Throughout the remainder of August, the Times will take a position-by-position look at the North Suncoast's top players and units. Today we look at the area's best linebackers.
The five best
1. Alfredo Lindo, Sr., Nature Coast. Brings tons of intensity and quickness to a position that helped him to 127 tackles in 2007.
2. Joe Maldonado, Sr., Zephyrhills. He led the Bulldogs last season with a gritty 88 tackles, including four games with 10 or more with plenty of big hits.
3. Hunter Newton, Sr., Hudson. At 5-8 and maybe 170 pounds, Newton typifies the grittiness Hudson has come to represent the past half-decade. The son of defensive coordinator Keith Newton has led the Cobras in tackles the past two seasons, registering 129 in 2007.
4. Alex Mathis, Jr., Land O'Lakes. Mathis was the beneficiary of a defensive design that helped him earn 127 tackles in '07.
5. Will Burbridge, Jr., Gulf. Endowed with good size (6-2, 210 pounds) and agility, Burbridge turned some heads at the University of Florida's "Friday Night Lights" camp this summer. His 2007 numbers (3.4 tackles a game) were modest, but coach Jay Fulmer's assessment isn't: He thinks Burbridge has NFL potential.
Bound for a breakthrough in Hernando County
Nate Schafer, Sr., Springstead. There's plenty of buzz surrounding this senior-laden Eagles team, and there should be plenty of success to go around. Schafer makes strong plays and loves to hit.
Bound for a breakthrough in Pasco County
Tim Rearden, Sr., Ridgewood. This rangy senior averaged nearly seven tackles last season while performing in the shadow of Ben Perry and Arron Jackson. As the Rams' lone returning defensive starter, we expect Rearden to collect a ton of tackles.
Top five units
1. Nature Coast. The Sharks return a group of players, led by Lindo, who all started at linebacker including track stars Howard Williams, Britt Langley and Tadd Govedich.
2. Land O'Lakes. The Gators feel great about the linebackers led by Mathis, but there's also Collin Robinson, Andrew Gorgen and Ben Hedblom, who is expected to be a nice addition from the JV.
3. Zephyrhills. The Bulldogs have a hungry group in the middle led by Maldonado, Anthony Viernes (76 tackles) and Kylend Poston, who had his biggest game with 13 tackles in a 14-9 loss to Land O'Lakes.
4. Springstead. The Eagles play disciplined old-school football, which means the linebackers see plenty of action and are key to keeping opponents in check. This group is worthy of being listed among the best on the North Suncoast.
5. Central. Junior Steven Read and senior Dan May return to a unit that surrendered two or fewer touchdowns in five games last season. If new tailback Austin Forte — a linebacker last season — goes both ways, the Bears will have one of the area's most experienced units.
Joey Knight projects the area's top linebacker to be: Numerically, Newton should lead his team — if not the area — in tackles. As far as potential at the next level, Mathis, should he keep adding weight, should find his way onto a collegiate roster.
Izzy Gould projects the area's top linebacker to be: Maldonado. The Bulldogs always have a solid defense, and coach Tom Fisher's teams have been known for making big hits and firm tackles. Joey Knight and Izzy Gould, Times staff writers