As the 2009 prep football season approaches, the Times will take a day-by-day look at each district involving a local team. Today we look at Class 5A, District 5.
Alonso, Chamberlain, Gaither, Plant
Sickles and King moved out (addition by subtraction); Gaither and Plant moved in (addition by addition), suddenly making this one of Hillsborough County's most interesting districts. All four teams made the playoffs last season.
Alonso at Plant, Oct. 23 We expect this game to a) determine the district champion, and b) feature no fewer than 75 pass attempts. Expect the slinging to be early and often.
Three story lines
1. Plant in 5A: Can defending Class 4A state champion Plant make a seamless jump to Class 5A, where state powers such as Lakeland and Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas wait? Gone are record-breaking Division I recruits like quarterback Aaron Murray and wide receiver Orson Charles, but a formidable defense and the experience of quarterback Phillip Ely go a long way in the Panthers' title defense.
2. Rebuilding Chiefs: Can Chamberlain, despite losing legendary coach Billy Turner, inset, and an exodus of talent, still contend under new coach Joe Severino? The Chiefs lost two of their top playmakers on defense in linebacker James Wilder Jr. and defensive tackle Eric Hammond, but Severino says he is loaded with young talent. That might mean some growing pains this season before Chamberlain makes a return to the playoffs.
3. Alonso on the move? Will Alonso quarterback C.J. Bennett and the Ravens' offense make that next step as a team — from an exciting group to watch to state title contender? Bennett has some great weapons in receivers Justen Davis and Jesse Anaya, but will another season of the spread translate to more wins and another playoff appearance?
District's five best players
C.J. Bennett, Sr., QB, Alonso: He has already committed to Wyoming, so now the county's leading passer from last season can concentrate on another 3,000-yard season.
James Wilder Jr., Jr., RB/LB, Plant: Arguably the county's best athlete, he is one of the state's top juniors. Has great pedigree (father is former Bucs RB of the same name) and should see more carries on offense.
Phillip Ely, Jr., QB, Plant: Threw for more than 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns in seven starts as a sophomore.
Justen Davis, WR/CB, Sr., Alonso: He is 6 feet 2 and has the jump and height to be a factor on both sides of the ball.
Mike Mirabella, ILB, Sr., Plant: He is a tad undersized but deceptively quick. He's always in the middle of a play and is the heart of the Panthers' defense.
Predicted order of finish
On the Web
Have a question for one of our prep writers? Want to sound off in response to one of our county-by-county writers' blogs? For this and more, check out our high school sports blog at http://blogs.tampabay.com/preps/.