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Teams' classifications to remain unchanged

If the numbers add up as they're projected, next week's new state classifications for football will be much ado about nothing in Pasco County.

The Florida High School Activities Association will meet Monday in Gainesville, and the agenda includes announcing new district alignments for 2003-04.

With considerable growth in some areas of the county and enrollment now calculated based on grades 9-12, there was fear during the season teams would have a whole new batch of district opponents for the second time in three years.

By the looks of FHSAA projections, the county's current split between Class 4A and 3A will remain intact, with Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, Mitchell and River Ridge in Class 4A and Zephyrhills, Wesley Chapel, Pasco, Hudson and Gulf staying in Class 3A.

It's a lucky break for Wesley Chapel and Mitchell, whose growth nearly pushed them up one class. The Wildcats, with a reported enrollment of 1,623 students, are 52 under the maximum for Class 3A, and the Mustangs, in the school's third year, ballooned to a county-high 1,972 students, still 78 under the maximum for Class 4A. Pasco, now the county's smallest school with an enrollment of 1,278, is within 80 students of dropping to Class 2A.

Had county teams been realigned into three classes, the Sunshine Athletic Conference would not have been able to continue having all nine member schools play each conference opponent every year. That practice should be able to continue, with head-to-head play crowning a true conference champion for at least two more seasons.

It's unknown whether the current districts, which also include Central and Springstead in Class 4A and Hernando in Class 3A, will remain in place.

THOMAS INJURED: Zephyrhills freshman Bryan Thomas, who rushed for 496 yards and three touchdowns in the regular season, injured his right hand in Friday's win against Bartow and could be limited in this week's second-round game against Jesuit.

Thomas, who had two carries against the Yellow Jackets, was hit in the hand by an opposing player's helmet early but continued to play. But the injury had him in a hospital emergency room Sunday, and he will be evaluated by doctors Wednesday.

One possibility would be playing with a soft cast, which might allow him to play on defense, where he has 26 total tackles for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs rushed for 60 yards against Bartow, well under its regular-season average of 192.9 yards per game. Thomas was Zephyrhills' third-leading rusher as a freshman, trailing senior fullback Justin Cobb (624) and junior tailback Sidney Williams (522). All three ranked among the county's top 10 rushers, and within those 10, only Pasco's Devon Hicks (9.1 yards per carry) had a higher average than Thomas' 8.9.

_ GREG AUMAN

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