surprise teams to watch for the fall
Blake: Don’t laugh, we think the Yellow Jackets have something cooking. Coach Darryl Gordon had as many as 40 kids out in the spring, and guys like uber-recruit Shavar Manuel, linebacker Julian Jackson, potential (dare we say probable?) 1,000-yard rusher Corey Bennett and promising playmakers like Juwan Burgess and Isaiah Rogers will contribute to at least one upset and a .500 season. Now, about that district…
Bloomingdale: Coach John Booth was extremely positive about his team’s growth in the offseason, and the Bulls could give Plant a run for its money in Class 8A, District 6. Bloomingdale returns its leading receivers in Logan Crouse and Doug Sandberg, picked up Riverview’s leading rusher Fred McCoy (more than 700 yards last season), and with quarterback Isaiah McIntyre coming back, too, a Bulls offense that put up 40 points against the Panthers last season could be better yet.
Dunedin: Matt LePain has a knack for turning teams into contenders. After guiding Palm Harbor University to its first two playoff appearances in three seasons as coach, LePain left to take over the Falcons. He didn’t have much depth with only 25 players dressed for the spring game against Seminole. With many players going both ways and several cramping in the second half, Dunedin found the wherewithal to score two touchdowns in the final five minutes to force a 16-16 tie. That should give them enough momentum to at least be in the hunt for a playoff berth this fall.
Gibbs: The Gladiators have more talent than people think. Rising senior Craig Watts Jr. and rising sophomore Marquez Walls have gotten major-college offers. Tayveon Landsm might be the most overlooked back in the area. He ripped off huge chunks of yards against Northeast and Tarpon Springs in the jamboree before leaving with an ankle injury. Coach Rick Kravitz was raving about offensive/defensive lineman Latroy Killens after the jamboree. If Gibbs finds a quarterback (it’s looking at four players) and the offensive line holds up, this could be a big improvement over last year’s 4-6 team.
River Ridge: After consecutive 3-7 seasons, fourth-year coach Ryan Benjamin has a team capable of contending for the school’s first playoff appearance in 16 seasons, which is one of the longest droughts in the bay area. In a 43-0 win over Fivay, the Royal Knights showed off a balanced attack with Chris Schwarz rushing for 112 yards, and Pat Mathieson throwing for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
Guys we think will blow up this fall
Oscee Calhoun, Pinellas Park: Calhoun is one of three talented backs for the Patriots, and perhaps the most overlooked. The rising senior sliced through Orlando Evans in the spring game, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry. With Kal-El Williams and Donte Maxson sharing carries, Calhoun could be the second-half hammer who racks up yards against worn out defenses.
Jonathan Crawford, Largo: Known more as a hard-hitting linebacker, Crawford could have more of an impact as receiver. In the spring game against Palm Harbor University, Crawford had seven catches for 120 yards and two TDs in three quarters.
Donnie Crum, Admiral Farragut: A rising sophomore, Crum will get his first chance to get significant carries in the fall. He proved what he can do in the spring against Gainesville Hawthorne, rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns in the Blue Jackets’ 51-8 win. Crum appears to be a legitimate 1,000-yard back.
Kevin Newman, Jesuit: Newman was strong last year for the 8-4 Tigers, and it carried over to the spring. In Jesuit’s blowout spring victory against Dixie Hollins, Newman rushed for 121 yards in three quarters, including 65-, 40-, 4- and 2-yard touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 rising senior has put on 10 pounds in the weight room, and with an experienced offensive line blocking for him, Newman could be one to watch.
Willie Parker, Carrollwood Day: Calling it now: he and teammate Elias Earley will run for at least 3,000 combined yards.
Guys just as good as we figured
George Campbell, East Lake: The five-star recruit is being counted on as the main receiving threat in the Eagles’ new no-huddle offense. He delivered in a spring game against Osceola, catching five passes for 106 yards and scoring twice in the first half.
Ryan Davis, Lakewood: Now in his second year as the Spartans’ quarterback, Davis will likely put up huge numbers in the fall. In the spring game against Ocala Vanguard, Davis was 11-for-16 for 97 yards and a touchdown. He has talented receivers, including Boca Ciega transfer Sekendric Biddines, Davis has several Division I offers, including Florida, Florida St. and Miami.
Nathan Johnson, Sunlake: The rising senior rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season, and in the Seahawks’ spring game against Wiregrass Ranch, he showed there might be more where that came from. In the 33-22 win, Johnson rushed for 99 yards on 15 carries, including a 36-yard touchdown.
Dwayne Lawson, Hillsborough: The dual-threat quarterback committed to Miami during the spring, and weeks later he led the Terriers to a 23-7 spring game win against Chamberlain. Lawson finished 6-for-10 passing including two touchdowns and was Hillsborough’s leading rusher with 87 yards on five carries.
Guys we can’t wait to see more of
Rex Culpepper, Plant: The quarterback has 12 college offers — including ones from Florida, Miami and Clemson — and the rising junior has just 29 pass attempts in varsity football. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound future starter sure has the size and pedigree to excel for the Panthers, and he proved his promise in the a spring jamboree win against Leto, completing 13 of 19 passes for 163 yards with two TDs through the air and one on the ground.
Daquon Green, Tampa Bay Tech: If Deon Cain wants to throw for 2,000-plus yards this season, and we’re pretty sure he does, he’s smart enough to know he needs to get it to Green. Only a sophomore, Green is a future big timer. And that future could come quickly this fall.
Jordan Leston, St. Petersburg Catholic: The rising senior finally has his own team to run. The East Lake transfer was impressive in the spring game, both passing and running. And he is a powerfully-built runner. He’ll also play defense, but his impact will be at quarterback.
Jackie Tucker, Zephyrhills: Tucker had just one reception for 9 yards and four tackles on defense last season as a sophomore, but the 6-foot athlete had a breakout game this spring against Orlando Oak Ridge, catching several long passes, including a touchdown, and coming up with a big interception on defense.
Jacquel Waller, St. Petersburg: The rising junior will be the Green Devils’ top ball carrier, and the Green Devils love to run the ball. Waller had 175 yards and a touchdown against Sarasota. He was in the shadows last season, but now it looks like he’ll have the spotlight. It will be interesting to see how he does.
Questions we still have
How good will Plant be? The Panthers graduated a starting quarterback and two Division I offensive linemen, and the defense lost the top four leading tacklers, including Texas linebacker Andrew Beck. On the bright side, sophomore quarterback Rex Culpepper showed potential in the spring, and with Clemson signee Jake Fruhmorgen blocking for him, last year’s 8A state semifinalist might not skip a beat.
So, Jefferson is really not going to sink toward the bottom of the district? The Dragons looked pretty scary for a team losing Tampa Bay’s Player of the Year, quarterback Deiondre Porter, and, well, seemingly everyone else on offense. Quarterback Randy Bradford went 6-for-12 against Robinson with 264 yards and four touchdowns, two to Maurice Moore, making us think the Dragons will stack up just fine again with district competitors Armwood and Hillsborough.
Is this the year someone catches East Lake? We ask because Pinellas Park seems to be making up ground quickly. Would anyone be surprised if the Patriots had three 1,000-yard rushers? Throw in linebackers Nate Demint and Kal-El Williams and physical shutdown corner Rashaan Watson, and the Eagles should be feeling the warm breath of Pinellas Park on their necks.
Anyone convinced Armwood is NOT the best team in Tampa Bay? Nope.