Another opening night is upon us and here on the North Suncoast there are plenty of developments to watch. Unfortunately, several schools are on the sidelines this week thanks to an ill-timed bye week. Still, several soap operas will begin their opening acts tonight so here are some things to monitor.
Five story lines
1. Battle for the rushing title: The North Suncoast is stocked with running backs, and the battle for this year’s rushing title couldn’t be more exciting. Reigning champion Alvin Delaine is the crown jewel of Hernando’s offense. Of course, he’ll be pushed by another 1,000-yard back in Mitchell senior Ricky Trinidad. There’s Pasco sophomore sensation Janarion Grant, Devean Huff at Springstead and Cameron Rodriguez at Ridgewood. And plenty of other potential breakout performers, including Pasco’s David Emmanuel and Nature Coast’s Isaac Bailey.
2. Wildcats’ young gun: Much has been made of Ben Alford’s first year at Wesley Chapel. His hire was a 180-degree turn from veteran coach John Castelamare, a man who built the program based on discipline, commitment and history. Alford, 26, was one of 98 applicants for the position and his hire was a clear sign the school wanted a fresh approach. Alford made his mark locally as a quarterback at Pasco, and he has vowed to open it up at Wesley Chapel.
3. New coaches, different worlds: The Central-Nature Coast game features a pair of first-year coaches facing completely different circumstances. The Bears’ Mike Einspahr , a Nebraska native and transplant from Kansas, is essentially in his first head coaching position after several assistant stops, including two stints at New Mexico State. His challenge is taking a program that has suffered back-to-back losing records (including 1-9 last season) and earning some wins. Sharks’ first-year coach Mark Nash was hired to bring the success he had at Hudson, using good coaching and winning with virtually no talent to one of the North Suncoast’s elite programs. Anything less than the playoffs would be a disappointment.
4. Gutted at Gulf: The past two weeks at Gulf have been nothing short of miserable. It began with the resignation of Jay Fulmer following a recruiting investigation. Anclote transfers Ty’Shon Peters and Kris Aratchiysky were ruled ineligible and cannot appeal until October. And a coaching search was still under way Thursday. Zephyrhills went through similar circumstances last year and suffered a 3-7 season. The Buccaneers have the talent to win, but it will be up to the coaching to keep this group focused.
5. Defensive gem: Last week’s Pasco-Hernando preseason classic was an example of up-and-coming players making their mark. One very impressive player was Hernando sophomore Darren Hambrick, whose father with the same name, starred on Pasco’s 1992 state championship team. The younger Hambrick wears No. 33 and stands 6 feet, 2 inches and weighs in at 220 pounds. He’s a hard hitter, and displays the passion his father became famous for in North Suncoast circles. The younger Hambrick should develop into a blue-chip recruit if his progress continues.