We're rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams in the area. Today we look at a wide-open all-Pasco County district.
For a district that doesn't have any dominant teams, nationally ranked recruits or teams with lots of depth, 5A-7 has real potential to be one of the most fun leagues around. Three teams toward the bottom last season — Ridgewood, River Ridge and Gulf — all appear to be improved. Anclote and Hudson took it all the way to Nov. 1 last year before the Sharks decided the district with a win, and things could be just as unsettled late into this season. "I think its going to be an exciting district," Hudson coach Mark Kantor said. "As far as I'm concerned, Anclote is still the district champ and the team to beat. But I think we have a great shot again of being in the mix."
Many of the teams seem to have at least one or two playmakers (Trevor Duke at River Ridge, Keshaun Peters and Avery Welch at Gulf, Glass Wilson at Ridgewood), but what we think separates Hudson is a big, talented and experienced offensive line. The Cobras may have lost their backfield to graduation, but the line is good enough that we wouldn't rule out either of the new guys (Billy Werner or Nate Munson) hitting 1,000 yards. Throw in the most experienced quarterback in the district — Joey Caruso — and that's a solid foundation that may have to produce a ton of points as the Hudson defense rebuilds.
Next in line
River Ridge has the opposite offensive line situation as Hudson, and will have to hope a retooled unit jells quickly in order to take advantage of guys like Chris Schwarz, Dillon O'Toole and Duke. It will have four weeks to do so, before the district opener against Gulf on Sept. 19.
Gulf looked great during the 7-on-7 season and certainly has some of the district's most promising athletes, but some of those athletes haven't put in a full varsity season yet. If they can stay on the roster, the Bucs are worth keeping an eye on. But size up front and overall depth will take its toll deep into the season. The same goes for Ridgewood, though workhorse running back Wilson is good enough to carry the Rams to an upset victory or two. The Rams return their starting quarterback, leading rusher and two leading receivers. Remember, Ridgewood went 3-1 in its last four district games as the offense rounded into form. If the Rams can carry that over, look out. And don't write off last year's champ, Anclote. The Sharks were hit harder by graduation (22, including nearly every defensive starter) than just about anyone in Pasco County, but coach Matt Wicks will have some athletes to work with. We're just not sure he'll have enough.
2 Players in the district last year who had yards rushing, receiving, on punt returns, on kickoff returns and on interception returns (Hudson's Zack Russell and River Ridge's Trevor Duke, who returns)
3 Times River Ridge was shut out last season
5 Current streak of games in which Glass Wilson has rushed for at least 140 yards and one TD
37 Points Ridgewood averaged in its last four district games, three of them wins
100 Percent of Anclote's top six returning tacklers lost to graduation
2008 Last time one of the district's teams won a playoff game (Gulf)
Players to watch
RB Alfonso Battle, Jr., Wesley Chapel: After sitting behind the graduated Mark LaBarbera, Battle didn't get many reps at running back last season. Now he is one of the favorites to start at a position that coach Tico Hernandez said is six to seven players deep on the depth chart.
QB/LB Joey Caruso, Sr., Hudson: The returning quarterback rushed and threw for 16 total touchdowns last year, but his real value this season may come on defense, where he'll return to his linebacking roots. Caruso will be a full-time defender as a hybrid linebacker/safety rover, and he's excited about it. He's as big as he's ever been at 6-2, 205, and had two sacks, a forced fumble and double-digit tackles in the spring game.
NG/FB Dillon O'Toole, Sr., River Ridge: With the frame of a linebacker, but the mentality of a defensive lineman, O'Toole handled the nose position in River Ridge's 4-3 scheme. His athleticism was unrivaled on the way to 16 tackles for a loss in 2013, including two sacks. But it was his six forced fumbles and one interception that really impressed. He will be the anchor of the front seven and should continue to wreak havoc.
QB/DB Keshaun Peters, Sr., Gulf: While Peters hasn't played in two years due to academics, Gulf coaches and players know how good he can be. He showed off his strong, accurate arm in summer 7-on-7 tournaments, and coach Jason Messamore said he is leaning toward Peters as the opening-night quarterback.
WR/DB Jonte Scott, Sr., Anclote: Not only is he Anclote's top returning rusher (195 yards), he also is the only player on the team who caught a pass last season. His primary position on offense will be at receiver because the Sharks have some promising newcomers in the backfield.
RB Glass Wilson, Jr., Ridgewood: Wilson has improved his footwork in addition to increasing his speed, and now instead of just being a "ground and pound" runner has the ability to elude tacklers. And his work ethic is a coach's dream. "There were weeks where he was training anywhere from 40 to 60 hours. I had to tell him, 'Slow down, go to the beach. Have fun …enjoy your summer.' Not too many kids in my coaching career I've had to say that to," Jay Fulmer said.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Ridgewood's Glass Wilson, 1,518
Rushing TDs: Wilson, 14
Passing yards: Hudson's Joey Caruso, 1,108
Passing TDs: River Ridge's Patrick Mathieson, 9
Receiving yards: Ridgewood's Clarence Farria, 374
Receiving TDs: Farria, 3
Tackles: River Ridge's Trevor Duke, 111
Sacks: Anclote's Torrance Taylor, 6.5
Interceptions: Ridgewood's Chris Grant, 3
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous senior player in the district
2. River Ridge
6. Wesley Chapel
Mark your calendar
Hudson at River Ridge, Oct. 24: We think this game decides the district champion and runnerup. The Cobras won last year's meeting 26-16 and will come into the game having played just one team (Land O'Lakes) that had a winning record last year, so they should be rolling. River Ridge will come in more tested. Should be a dandy.
"The district is open; we just have to take it." — Gulf coach Jason Messamore
More football online
Want to know more about these teams? Catch up on previous installments? We've got individual previews chock full of more players to watch, schedules and more. Check out tampabay.com/hometeam.
Staff writers Rodney Page and Bob Putnam, and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere, Jeff Odom and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.
HomeTeam 2014 football Class 5A, District 7