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 7.
Brandon, Freedom, Tampa Bay Tech, Wharton
Tampa Bay Tech makes the move up from 4A, while New Tampa neighbors Freedom and Wharton join Brandon.
Three story lines
1. TBT tops: No team may have benefitted more from district realignment than TBT. No longer do the Titans have to be the third horse in a district with postseason regulars Armwood and Hillsborough. This year, with a vaunted defense and stellar running game, TBT is the team to beat.
2. Wildcats reloaded? Will Wharton miss a beat after losing a pair of Division I recruits — RB/DB Jairus Jones and QB Andrew Clifford — in its drive for a third straight district crown? Running back Shane McEwen, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, will have lots to say about that.
3. Panthers to Patriots: Can former NFL player James Harrell, the mastermind of the Plant defenses that won two state titles the past three years, take Freedom and its breadth of talent to the playoffs — and more importantly give Patriots fans the coaching stability they've never had?
Freedom at Wharton, Oct. 23: Neighborhood foes have made this New Tampa rivalry one of the county's best.
Wharton at Tampa Bay Tech, Nov. 6: We think this game will decide the district championship and be a hard-hitting affair.
District's five best players
Maurice Hagens, Sr., RB, Tampa Bay Tech: Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, the University of Miami commit has his eyes on the county rushing title. He is a bulldozing back (6 feet, 230 pounds) who breaks tackles, has good speed, quick feet and is the No. 1 reason TBT is the team to beat in this district.
Eric Hammond, Sr., DT, Wharton: Size (6-2, 290) and speed off the line make him one of the top gap-stoppers in the state; he's at his third school since the end of last season.
Greg Hickman, Sr., LB, Tampa Bay Tech: The Middleton transfer (6-1, 240) makes plays from sideline to sideline and offers another option in the offensive backfield.
T.J. Mutcherson, Sr., CB, Freedom: Steady defender is always around the ball. He has caught the eye of North Carolina, which has offered him a scholarship.
Sean Watson, Sr., S/WR, Brandon: We think he is the county's most underrated player. He does it all for the Eagles, rarely coming off the field.
Predicted order of finish
1. Tampa Bay Tech
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at email@example.com