A-listers Carl Saunders
A 6-foot-3, 260-pound versatile offensive lineman, the senior's strength is he can play any of the five positions. Expect D-I offers to come as the season progresses. Georgia Tech is among those interested.
The 6-foot-1, 270-pound senior defensive tackle clogs the middle on the defensive line, and he has also received major Division I interest.
He missed most of the season last year with academic issues, but this year is one of the Patriots' top athletes. "Every guy who comes into town loves him," coach Marquel Blackwell said of the 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior.
Rising star Keith Lewis
The sophomore linebacker is a hard-nosed player suited for the position, but Blackwell believes he has the raw talent to be a five-star recruit. He also has size at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds.
Stunt man Mark Cionci
Guy who does the dirty work
The senior wide receiver is everything Blackwell wants in a player. Despite his size (5-foot-8, 160 pounds), Cionci has great instincts. "If he was 6-foot-1, every college in the country would want him," Blackwell said.
Three things the Patriots need to avoid
1. Turnovers: Last season too many offensive drives ended with turnovers, and too often that was the difference between close games and losses.
2. Injuries and suspensions: The Patriots didn't have their full group of players together until late October last year. That can't happen again.
3. Distractions: Blackwell said last season players lost focus and said now team chemistry is at its best ever. Will that pay off?
"The one thing that comes to mind with Freedom is that they had a freshman quarterback who played pretty well for them last year. You have to key on him." — Middleton coach Harry Hubbard
Coming off a 1-9 season last year, the Patriots can only improve. In Blackwell's second season, he believes his players have bought into his system and his staff. The offense will grow along with sophomore quarterback Josh Grady, a savvy signal caller who started last year as a freshman. The only question is whether they can overcome a brutal district that includes Armwood, Hillsborough, Middleton and Tampa Bay Tech.
Eduardo A. Encina, Times staff writer
Coach: Marquel Blackwell (second season, 1-9) | Last season: 1-9 | Class: 4A, District 11 | Colors: Red, white and blue