CARROLLWOOD — As high school football begins with preseason classics tonight, does any northern Hillsborough team want to get back on the field as much as the Gaither Cowboys?
Gaither suffered through a 1-9 campaign last season, coach Mark Kantor's worst record since taking over the program in 2002.
Injuries, transfers and plain old misfortune plagued Gaither in 2009. Only one other area squad, Chamberlain, had as many losses as Gaither. And Chamberlain's lone win was against Gaither.
"Things can only go up," Kantor said at a recent practice. "It was a tough season, but I think our guys learned you can't take anything for granted. The point is, you have to work every day and get better."
Gaither is out to prove it is better when it hosts Durant tonight.
With a healthy defensive line, a more experienced quarterback in sophomore Shug Oyegunle and offensive weapons around him, Kantor said the Cowboys should be improved.
"Our mind-set is good," he said, looking forward to the Sept. 3 opening game against neighborhood rival Sickles. "It's an exciting time. We're ready to get Gaither football back to the regular good product it is."
New coaches abound
Former Clearwater Central Catholic coach Mike Jalazo takes over Leto, which continues searching for its first winning season since 1999.
Meanwhile, former USF player Tchecoy Blount becomes the fifth head coach at Freedom since 2006, and Lee Meitzler takes over at Alonso, which will be without the services of graduated record-setting quarterback C.J. Bennett.
And Brian Turner, son of legendary former Chamberlain coach Billy Turner, takes the reins at Sickles from Pat O'Brien, who resigned during the summer for a college coaching position.
Also, Jefferson begins its 2010 odyssey, which could be better than last year's run to the Class 3A state semifinals. Steinbrenner begins its first full season at the varsity level and Chamberlain and Wharton try to bounce back from horrid campaigns that saw the former area powers collectively win three games.