HomeTeam 2014 football Class 2A, District 5
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. Today, we look at our smallest district.
Indian Rocks Christian dominated 2A-5 last season, going 6-0 and outscoring opponents 275-27. The Golden Eagles beat runnerup Carrollwood Day 14-6 and went on to reach the state semifinals. They might be good enough to do all of that again, returning almost every key player. But so does most everyone else, including Cambridge Christian and Northside Christian. And the league's worst team last season, Keswick Christian, withdrew to play an independent schedule. "There's no doubt everyone in the district is better this year," CDS coach Lane McLaughlin said. "It's going to be tougher to win." The only current 2A-5 team that didn't finish at least .500 last year was 3-7 Northside Christian, which started mostly freshmen. Canterbury was in the middle of the pack, but low numbers and a lot of underclassmen will make the going tougher. And Bradenton Christian, despite losing eight seniors, returns quarterback Joey Giardina, its leading passer and rusher last year.
Indian Rocks Christian returns nearly every significant player on offense. Most of them also are playmakers on defense. No other team in the district has that kind of experience — and talent — going into the season. In fact, the Golden Eagles are looking beyond a district title. They are eyeing a return trip to the state semifinals and a rematch with defending state champion Miami Champagnat Catholic.
Next in line
If the offensive line holds up, Carrollwood Day is explosive enough to upset the Golden Eagles. Even if not, the Patriots' backfield and defense are good enough to get them into the playoffs.
Cambridge Christian might have the most valuable offensive weapon in the district in quarterback Garrett Young (1,861 yards passing, 645 rushing and 34 total touchdowns last season), and it returns all of its offensive skill position players. And watch out for Northside Christian, which is sophomore heavy but with plenty of varsity experience and athletes. The addition of Dillan Gibbons, a top offensive lineman recruit, could be a difference-maker.
3 IRC players who had at least 900 yards rushing last season: Theo Anderson, Damian King and Zeke McGaughy
98.5 Percentage of Cambridge's 3,511 yards of offense last season belonging to underclassmen
95.8 Percentage of IRC's 4,707 yards of offense last season belonging to underclassmen
37 Points per game scored by CDS over the past four seasons
Players to watch
QB Josh Belton, So., Canterbury: Belton will be one of the most experienced Crusaders to take the field. Last season's freshman campaign, in which he threw for 681 yards and six touchdowns in a run-heavy offense, was enough to retain the starting role.
RB Elias Earley, Sr., Carrollwood Day: Already pulling track offers after a standout season in the 200 and 400, Earley is a breakaway threat every time he touches the ball.
QB Joey Giardina, Jr., Bradenton Christian: Giardina proved himself as a sophomore, passing for more than 1,000 yards and rushing for another 700.
WR/DB Damian King, Sr., Indian Rocks Christian: The Division I-A recruit is the team's top returner in receiving yards (615), interceptions (six) and touchdowns (24). He also is a threat in the return game.
WR/S Josh Snead, Jr., Northside Christian: Snead, who will play in the slot, is one of the most athletic players on the team and is expected to see several passes come his way.
WR Nick Stein, Sr., Cambridge Christian: Stein will look to be the go-to-guy in filling the void left by the graduated Trevor Young. He should be up to the task. The 5-foot-11 playmaker had 491 receiving yards and six total touchdowns last season.
Mark your calendar
Indian Rocks Christian at Carrollwood Day, Sept. 5: The biggest test for the defending district champion Golden Eagles comes on the road against last year's runnerup. This matchup could boast as many as five 1,000-yard rushers: IRC's Theo Anderson, Damian King and Zeke McGaughy and CDS' Willie Parker and Elias Earley. Each of these teams' past three meetings were decided by eight points or fewer.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Indian Rocks Christian's Theo Anderson, 1,090
Rushing TDs: Anderson, 19
Passing yards: Cambridge Christian's Garrett Young, 1,861
Passing TDs: Young, 20
Receiving yards: IRC's Damian King, 615
Receiving TDs: King, 10
Tackles: IRC's Chris Licea, 115
Sacks: Anderson, 10
Interceptions: King, 6
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district:
1. Carrollwood Day
2. Indian Rocks Christian
3. Cambridge Christian
4. Northside Christian
6. Bradenton Christian
"On paper, this is the best team I've had since I've been here." — IRC coach Mark Buchanan, who is entering his 10th season
More football online
Want to know more about these teams? Catch up on previous installments? We've got individual previews chock full of players to watch, schedules and more. Check out tampabay.com/hometeam.
Times staff writer Rodney Page and Jacob Lynn and correspondent Jeff Odom contributed to this report.