With preseason games beginning next week, the Times answers three pressing questions facing Pinellas teams.
1. Can the single-season county rushing record be broken — again?
Twice in the past three seasons the record was set by a running back from Largo (Dexter McCluster in 2005 and Brynn Harvey last season). This year, the best hope comes from the Packers' biggest rival. Dunedin's Darius Bellamy ran for a school-record 1,900 yards last season and is the county's top returning rusher. He has the benefit of running behind an experienced line (four starters return) and playing with a strong-armed quarterback (Ryan Singer) who can make defenses think twice about stacking the line against the run. But Falcons coach Mark Everett said he'll pull Bellamy in games when the score gets out of hand rather than let him pad his stats.
Other runners who could have strong seasons include Countryside's Dawrence Roberts, Northeast's Juarez Wynn and Clearwater Central Catholic's Micah Poole.
Don't rule out another Packer doing it again. Right now, the leading candidate to replace Harvey is Marcel Durham.
"I think I can do it," Durham said of the record. "I know Dexter and Brynn and they're rooting for me."
Durham should find plenty of holes thanks to a massive offensive line that averages 260 pounds. And Largo's offensive staff is committed to running the ball.
"We're trying to see if we can get someone to break the record again," Packers fullback Shawn Holte said. "It might be hard because we have a lot of guys who can run the ball. But we should definitely have 3,000 yards rushing as a team."
2. Which team is the most dominant among the private schools?
Clearwater Central Catholic has made the playoffs 12 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the county. To keep it going, the Marauders will have to find a way to replace 22 seniors who graduated. The offense should be in good hands with playmakers Paul Freedman at receiver and Micah Poole at running back. And the defense, though young, should still be strong.
St. Petersburg Catholic is now eligible for the playoffs. If the Barons want to get there, they have to tighten up on the defensive side, especially after allowing 59 points against St. Petersburg in the spring.
At the small school level, Indian Rocks Christian and Shorecrest return most of their skill players. Keswick Christian loses most of its but will still be one of the favorites in its district, along with Calvary Christian.
3. Which Pinellas team has the best chance of making a state title run?
Because of the way playoff brackets are set up, the best chance comes from teams competing in Class 5A considering Pinellas teams play each other through the first two rounds.
Largo and Dunedin appear to be the strongest. The teams met in the region semifinals last season with the Packers winning 31-0.
They're on a collision course again with the two boasting a top-notch defense, strong running game and playoff experience.
But don't forget about Gibbs. The Gladiators were 6-4 last season with all their losses coming by 10 points or less. One of those losses was by three to Largo. In that game, the Gladiators had a chance to win in the final minute. And in the region quarterfinals, Gibbs led Dunedin at halftime before losing.
The Gladiators have tons of speed and will count on quarterback Josh Rembert and utility player Jarvis West to carry an offense that lost several skill players.
Bob Putnam can be reached at (727) 445-4169 or firstname.lastname@example.org.