Fall football practices for Tampa Bay football teams officially kicked off this week. We’re rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity teams in the area. And independent teams, we didn’t forget about you. You’re up first:
A year ago, Bishop McLaughlin (3A-4), Shorecrest (3A-5) and Keswick Christian (2A-5) all were competing in districts. Declining numbers and fear for players’ safety against more seasoned, deeper teams led the trio to join Tampa Bay’s independent ranks for 2014, along with Citrus Park Christian and Seffner Christian. But hopes of reaching the playoffs aren’t lost for some of these teams. Bishop, Keswick and Seffner all compete in the Bay Division of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, which is comprised of 27 state teams and offers its own postseason schedule.
New men in charge: After two years with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Dave Moore at the helm, Shorecrest is looking to ex-St. Petersburg Catholic coach Steve Dudley to get the Chargers back on track like his predecessor did in 2012. At Bishop McLaughlin, former assistant Craig Moore steps into the head role for a team that has one of the thinnest rosters in Pasco County. “Kids want to compete for a state championship,” he said. “But if we can compete this year, maybe we can get those (better county) kids to come here.” And Adam Hill, formerly the offensive quality control coach of the Tampa Bay Storm, takes over at fledgling Citrus Park Christian.
Growth spurts: This is the fifth season of football at Seffner Christian and with time comes experience. Steve Lewis, the only head coach SCA has ever known, said he expects to have 42 players on the roster, most in Crusader history. Lewis credits the increasing numbers to a growing middle school feeder program. And second-year Citrus Park Christian has doubled its roster size, boasting 30-35 athletes.
3,169 Combined offensive yards gained by Seffner Christian RB Robbie Shell and QB Caleb Newman — both graduated — in 2013.
543 Combined offensive yards for the rest of Seffner Christian’s team a year ago.
44 Receptions needed this season for senior TJ Muscarella to break Keswick Christian’s career record. From 2003-06, Keswick’s current receivers coach, Tony Anderson, caught 127 passes from the current head coach, Blake Englehardt.
0 Keswick Christian was the only current area independent to go winless last year.
Players to watch
QB Sam Grant, Sr., Shorecrest: Despite splitting time with Travis Dugan last season, Grant will see the majority of the snaps. His knee is 100 percent, and if Shorecrest has any hope of success, Grant will need to remain healthy for all 10 games.
TE Will Potosky, Sr., Bishop McLaughlin: He had an impressive 30 catches at the wideout position last year but will transition to tight end, which befits his 6-foot-5 frame. Prototypical tight end.
TE Zach Pruitt, Sr., Citrus Park Christian: Pruitt carried the team from the quarterback position in 2013. Hill moved him over to tight end to better utilize his sturdy frame (6-0, 200) to block and his downfield speed to create mismatches. Hill notes that Pruitt is as big as the opposing linemen he will face, but has the speed to run with their skill players.
RB/NG Marcus Richardson, Sr., Seffner Christian: One of two Crusaders remaining from SCA’s inaugural team and the team’s leading returning rusher, Richardson has been a starter since eighth grade.
OLB/WR Asher Thompson, Jr., Keswick Christian: Thompson was one bright spot on a weak defense, leading the team with 92 tackles as a sophomore. During the last five games of 2013, Thompson emerged as a weapon opposite Muscarella at receiver. He reeled in 28 passes for 442 yards during that span and ended up leading the team with five touchdowns.
Rushing yards: Seffner Christian’s Marcus Richardson, 457
Rushing TDs: Richardson, 6
Passing yards: Keswick Christian’s Parker Holland, 1,514
Passing TDs: Holland, 12
Receiving yards: Bishop McLaughlin’s Will Potosky, 599
Receiving TDs: Keswick Christian’s Asher Thompson, 5
Tackles: Seffner Christian’s Trent Puleo, 153
Sacks: Seffner Christian’s Richardson and Christian Becker, 4.5
“If we were in Class A, we’d beat every team to within an inch of their lives.” — Citrus Park Christian’s Hill. Class A is reserved for small teams in rural areas across the state.
More on these teams
Compiled by staff writer Jacob Lynn and correspondents Darek Sharp, Andy Warrener and Brandon Wright.