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Tarpon Springs: 2014 football preview

Tarpon Springs' Michael Ford runs during the Class 5A regional quarterfinal at  Anclote in November. [WWILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]

Tarpon Springs' Michael Ford runs during the Class 5A regional quarterfinal at Anclote in November. [WWILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

Tarpon Springs

Coach: Ron Hawn (third season, 13-15*)

Last season: 7-5

Class/district: 5A-8

Colors: Maroon and white

Stadium: Sponger Stadium, 1411 S. Gulf Road, Tarpon Springs

Playoff history: 1970, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013

Last appearance: Beat Anclote 31-0; lost 31-9 to Lakewood.

*Was the interim coach most of 2011 season

Season schedule

Aug. 29 vs. Clearwater, 7:30

Sept. 5 vs. Osceola, 7:30

Sept. 12 at Tampa Catholic, 7

Sept. 19 vs. Dunedin, 7:30

Sept. 26 vs. East Lake, 7:30

Oct. 2 vs. Gibbs, 7:30

Oct. 10 at Countryside, 7:30

Oct. 24 at Lakewood, 7:30

Oct. 31 at Boca Ciega, 7:30

Nov. 7 at Dixie Hollins, 7:30

Mark your calendar

Dunedin at Tarpon Springs, Sept. 19: You would think this game would be an afterthought for Tarpon Springs considering it has won the past five meetings, including a 44-7 thrashing last season. But the district is expected to be improved and more balanced. And this one the Spongers can ill afford to lose if they expect to contend for another playoff spot.

Huddle highlights

Offensive fireworks: No county team was more productive at the end of the last season than Tarpon Springs, which scored 30 or more points in three of the final four games. Included in that stretch were two weeks in which the Spongers scored 67 against Boca Ciega and 63 against Dixie Hollins to close out the regular season. Those were the two highest-scoring games in school history. Most of the skill players are back, including running back Michael Ford and tight end Mitch Wilcox. The offensive line also returns nearly every starter. So it's expected Tarpon will still be able to score.

Running room: Ford was Tarpon's most consistent threat on offense, rushing for 1,378 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. More impressive was that Ford put up those numbers despite opposing defenses zeroing in on him. Often, teams would put eight defenders in the box because the Spongers ran the ball nearly 70 percent of the time. There should be more balance this year with a number of receivers who can be dependable targets and fill the void with the graduation of Montel Johnson, who led the team with 457 yards receiving. That also should give Ford wider lanes to run in, which will help in his quest to gain 2,000 on the ground this season. To do that, Ford will have to avoid injuries, something that's plagued him the past two years.

Quarterback carousel: The battle at quarterback has been intriguing. Trai Halton, a basketball standout at the school, came out for football and won the job in the spring. But he decided to concentrate on basketball. Brandon Casler, who played well in the spring, was inserted as the starter after that. Last year, Casler threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Now, he is battling freshman Jerome Fowler for the starting job. Fowler has a cannon for an arm but is still learning how to play the position.

Defensive playmakers needed: Tarpon Springs graduated its leaders in sacks (Damarkus Jones with eight) and interceptions (Maurice Turner with five). The pass rush should still be strong with the return of Collin Walser and Wilcox. The secondary gets some help with the addition of Daniel Davis, a transfer from Gibbs.

Known quantities

OL/DL Connor Donovan, Sr.: The team's best offensive lineman is the one Ford runs behind for big yardage.

RB Michael Ford, Sr.: The bruising back has everything in place to turn in his third straight 1,000-yard season, though he said his goal is to get to 2,000.

RB/LB Leonel Hernandez, Sr.: The team's top returning linebacker had 59 tackles and a sack last season.

K/P Louis Zervos, Sr.: The Under Armour game invitee was 9 of 13 on field goals last year and said he is hitting them from 55 yards consistently in practice.

OL/DL Collin Walser, Sr.: The four-year starter is the team's top returner in sacks with 7.5 last season.

TE/DL Mitch Wilcox, Sr.: The USF recruit is the Spongers' best red-zone target on offense and a terror as a pass-rushing specialist.

Up-and-comers

RB/DB Daniel Davis, Sr.: Known more for basketball, the Gibbs transfer should make an impact as a playmaker on offense.

OL/LB Donald Davis, Jr.: The younger brother of Daniel Davis has become a starter on both sides of the ball.

WR/DB J'Von France, Fr.: He has turned heads in practice with his ability to make plays as a receiver and kick returner.

OL/DL Matt June, Jr.: The son of former PHU coach Mike June helps solidify what already was a good offensive line.

RB/LB Sergio Troncoso, Jr.: He provides much-needed depth, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Coaches corner

"I feel good about we have. We've had some additions that are really going to help us and there are solid returners, too. We should be right there competing for the playoffs again." — Ron Hawn

Tarpon Springs: 2014 football preview 08/12/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 8:49pm]

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