Who says football doesn't prepare youngsters for life? Should the nation's economic plight persist, dozens of area teenagers are unwittingly learning how to deal with it now: by intensely vying for jobs each afternoon. On practice fields throughout the county, position battles are raging, forcing players to remain as intense as the heat index or risk landing on the second team. Some of the prominent position battles:
Candidates: Ryan Hatter, Jr.; DeAndre Mills, Sr.; Tanner Stocker, Jr.
Assessment: Coach David Mitchell has said his quarterback derby is so intense, he may not name a starter until a day or two before the season opener, if not later. Stocker, a Land O'Lakes transfer, has the most experience. When Gators starter Stevie Weatherford broke his collarbone late in the 2008 season, Stocker stepped in and finished with 115 passing yards and two touchdowns. Hatter, on the other hand, has more experience in Wharton's system; he backed up South Carolina signee Andrew Clifford last season. Mills, a Wiregrass Ranch transfer, also is a viable candidate, coaches insist. The consolation prize for the runnerups: a likely job at another position. "All three of those guys are talented enough to find a starting job on the field somewhere else," offensive coordinator Craig Rainey said.
Plant defensive line
Candidates: Joe Pappas, Sr.; Sam Seaberg, Sr.; James Wilder, Jr.; host of others
Assessment: "We lost our five best defensive linemen," coach Bob Weiner says, "so really our whole defensive line is a battle in and of itself." Among those projected to lock up a job is Wilder, a Chamberlain transfer who will fluctuate between linebacker and defensive end in Plant's scheme. Pappas, who had three sacks in 2008, also should play a lot, and Weiner mentioned Seaberg "has come on a little bit."
Gaither running back
Candidates: Tyler Hamilton, Jr.; Chris Joseph, So.; Austin Lay, Sr.; Logan Marshall, Fr.; Chadd Pierson, So.
Assessment: Coach Mark Kantor, seeking a replacement for South Carolina signee Jarvis Giles, has converted players from other spots to try to fill the void. Joseph moves from the secondary, while Hamilton is a former quarterback. Pierson, a 5-foot-6 spark plug, is the top returning rusher (13 carries, 82 yards). "They're all in the mix," said Kantor, who will employ a two-back set in his spread offense. "We're excited to be able to coach them in the backfield and get after 'em."
Candidates: Thaddeus Baxley, Jr.; Travis Hanchett, Sr.
Assessment: The Chiefs are rebuilding in Year 1 of the post-Billy Turner era, and new coach Joe Severino said he will decide on a new signal caller after their kickoff classic game at Jefferson. Hanchett is a better passer, and the Baxley is quicker on his feet, but the winner will have to show he can throw and run. "They're going to have to do it all," Severino said, "because we're going to be more balanced. I don't want to say 60-40, maybe more 70-30, but there's nothing worse than when you're running the ball well and you can't complete a play-action pass."
Candidates: John Hendrick, Jr.; Scott O'Donoghue, Sr.; Jeff Wilton, Sr.
Assessment: The Gryphons' conversion to the triple-option has made O'Donoghue, arguably the team's most versatile player, a viable candidate for the starting job. If he wins it, O'Donoghue likely will be the only Hillsborough County player to start at quarterback and middle linebacker. At the least, he should take several snaps a game. Wilton, the backup to 1,100-yard passer Cullen O'Brien last season, had minimal action in 2008. So did Hendrick, whose dad is a USF assistant.
Tampa Catholic offensive guard
Candidates: Michael Graziano, Sr.; Matt Hrisko, Sr.
Assessment: One of Tampa Catholic's strengths is its offensive line. A unit that returns four starters, including a healthy Chaz Green (one of the nation's top tackle recruits), has one guard spot unsettled. Graziano started the spring game and did well, but Hrisko is also a senior who has been around the program and knows it well. Whoever doesn't get the starting job might be called on to be a key reserve because coach Bob Henriquez's concern is a lack of depth. Also, some of those linemen might have to go both ways. "There are still a few unknowns," Henriquez said.