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Class 8A, District 7: 2014 football preview

Stephen Charron, trying to elude Largo defensive back Jonathan Crawford during the spring game, is Palm Harbor University’s top returning rusher with 644 yards last season.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Stephen Charron, trying to elude Largo defensive back Jonathan Crawford during the spring game, is Palm Harbor University’s top returning rusher with 644 yards last season.

We wrap up our daily district previews for all 78 varsity football teams with one including teams from Bradenton, Sarasota and Pinellas.

Overview

If there was ever a time to knock off Bradenton Manatee, it might be this season. After 30 years, legendary coach Joe Kinnan is out. Last year's starting quarterback, Josh Meyer, is off the team due to an arrest in the spring. He accounted for 2,014 yards of offense as a junior. But all three teams trying to beat Manatee have question marks. Can Sarasota Riverview overcome losses on defense to earn a second straight playoff appearance? Does St. Petersburg have enough size to last four quarters? Does Palm Harbor University have enough depth under first-year coach Reggie Crume? If those teams can get rolling, it could make for a competitive district.

The favorite

Manatee's goal every season is a state championship. The Hurricanes have won five of them. All came under Kinnan, who was on medical leave and not retained as coach. John Booth, the former Bloomingdale coach, inherits a team that went 11-1 in 2013 and lost 17-15 to Fort Pierce Central in the second round of the playoffs. Certainly, there are key players who graduated from that team, and the loss of Meyer will hurt. But the Hurricanes tend to reload. Sloan Drummonds transferred from Sebastian River and will take over the starting quarterback job. Manatee has won four straight district championships — and that streak likely doesn't end this year.

Next in line

Riverview made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2008. While several seniors on defense graduated, it still has enough offensive weapons to challenge for the second playoff spot. Riverview loves to run, gaining 2,429 yards last season and throwing for only 565. Throw in the fact Palm Harbor University and St. Petersburg didn't improve much in the offseason, and the Rams should make it back to the playoffs.

Sleeper

St. Petersburg can certainly challenge Riverview for the runnerup spot. The Green Devils need sophomore quarterback Austyn Causey to grow up in a hurry, and they need a running back or two to step up. Losses on the defensive side leave some holes, but the secondary is talented and experienced. The Oct. 31 game against Riverview will likely define the season for both schools.

Important numbers

0 Returning starting quarterback among the district's four teams

3 Consecutive seasons PHU has won at least five games (2011-13), the longest streak in program history

4 Consecutive 13-win seasons for Manatee before going 11-1 in 2013

5 Consecutive seasons in which Manatee has lost two or fewer games

Players to watch

FB/LB Stephen Charron, Sr., Palm Harbor University: The bruiser is the Hurricanes' top returning rusher with 644 yards last season. In the spring, he had 99 yards and scored once in three quarters against Largo.

CB/WR Josh Hall, Sr., St. Petersburg: Hall had 54 tackles and an interception last season. This will be the Southeast Missouri State commitment's third season in the secondary.

RB Karan Higdon, Sr., Riverview: The USF recruit gained 771 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last season. He will be the featured back in the Rams' pistol and spread offense.

WR Kelvin McKnight, Sr., Manatee: A cousin of Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders, McKnight is an offensive threat who caught 41 passes for 519 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Mark your calendar

St. Petersburg at Palm Harbor University, Oct. 2: This game is essentially to find out which Pinellas team still has a shot at a playoff berth. St. Petersburg, thanks to its ground game, won 28-6 last season. That will have to be the case again this year. It is the first district game for both schools. And even though it's early, there is plenty on the line.

Returning district leaders

Rushing yards: Manatee's Johnnie Lang, 781

Rushing TDs: Lang and Riverview's Karan Higdon, 10

Passing yards: Riverview's Dominic Caldwell, 85

Passing TDs: Caldwell, 1

Receiving yards: Manatee's Kelvin McKnight, 519

Receiving TDs: McKnight, 7

Tackles: Manatee's Travon Rumph, 72

Sacks: Manatee's Nashon Smith, 4

Interceptions: St. Petersburg's Jake Moore, 3

Predicted order of finish

From an anonymous coach in the district:

1. Bradenton Manatee

2. St. Petersburg

3. Sarasota Riverview

4. Palm Harbor University

Final word

"We're trying to build numbers and confidence. We're not going to be the fastest or the biggest team out there. I just want our guys to compete. Each play is about six seconds in football, and I want them to play as fast and as hard as they can for that period of time." — Reggie Crume, first-year Palm Harbor University coach

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 8A, District 7

Class 8A, District 7: 2014 football preview 08/20/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 10:59pm]

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