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 4A, District 9.
Armwood, East Bay, Hillsborough, King
District rivals Armwood and Hillsborough welcome 4A newcomers East Bay and King.
Hillsborough at Armwood, Oct. 23: Circle this game as one of the best of the season. Armwood has won the past three games in commanding fashion (by a combined 82-16 score), but Hillsborough is restocked and loaded.
Three story lines
1. Youth is served: At Armwood, anything short of the state title game is a disappointment. Last year's squad was heavy on talent and nationally ranked, but the Hawks were booted in the region final. This year's group is young and will have to grow up fast under the Seffner spotlight.
2. Is the 'Borough back? Not only did Hillsborough miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade last season, it was overwhelmed against many of the county's top teams. This year, coach Earl Garcia has seven transfers as the Big Red attempts to regain its swagger.
3. Rebuilding in Gibsonton: East Bay is coming off its first losing season since 1995, finishing 2008 losing five of six. The Indians' schedule doesn't get any easier this year, so how will Brian Thornton's wishbone offense do in a district that could include the county's two most athletic teams?
District's five best players
1. Terrence Mitchell, Hillsborough, Sr., S: Ball-hawking defensive back is one of the best defenders in the nation, gives a nasty edge that the Terriers' defense needs after last season.
2. Matt Jones, Armwood, So., RB: Coach Sean Callahan has already said Jones could be the best back ever to play at Armwood. Knowing what we've seen in the Hawks' backfields of yesteryear, that's saying something.
3. Tarean Austin, Hillsborough, Sr., QB: With good pocket presence, a tight-spiraled release and good feet in the pocket, he passes the eye test. The third-year starter now needs to deliver playoff wins.
4. Dontavious Fleming, East Bay, Sr., DT: Could be the county's top gap stopper. Has size (6-3, 305) to play at the next level.
5. Josh Grady, Armwood, Jr., QB: Freedom transfer threw for 1,800 yards last season as a sophomore. Now, one of the county's top offenses will be placed in his hands.
Predicted order of finish
3. East Bay
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org