Throughout the remainder of August, the Times will take a position-by-position look at the North Suncoast's top players and units. We kick off the series with a look at the area's best running backs.
The five best
1. Tevin Drake, Jr., Nature Coast. No player has a bigger target on his chest than Drake. The 1,000-yard back is an elusive runner capable of breaking big plays to the outside thanks to his speed. He also knows how to bob and weave through openings in the line for big runs.
2. Hunter Joyer, So., Wesley Chapel. Joyer is one of those backs players don't want to see coming at them with a head of steam. He's a thick-bodied back capable of bowling over the biggest linebackers. There's little to fear after wrestling older brother Kamran (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) all these years.
3. Jamall Haynes, Sr., Pasco. The leader of the Pirates backfield, he is a prototypical back capable of carrying the load. And thanks to Pasco's versatility on offense, expect big things from him this season.
4. Rickey Trinidad, So., Mitchell. As a seventh-grader at Seven Springs Middle School, Trinidad ran for 1,103 yards — in six games. When recently asked what he expects from Mitchell's offense this fall, Gulf coach Jay Fulmer said, "Rickey Trinidad right, Rickey Trinidad left."
5. Sterling Ross, Sr., Ridgewood. Adrian Golden's sudden departure for Gulf means Ross — a Mitchell transfer — likely will emerge as the primary ball carrier in a offense predicated on a power running game. Ross ran for 816 yards at Mitchell last season, but the multi-dimensional threat posed by quarterback Tate Humphrey no doubt created space for him. Now we find out if Ross can create his own space.
Bound for a breakthrough in Hernando County
Alvin Delaine, So., Hernando. As a Parrott Middle School eighth-grader, the diminutive (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) power runner everyone calls "Chubbs" ran for 230 yards in the county title game. Delaine's low center of gravity makes him a bear to bring down, as new coach John Palmer has learned. Look for Delaine to get the ball on kickoffs, punts and, of course, handoffs.
Bound for a breakthrough in Pasco County
Al Sampson, Jr., Zephyrhills. The younger brother of Florida defensive back Bryan Thomas, Sampson played as a freshman, then sat out last season before joining the varsity in the spring. Sampson is a finesse runner with plenty of speed and natural talent. While he's in the mix with a couple of running backs, there's no reason he can't step in to replace Chris Henry for a breakout season.
Top five running teams
1. Pasco. Ask Pirates coach Tom McHugh about his running backs and he begins to rattle off a list of eight to 10 names. Pasco is that deep, and that talented.
2. Nature Coast. The Sharks boast plenty of depth with Tevin Drake, Antwan Story and D.J. Williams. When Drake missed time due to an injury last fall, the other backs stepped in and flourished against a strong Citrus team.
3. Gulf. The Bucs probably won't boast an area rushing leader, but only because offensive coordinator Brian Wright will employ several ball carriers. The newest, Ridgewood junior transfer Adrian Golden, is built like Emmitt Smith. Also watch for senior Tevin Gamble and quarterback Madison Burr, a legitimate roll-out threat.
4. Hudson. Together, junior Dylan Luke and senior JoJo Cimino should fill the cleats of 1,600-yard rusher Sean Scott. Additionally, quarterback Zack Wynn can inflict a lot of damage when flushed from the pocket.
5. Mitchell. Rickey Trinidad and the other Mustangs backs will operate behind a veteran offensive line.
Joey Knight projects the area's top rusher to be: Rickey Trinidad. He'll benefit from a veteran offensive line in a run-oriented offense (Wing-T). The only question is, can Mitchell muster enough of a passing threat to keep defenses from stuffing the box?
Izzy Gould projects the area's top rusher to be: Tevin Drake. For two seasons, he has captivated fans with smooth moves and pure speed. Drake seemed to thrive in the biggest games last year and welcomes all challengers when it comes to stopping him.
Joey Knight and Izzy Gould, Times staff writers