SEFFNER — From the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows in a week's span.
After reaching the state finals on a 44-yard field goal as time expired Dec. 10, Armwood lost 17-14 to Tallahassee Lincoln on a last-second field goal last week.
From euphoria to heartbreak, just like that.
"We've been struggling (with the loss)," Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. "But down the road, when everyone has a chance to step back, we'll realize this was a very good 14-1 football team that reached the state finals and just fell a little short."
To those inside the program, next season's first game may seem like an eternity. We, on the other hand, don't think it's too early to take a sneak peek at next year's version of the Hawks.
The loss of graduating senior Josh Grady may be the most difficult single player to replace. Grady threw for 2,232 yards and 24 TDs but also ran for another 863 and 14 scores.
He also provided tremendous leadership. Junior Tanner Emmons, a starter on the Hawks baseball team as well, appears poised to replace Grady.
"If we were to line it up today, Emmons would be the guy," Callahan said. "We're hopeful to create some competition for him, but I'm very comfortable with Tanner."
It seems like Matt Jones has been at Armwood for a decade, but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound tailback will be heading into his senior season. A contributor since his freshman year, Jones ran for 1,454 yards and 25 TDs in 2010 and will likely be the most sought after recruit in the area. Juniors Wade Edwards and Javonte Sneed should also figure into the mix.
This is the Hawks' deepest returning unit with three starters (Cody Waldrop, Cameron Dees and Kevin McCoy) back for their senior season. Callahan said he also expects big contributions from Brandon Teeling, a converted defensive lineman.
"Our line will be the strength of the team," Callahan said.
Alvin Bailey, possibly the most explosive threat this season, will be back for his junior year. Bailey hauled in 35 passes for 612 yards and six scores in 2010 and could easily surpass those numbers next season. The loss of sophomore Ronnie Thomas to a severe knee injury in the state finals, however, was a major blow to next year's receiving corps. Callahan said it's unlikely Thomas will be ready to go in 2011.
The Hawks lose David Tinsley and Anthony Kirkland, but junior Sheldon Lewinson is poised to have a breakout year. Callahan also said he thinks junior Lonzel Davis and sophomore Freddie Martin, both of whom were worked into the line rotation this season, will emerge in 2011.
This is the hardest hit unit. Gone will be stalwarts D.J. Hitchman, Jacob Zilbar and Harvellio Buie, leaving Eric Striker as the lone returning backer.
Striker, the team's leading tackler with 127, will have to lead an untested unit and help make up for the leadership Hitchman and Zilbar provided.
"Eric is a tough kid with a lot of ability," Callahan said.
"And he's one of those kids who has a ton of football smarts."
The loss of senior captain Juice McKinney is a big blow to the backfield, but a lot of depth remains. Starters Leon McQuay, Shannon Smith and Jarvis McCall all return and possess excellent size — all three are 6-foot-2. McQuay led the Hawks with five interceptions.
Overall, the Hawks should contend but if the FHSAA's tentative reclassification plans hold true, Armwood will have the added challenge of being in a new district with Class 3A state champion Jefferson, plus 2010 playoff teams Hillsborough and Sickles.
Brandon Wright can be reached at email@example.com.