Playoff teams often possess one of two things: shining stars and unsung heroes. The four North Suncoast playoff teams possess these character players. And when they shine, their teams often win. How will they respond in tonight's playoff games?
Shining star: Quarterback Zack Wynn (2,235 passing yards, 17 TDs) isn't just the team's most valuable player, he's the face of the program. In the win over Wiregrass Ranch that sent the Cobras into the playoffs, Wynn scored all 20 of his team's points (yes, he kicks, too). The 6-foot-3 standout is a tough player who keeps an opposing defense on its heels. He's particularly good at getting rid of the ball before pressure can reach him. What makes Wynn all the more difficult to defend is that he can beat you with his legs, evidenced by his 568 rushing yards.
Unsung hero: Running back Dylan Luke is among the region's most underrated and underappreciated talents. Yet he has rushed for a team-high 702 yards and caught 37 passes for 365 yards. Luke is a tough, inside runner whose presence takes some pressure off Wynn. He isn't a breakaway threat (though he does have a 52-yard run), but a grind-it-out back who gets the hard yards.
Shining star: Stevie Weatherford (1,842 yards, 24 touchdowns and four interceptions) has provided the pulse for the Gators' offense. In five games he threw for 247 yards or more and 17 touchdowns. Three times, Weatherford was held to an average of 96 yards passing, including three touchdowns and two interceptions, and the Gators won each game. Jefferson has been strong against the pass, limiting some of Hillsborough County's top QBs to fewer than 200 yards in games against Hillsborough (Tarean Austin), Plant (James Few) and Spoto (James Brown).
Unsung hero: Linebacker Alex Mathis leads the team in tackles (98) for a second straight season. He also has two sacks and two punt blocks.
Shining star: A career plateau is within reach for running back Tevin Drake (1,412 yards, 17 touchdowns). The Sharks' leading rusher for the past three seasons needs 126 yards to reach 5,000, and two more touchdowns to reach 70. Nature Coast's featured back has been held to fewer than 100 yards in two games this season, though he was suspended for the first half in one of them. He is averaging 141.2 yards per game. Coach Mark Lee said Drake wants to lead the Sharks to their first playoff victory and beyond.
Unsung hero: John Carbone might be the most overlooked defensive player in Tampa Bay. The Sharks lineman leads the team with 106 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Lee said roughly 20 of his tackles have been for losses, pretty astounding considering he is a defensive lineman.
Shining star: On a team full of stars, keep an eye on Mitch Wozniak. Coach Tom McHugh said he has the perfect mix of size, speed, brains and hands. Wozniak has 352 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Unsung hero: Look out for Chase Sellers. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound linebacker is one of the strongest kids on the team (benches 350 pounds) and is very fast (runs a 4.5 40). And in big games, Sellers rises to the challenge. He had a season-high 11 tackles in a 32-7 loss at South Sumter. He leads the Pirates with 81/2 sacks, and he also had a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown in a 38-0 win over Gulf.
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.