The West Hernando Cougars have been a local mainstay for more than 40 years, and the program has been involved with the Pasco Police Athletic League since 1982. However, no Cougars program has won a PPAL title, that is, until last season. This fact puts the Cougars youth football program in the best position going into the 2008 campaign. With five age classifications, there is an influx of local athletes to compete on the gridiron for West Hernando. Three of the five divisions made the PPAL Super Bowl last season with the Mighty Mites winning their historic title game. The Cougars, who play 10 regular season games in each division, practice at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill and play their games at Bear Den Stadium, the home of Central High's football team. For some time, West Hernando, the northernmost program in the league, was considered the doormat of the PPAL. That changed since Bob McFarland became commissioner in 1999. Youth football programs are slowly becoming favored over middle school programs locally, as athletes as young as 5 years old learn fundamentals on the gridiron and continue that competitive education to high school. Cougar alumni include Nature Coast senior Michael Fields, who led the state in interceptions last season for the Sharks; Springstead senior Mike Greco, the Eagles leading rusher last season; and Jesse Hartman, the all-North Suncoast linebacker and a 2008 Central grad.
Here's a scouting report of the teams: West Hernando Cougars
Junior Flyweight (5-7 years old)
2007 Record: 4-6
Key Players: Harry Collins, RB; Brian Strickland, RB; Noah Urban, LB; Tyler Gray, WR/DB.
Outlook: Collins, according to coaches, is a one-man wrecking crew. Urban looks to be the most improved player returning from last season's team. The youngest groups need to experience and learn from both winning and losing. Getting into the playoffs would be an added bonus.
Coach: Gary Strickland (fifth season); Assistants: Eric Kennedy, Buzz Blevins, Chuck Fribley, Joe Picarsik.
Flyweight (8-9 years old)
2007 Record: 4-6.
Key Players: Devin Babinsack, QB/LB; Dominique Walker, RB; Brandon Enoch, LB; Dylan Shire, DB/RB; Michael Finelli, OL/DL; Tyler Quigley, OL/DL.
Outlook: This is one of two Cougar teams with high expectations, with strong returners from last season. Shire has improved and anchor a very physically defensive team. Walker, coming up this season from the Junior Flyweights runs a 5.7-second 40.
Head Coaches: Terry Walker (10 th season), Todd Babinsack (second season); Assistant: Kevin Lira.
Mighty Mite (10-11 years old)
2007 Record: 11-2 (including postseason).
Key Players: Jake Pietri, WR/DB; Tyler Eaton, TE/LB; Dominique Rollins, RB/LB; Bobby Harris, DB/WR; Matthew Bute, OL/DL; Elijah Fields, LB/RB.
Outlook: During last season's Super Bowl, this team beat the previously undefeated New Tampa Wildcats 8-6 for the first PPAL championship in Cougar history. First-year head coach Mike Donaldson,from the Pompano area, is looking to open up the offense a little more as teams will be gunning for them.
Head Coach: Mike Donaldson (first season); Assistants: Randy Harris, Matt Geiger.
Junior Varsity (12-13 years old)
2007 Record: 6-4.
Key Players: Matthew Brieda, RB/LB; Shane Heroux, DB/QB; Rashad Hart, QB/DL; Jeremy Williams, RB/LB.
Outlook: This would be the other team to keep an eye on this season. The JV has a lot of potential. They had a good learning experience from last season after getting run out of playoffs in the first round. Brita, coming up from the Mighty Mites squad, runs a 4.9 40 at age 12. He and Heroux anchored a Mighty Mite championship team.
Head Coach: Mike Zink (fourth season); Assistants: Jim Paino, Chip Heroux.
Varsity (14-17 years old)
2007 Record: 12-1 (including postseason).
Key Players: J.D. Misener, OL/DL; Tyler Wilson, WR; Eddie Sylvester, LB/RB.
Outlook: Misener could step off the Cougars next season and start at high school level, according to coaches. This team, which won a bowl game last season, is made up of mostly high-school-aged youths who don't currently have to grades to stay eligible at the prep level.
Head Coach: Mike Hess (fourth season).
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