They sneaked up on no one. From the first game of the season, the spotlight was immediately thrust on them, as Armwood and Plant — two of the bay area's top high school football programs — played in front of a national TV audience. Throughout the year, they were an opposing coordinator's nightmare, the type of players who simply couldn't be stopped by secret schemes. And three Fridays ago they met again, with a trip to the state tournament on the line. They are seniors, team captains, record breakers and in all likelihood, the next batch of collegiate stars with bay area roots who will evoke a whole new round of "I remember when I saw him play in high school." They are our Times all-Suncoast Players of the Year.
Aaron Murray QB, Plant
Some called it silly, mainly because he didn't have anything to prove. Others called it dangerous, mostly because they didn't want to put a bright future at risk. But senior quarterback Aaron Murray's accelerated return from a broken left fibula and dislocated ankle in time to lead the Panthers to a Class 4A state title will go down as one of the best local comeback stories.
Murray went down Oct. 16, but returned far ahead of schedule on Dec. 12. And when Murray rifled his first pass for a touchdown in a state semifinal win over Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer, everyone knew he was back.
From there, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Murray — who graduated this month and will enroll at Georgia early after a stop in San Antonio, Texas, to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game — only led his team to an improbable state title, breaking current South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia's Hillsborough County career touchdown mark along the way. Murray threw for 84 scores in just 21 games as a starter.
Orson Charles WR, Plant
When senior receiver Orson Charles arrived at Plant after transferring from Riverview, his boisterous personality seemed an awkward fit among the Panthers' blue-collar mentality. But Charles immediately showed teammates what he could do.
Then only one question remained: What can't he do? He became a force nationally during the summer, playing with Plant's barnstorming seven-on-seven team. A college recruiter's dream (Florida, Miami, FSU, Georgia, LSU and UCLA are among his suitors), the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Charles is a hybrid tight end/receiver — too fast for a linebacker, too big for a cornerback — who created a mismatch on every play.
On defense, he had six sacks and hurried passers. But the most impressive feat was how he carried the Panthers when Murray was hurt. For the season, he caught 75 passes for 1,418 yards and 21 touchdowns, including two touchdowns in Plant's state championship win over Tallahassee Lincoln.
Ryne Giddins DE, Armwood
Talk about the spotlight. When you play Armwood, you have to try to stop Ryne Giddins. The key word is "try," because few teams could stop the senior defensive end from causing bedlam in the backfield.
His numbers were down from his remarkable junior year, but he made an impact on every play on arguably the area's top defense, fighting constant double-teaming that allowed big seasons for fellow defensive linemen Theodore Jackson and Alton Bailey. Coaches tried to free him up, moving him around, and he still tallied 75 tackles, 21 quarterback hurries, five sacks and 10 pass breakups.
And in Armwood's region semifinal win over Tampa Bay Tech, Giddins, who has narrowed his college choices to Florida and USF, scored two defensive touchdowns, one on an interception return and another on a fumble return.
Defensive Player of the Year
Co-offensive Players of the Year
Inside: It's never easy to agree on a decision as big as Player of the Year, says John C. Cotey, 5C
|The All-Suncoast team is comprised of players from Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties|
|QB Dontae Aycock, Sr., Chamberlain: Area's top dual threat tallied nearly 2,900 total yards, 45 TDs||WR Anthony Williams, Sr., Chamberlain: Big-play receiver averaged 21.7 yards per catch, with 13 TDs||WR Mike Lang, Sr., Largo: Packers' go-to guy had 960 yards receiving, nine touchdowns|
|RB Adrian "Bubba" Golden, Jr., Gulf: Set Pasco County season record with 2,514 rushing yards||RB Lindsey Lamar, Sr., Hillsborough: More than 1,300 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns||RB Jamall Haynes, Sr., Pasco: Ran for 1,612 yards, 15 touchdowns|
|OL Justin Cabbagestalk, Sr., Armwood: Vanderbilt commit anchored always-strong O-line||OL Conor O'Neal, Sr., Newsome: Wolves had one of Hillsborough County's top running games thanks to O'Neal||OL Darren Baker, Sr., Hillsborough: Terriers top lineman helped pave way for Lamar|
|OL Chad Dampier, Sr., Nature Coast: Anchored a revamped line that produced 3,780 yards in nine games||OL Alex Rodriguez, Sr., Largo: Paved way for running back Marcel Durham to rush for more than 1,000 yards||K Brennan Allen, Sr., Pasco: Two field goals in a 13-12 win over North Marion sent the Pirates to state semifinal|
|Util Mywan Jackson, Sr., Armwood: Do-it-all senior is perhaps the area's best open-field runner||DL Demonte McAllister, Sr., Alonso: FSU commit had 97 tackles, 19 sacks||DL Theodore Jackson, Jr., Armwood: In first year as a starter, "Man-Man" was one of Hillsborough County's most dominant defenders|
|DL Alton Bailey, Jr., Armwood: Tampa Bay Tech transfer was interior rock for Hawks||DL Dontavious Pyron, Sr., Chamberlain: Followed up all-state junior season with superb senior year||LB Petey Smith, Sr., Armwood: One of nation's top linebackers will go to Alabama or Auburn|
|LB Mike Mirabella, Jr., Plant: Anchored strong linebacking corps with 12 sacks||LB Mike Marry, Sr., Largo: All-county defensive player of the year had 100 tackles, seven sacks||LB Ali Cheaib, Jr., Dunedin: Falcons' playmaker scored on blocked punts and fumble returns|
|DB Angelo Hadley, Sr., Armwood: Hawks' ballhawk set school record with 19 interceptions; orally committed to UNC||DB Jairus Jones, Sr., Wharton: Two-way talent averaged 15.8 tackles and had four interceptions and four blocked kicks||DB Mike Fields, Sr., Nature Coast: Followed his state-leading interception performance from a year ago with seven|
|DB JaQuez Jenkins, Sr., Lakewood: USF recruit had four interceptions, eight forced fumbles for playoff team||P Alex Spock, Sr., Land O'Lakes: Made key kicking plays whether it was a 50-plus field goal or 71-yard punt||KR Bernard Reedy, Jr., Lakewood: Versatile playmaker was always a threat with four scores off returns|
|Util Josh Johnson, Sr., Pasco: Amassed 1,128 yards, 10 touchdowns; orally committed to Purdue||Coach of the Year: Robert Weiner, Plant
Make no mistake. Weiner outdid himself this season. The Panthers' state run in 2006 was impressive, but this season the fifth-year coach dealt with adversity while erasing all doubters as Plant won its second state title in three years.
First team, offense
First team, defense