Hear that? The sound of pigskin whizzing through the air? Whistles blowing? Heavy breathing? Yep, spring football is here, and we're here to get you ready with some thoughts and observations. Keep in mind, by the end of spring, we could change our mind on all of this. Which is why we love spring football.
The coaching situation has never been so unsettled on the North Suncoast. Three schools enter spring practice with interim coaches. Wiregrass Ranch defensive coordinator Jeremy Shobe is in charge, ex-coach Jamie Joyner's staff is running the show at Nature Coast (the AD says all the remaining assistants are still there) and longtime defensive coordinator Al Claggett is the "point man" at Land O'Lakes (though he's retiring at the end of the school year and may not be back in fall). And speaking of interim coaches for the spring (does this ever work out), Gibbs is trying it as well.
Green with desire
Tampa Catholic coach Bob Henriquez is planning for some visitors this spring. He expects some 60 college recruits to show up in the first week of practice to check out quarterback Christian Green and tackle Chaz Green, two of the area's top recruits. He's already planning a hospitality tent. Christian Green owns offers from USC, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee and Miami.
The Packers have made deep playoff runs the past two seasons, losing to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas in the 2007 and '08 state semifinals. Another strong season is expected with 16 returning starters. If Largo makes the playoffs, it likely will have to get past Hillsborough and Armwood in the early rounds. The Packers will be looking to beef up their depth and find a starting quarterback this spring, but potential applicants abound.
Big shoes to fill
Land O'Lakes quarterback and coach: Starter Stevie Weatherford and backup Tanner Stocker transferred in the offseason, and there are no more Weatherfords behind Stevie, and no more John Benedetto (12 straight playoff appearances to end his coaching career).
Plant QB: Aaron Murray is gone, and Phillip Ely showed he was a more-than-capable fill-in. Now, can he do it for a whole season?
Armwood defense: The Hawks have to find replacements for All-American Ryne Giddins and Division I-A studs like linebacker Petey Smith and defensive back Angelo Hadley. They always seem to reload, and having Theodore Jackson returning (and perhaps Alton Bailey?) will cushion any dip in production.
Mark Haye, Palm Harbor University: The first-year coach takes over team that has high expectations after school's first winning season last year. A repeat performance will be tough since the Hurricanes lose 27 seniors to graduation.
Matt Wicks, Anclote: Wicks, hired a week before spring practice, takes over Pasco County's newest program, one that won't have a senior class in 2009.
TBD, Nature Coast: This team could have won the Class 3A title last season. Not moving quicker to replace the departed Jamie Joyner could backfire, but whoever gets the job with be loaded down with massively high expectations.
Jason Stokes, Middleton: Stokes resurrected Bloomingdale, then jumped ship for what many believe are greener pastures (read: more talent on a yearly basis) at Middleton. Can he prove he's all that?
The Panthers move up to 5A, which means getting by the likes of Lakeland and St. Thomas Aquinas if they're going to win a second straight state title. It won't be easy, but remember the Panthers got by Armwood last year and 4A wasn't such a cakewalk. Quarterback Phillip Ely will have a few new toys, and a tough schedule will have Plant prepared for those other big boys.
Top 10 impact players in Tampa Bay
1. Christian Green, QB, Tampa Catholic: They are building a hotel on the Crusaders campus to house college recruiters the next eight months.
2. Maurice Hagens, RB, Tampa Bay Tech: You don't want to get in his way. Really.
3. Jeremy Deering, RB, Leto: Seems to be drawing more and more interest, and could be the "It" guy of the 2010 class.
4. Theodore Jackson, DL, Armwood: Man-Man may be better than Giddins.
5. James Wilder, RB/LB, Plant: Most likely the 2009 version of Orson Charles.
6. Sean Holte, RB/LB, Largo: A hard hitter at linebacker and fullback, Holte is the emotional leader of a team loaded with talent.
7. Terrence Mitchell, WR, Hillsborough: Blazing speedster should put up big numbers in 2009.
8. Jarvis West, Gibbs: Multidimensional playmaker has nearly 20 Division I offers and should play an even bigger role on offense.
9. Alton Bailey, DL, Armwood: Currently off the team, but if he returns as we expect, or transfers, he's a beast.
10. Tarean Austin, QB, Hillsborough: Keeps getting better and better. Could be his breakout season.
Players you don't know now, but just you wait
Mike Douglas, TE/DE, Jr., Largo: Colleges have been after him for two years. Should get more passes thrown his way this season and could play fullback.
Hakeeme Ishmar, ATH, Jr., Pasco: Could line up in slot, out wide or in backfield for ultra-talented Pirates.
Tim Jackson, DL, Sr., Gibbs: A physically gifted athlete, Jackson will provide speed off the edge for the Gladiators defense. He also will play tight end.
Ricky Trinidad, RB, Jr., Mitchell. One of North Suncoast's fastest players, he was Mitchell's offense in 2008.
Hunter Joyer, FB, So., Wesley Chapel: Ferocious and fast, Joyer could be bigger recruit than brother Kamran (USF).
Fab 5 teams
4. Tampa Bay Tech
Compiled by Times staff writers Joey Knight, Ed Encina, Bob Putnam and John C. Cotey.