Fall football practices for Tampa Bay football teams officially kicked off this week. We're rolling out daily district previews for all 78 varsity teams in the area. And independent teams, we didn't forget about you. You're up first.
A year ago, Bishop McLaughlin (3A-4), Shorecrest (3A-5) and Keswick Christian (2A-5) competed in districts. Declining numbers and fear for players' safety against more seasoned, deeper teams led the trio to join Tampa Bay's independent ranks for 2014 along with Citrus Park Christian and Seffner Christian. But hopes of reaching the playoffs aren't lost for some of these teams. Bishop, Keswick and Seffner compete in the Bay Division of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, which comprises 27 teams from across the state and offers its own postseason.
New men in charge: After two years under former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Dave Moore (7-3 in 2012, 2-6 in 2013), Shorecrest is looking to ex-St. Petersburg Catholic coach Steve Dudley to get it back on track. At Bishop McLaughlin, former assistant Craig Moore steps into the head role for a team that has one of the thinnest rosters in Pasco County. "Kids want to compete for a state championship," he said. "But if we can compete this year, maybe we can get those (better county) kids to come here." And Adam Hill, formerly the offensive quality control coach for the Tampa Bay Storm, takes over at Citrus Park Christian, which enters its second season of 11-man football.
Growth spurts: This is the fifth season of football at Seffner Christian, and with time comes experience. Steve Lewis, the only coach SCA has known, said he expects to have 42 players on the roster, most in Crusaders history. Lewis credits the increasing numbers to a growing middle school feeder program. Meanwhile, Citrus Park Christian has doubled its roster, boasting 30-35 athletes.
3,169 Combined yards of offense for Seffner Christian running back Robbie Shell and quarterback Caleb Newman in 2013. Both have graduated.
543 Combined yards of offense for the rest of Seffner Christian in 2013.
44 Receptions needed for senior TJ Muscarella to break Keswick Christian's career record. From 2003-06, Keswick's current receivers coach, Tony Anderson, caught 127 passes from the current coach, Blake Englehardt.
0 Wins for Keswick Christian last season, the only current bay area independent to go winless.
Players to watch
QB Sam Grant, Sr., Shorecrest: After splitting time with Travis Dugan last season, Grant will see the majority of the snaps. A left knee injury cost him most of 2012 and limited him in 2013. But it's now 100 percent. If Shorecrest has any hope of success, Grant needs to remain healthy for all 10 games.
TE Will Potosky, Sr., Bishop McLaughlin: He caught 30 passes as a wideout last year but transition to tight end, which befits his 6-foot-5 frame.
TE Zach Pruitt, Sr., Citrus Park Christian: Pruitt played quarterback in 2013 but moves to tight end. Coach Adam Hill said at 6 feet, 200 pounds, Pruitt is as big as the linemen he will block but has the speed to create mismatches downfield.
RB/NG Marcus Richardson, Sr., Seffner Christian: One of two Crusaders remaining from the inaugural team of 2010 and their leading returning rusher, Richardson has started since eighth grade.
OLB/WR Asher Thompson, Jr., Keswick Christian: Thompson was a bright spot on a weak defense last season, leading the team with 92 tackles as a sophomore. Over the last five games of 2013, Thompson emerged as a weapon opposite TJ Muscarella at receiver. He caught 28 passes for 442 yards and ended up leading the team with five touchdowns.
Rushing yards: Seffner Christian's Marcus Richardson, 457
Rushing TDs: Richardson, 6
Passing yards: Keswick Christian's Parker Holland, 1,514
Passing TDs: Holland, 12
Receiving yards: Bishop McLaughlin's Will Potosky, 599
Receiving TDs: Keswick Christian's Asher Thompson, 5
Tackles: Seffner Christian's Trent Puleo, 153
Sacks: Richardson and Seffner Christian's Christian Becker, 41/2
"If we were in Class A, we'd beat every team to within an inch of their lives." — Citrus Park Christian coach Adam Hill. Class A is reserved for small teams in rural areas.
Compiled by Times staff writer Jacob Lynn and correspondents Darek Sharp, Andy Warrener and Brandon Wright.