We're rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams in the area. Today we look at a six-team all-Pinellas County district.
This district could be one of the most competitive in the area. Five of the six teams either won or tied in their spring games. Last year, East Lake was dominant, sweeping its district foes by a combined score of 250-51. The Eagles graduated some key players, including defensive back Devin Abraham, left tackle Mason Cole and receiver Artavis Scott. But there still is enough top-level talent to stay at the top with players such as receiver George Campbell, linebacker Carson Lydon and defensive back Justin Strnad. Pinellas Park returns 15 starters from last year's team that went 10-2 and won a playoff game for just the second time in school history. The run game will be among the area's leaders, led by Donte Maxson and Kal-El Williams. After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, Countryside has the talent to be in the mix. Trent Chmelik is in his first full season as a quarterback and directs an offense capable of big numbers. Clearwater, Northeast and Seminole, which were a combined 4-26 last season, are likely on the outside looking in when it comes to competing for a playoff spot. The Tornadoes' Donnie Abraham and the Warhawks' Chris Miller are both second-year coaches whose teams showed improvement in the spring and summer. First-year coach Jeremy Frioud has brought some energy to Northeast.
Players to watch
TE/LB Rasim Avmet, Sr., Clearwater: The basketball standout was the team's leading receiver last year with 285 yards and caught a winning touchdown pass from Garrison Bryant against Ocala West Port in the spring.
TB Devin Bowers, Sr., Northeast: Bowers is one of the few returners with significant playing time last season. He will likely get the most carries in Northeast's hurry-up offense, and will also play in the secondary.
WR/DL George Campbell, Sr., East Lake: The four-star recruit showed why he is the Eagles' top deep threat with five catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns against Osceola in the spring.
QB Trent Chmelik, Jr., Countryside: Now that Chmelik is the full-time starter, he should put up even bigger numbers than the 588 yards and four touchdowns he had last season.
QB Aaron Dever, Sr., Seminole: The dual-threat quarterback had more than 400 yards rushing and receiving last season and tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with 12.
RB/LB Kal-El Williams and Donte Maxson, Srs., Pinellas Park: Williams, who is committed to Florida Atlantic, gained 776 yards and scored six touchdowns last season. Expect even more from the 6-foot, 240 pound power back this season. Maxson was second on the team with 1,208 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns as a junior. He is committed to Mercer University.
To get an idea of just how overpowering East Lake was last season, consider that the Eagles' closest game was a 22-0 win over a Largo team that was a district champion. East Lake graduated some significant contributors from that 13-1 team, which lost to eventual state champion Palm Beach Dwyer in overtime in the state semifinals. But the benefit of having so many blowouts was the Eagles were able to substitute frequently, giving the backups valuable playing experience as they take over starting roles this season. The strength of the team should be on defense, led by linebackers Jake Hansen, Carson Lydon and Dylan Renaker. The hurry-up, no-huddle offense implemented in the spring showed signs of being effective.
Next in line
Pinellas Park is as loaded as any of the program's past teams. The Patriots return eight starters on defense and seven on offense. They have increased size on both the offensive and defensive lines. With three returning backs in Maxson, Oscee Calhoun and Williams, the Patriots can wear out opponents. Pinellas Park lost only twice last season — both times to East Lake. Those games weren't even close. East Lake may still have the size and depth to hold off the Patriots, but Pinellas Park is much improved.
Countryside started last year 5-1, including an upset of Lakewood in the season opener. But the Cougars faded down the stretch, losing three of their final four to knock themselves out of contention. The offense returns just about every skill player, and the offensive line should be improved. The big question is how well Countryside will fare against East Lake and Pinellas Park. The Cougars lost both games last year by a combined 93-13.
Returning district leaders
Rushing yards: Pinellas Park's Donte Maxson, 1,208
Rushing TDs: Maxson, 14
Passing yards: East Lake's Jake Hudson, 1,406
Passing TDs: Hudson, 15
Receiving yards: East Lake's George Campbell, 769
Receiving TDs: Campbell, 7
Tackles: East Lake's Carson Lydon, 149
Sacks: Lydon and Campbell, 8
Interceptions: Countryside's Damien Howard and Pinellas Park's Rashaan Watson, 4
Predicted order of finish
From an anonymous coach in the district
1. East Lake
2. Pinellas Park
0 Consecutive 10-win seasons for Pinellas Park. The Patriots can do it for the first time this season
2 Straight 100-yard games Countryside running back Dante Satcher had to close last season
10 Seasons since Seminole has the made the playoffs, the longest drought among Pinellas County public schools
11 Straight losses for Clearwater, a streak that dates to the final game of 2012
15: Straight regular-season victories for East Lake, currently the longest streak in Pinellas County
286 Total points Northeast was outscored by opponents last season
3,063 Rushing yards last season for Pinellas Park's returning running backs
Mark your calendar
East Lake at Pinellas Park, Oct. 24: These teams met in the regular season and again in the region semifinals last year. East Lake won both by a combined 87-12. Given the talent both teams have returning, the Patriots should make it more competitive this season, and there's a good chance both could have another rematch in the playoffs. The game also will have plenty of hype with players from both sides talking smack throughout the summer on social media.
"This is a tough district with so many teams improved. Like any team, we want to be in the playoffs. But we lost a lot of guys, and we're just trying to do enough to be there at the end." — East Lake coach Bob Hudson
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.
HomeTeam 2014 football Class 7A, District 9