We're rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams in the area. Today we look at a five-team all-Pinellas league.
On paper, this looks like Lakewood's district all the way. The Spartans reached the Class 5A state semifinals last year and only lost by two points. But every other team in the district appears improved. Gibbs could have one of the best secondaries around and has added even more athletes. Tarpon Springs has one of the top backs in the county in Michael Ford. And new coaches Matt LaPain (Dunedin) and Max Smith (Boca Ciega) have instilled new life into those programs. It should mean a much more competitive race for the top two district spots.
Lakewood is the class of the district. While 26 players graduated, there is still plenty of talent. The best is quarterback Ryan Davis. But Romello Presley, Sekendric Biddines, Tyreik Hopkins and Adrian Adams will also play a big part in the offense. And coach Cory Moore believes his offensive and defensive lines are better than ever. Lakewood's goal is to do better than last season, which would mean a trip to the Class 5A state title game. Right now, that doesn't appear to be out of the question.
Next in line
Tarpon Springs, the district runnerup last year, finished strong, winning three of its final four to reach the region semifinals. The offense played particularly well down the stretch, averaging 42 points in the final four games, including two straight weeks of 60 or more. The Spongers should continue to score, especially with some promising newcomers at the skill positions who should allow Ford even more running room. Gibbs, 4-6 last season, could improve, especially with the addition of transfers Tyrell Hubbard-Smith (Lakewood) and John'Ta Edwards (St. Petersburg). Hubbard-Smith takes over at quarterback and Edwards will be a receiver. Both will team with Craig Watts to form one of the county's best secondaries.
Dunedin, 1-9 last season, could have the biggest turnaround. Matt LePain, who led Palm Harbor University to its only two playoff appearances, takes over as coach. The Falcons, despite depleted numbers, played well in the spring, scoring twice in the final four minutes to force a 16-16 tie against Seminole. The momentum has carried over with the addition of several players who weren't playing in the spring.
5 Games Tarpon scored 30 points or more in last season
7 Starters who didn't play for Dunedin in the spring who came out this summer
8 Points Lakewood left on the field (two missed PATs, three two-point conversions) in last year's 40-38 Class 5A state semifinal loss to Green Cove Springs Clay
40.25 Average points Lakewood scored in the 2013 regular season vs. its four district foes
Players to watch
OL Nyquel Alexander, Sr., Lakewood: Coaches would like to see the 6-foot-5, 420-pounder lose some weight to improve his agility. If that happens, he'll be hard to get around in the trenches.
RB/CB, Kenyatta Anderson, Sr., Boca Ciega: The Pirates' top college prospect — with offers from Rutgers, Marshall and Toledo — will be one of the players expected to fill the void left by Biddines and Saivion Smith. Expect to see him catching some passes and proving his worth on defense as well as a lockdown corner.
RB Michael Ford, Sr., Tarpon Springs: The bruising back, top left, has everything in place to turn in his third straight 1,000-yard season, though he said his goal is to get to 2,000.
DB/RB Craig Watts, Jr., Gibbs: Watts, bottom left, sprouted into a Division I defensive back last season and even more is expected from him in 2014. A speedy defender, he also loves to hit. Watts will also get some carries in Gibbs' varied offense.
RB/DB Jordan Williams, Sr., Dunedin: He showed some big-play capabilities in the spring by scoring twice in the final four minutes and recording an interception on the final play against Seminole.
Mark your calendar
Lakewood at Gibbs, Sept. 19: It's the first 5A-8 game for Gibbs and ends a brutal stretch of four games that includes St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Largo. Add in the fact that the schools are neighborhood rivals with former players on each team and this will be a fun four quarters. Tyrell Hubbard-Smith (a Lakewood transfer) will likely play quarterback for the Gladiators. There are story lines galore in this early district showdown.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Tarpon Springs' Michael Ford, 1,378
Rushing TDs: Ford, 17
Passing yards: Lakewood's Ryan Davis, 2,158
Passing TDs: Davis, 19
Receiving yards: Lakewood's Sekendric Biddines, 575
Receiving TDs: Biddines, 5
Tackles: Lakewood's Jordan Edwards, 94
Sacks: Lakewood's Jordan Edwards, 25
Interceptions: A lot of players returning with one
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
3. Tarpon Springs
5. Boca Ciega
"I don't think these kids feel any pressure. They have been through this before. They are at the point where they expect to win. So they just go out and play and have fun." — Lakewood coach Cory Moore
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 writer Jacob Lynn contributed to this report.
HomeTeam 2014 football Class 5A, District 8