Prep football, two of the sweetest words in the English language, will become part of the local vernacular again when spring practice begins statewide Thursday. We know you have questions about your favorite teams; so do we. Before the end of May, we hope to get to them all. But for now, these are some we consider the most pressing (with our most educated cracks at the answers):
Will it be a sophomore slump or smooth sailing for Land O'Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford?
Weatherford captivated the North Suncoast as a freshman with his slippery moves and pinpoint passing accuracy. He simply looked natural and comfortable when most freshmen would be hiding in the showers to avoid a wedgie. He threw for 648 yards while completing 53 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Weatherford was surrounded by a veteran coaching staff - one he has known most of his life - and a supporting cast of mostly seniors (29 out of 53, according to last year's roster). Weatherford lost his top three receivers, some key pieces of the offensive line and utility leader Ely Payne, meaning he no longer will rotate at quarterback.
Has Hudson junior quarterback Zack Wynn recovered from offseason knee surgery?
Physically, yes, coach Mark Nash said. Psychologically, we think he'll be fine, too. Wynn, right, who tore his left ACL in a playoff-clinching win at Zephyrhills in November, wears a brace but participated in Jon Gruden's recent camp for local prep quarterbacks at One Buc Place. Although there's always the question of how a surgically mended player will respond to that first hit, we like the makeup of this kid. Remember, Wynn was thrust into the starter's role as a ninth-grader.
What can we expect from Year Two of the Tom McHugh era at Pasco?
Few first-year coaches had it tougher than McHugh, left. He spent most of the preseason tending to his daughter in the hospital (recovering from a car accident) while trying to guide arguably the most prominent program in Pasco County to the playoffs for the first time in two seasons. It began with a major upset of Land O'Lakes at home and ended with the Pirates not only sneaking into the postseason but claiming the district title before falling to Eustis in the first round of the playoffs. Most of the key pieces return, including quarterback D.J. Clower and utility player Josh Johnson. Add that with a year of experience in McHugh's system and the Pirates could be on their way to defending their title.
Okay, we know Nature Coast has a trio of running backs, but who will block?
Nature Coast lost its offensive line and starting quarterback Stephen Pelaez to graduation. How will that affect the backfield of Tevin Drake, Antwan Story and Eric Williamsthat amassed 2,168 rushing yards? These guys are speedsters capable of breaking big runs whether it be through holes or on the outside. As long as the replacements can somehow knock defenders off-balance, this should ultimately be a minor problem. The next question is at quarterback, where it will be a battle between C.J. Baker and Andrew Stellpflug.
For the first time since 2004, Tate Humphrey won't be at quarterback for Mitchell. So who will?
Coach Scott Schmitz says the clear favorite is diminutive junior Cody Van De Boe, who led the Mustangs junior varsity to a 6-1 record last season. Because Mitchell has questions at the skill positions and experience up front (both tackles and the center are back), Van De Boe (5 feet 8, 155 pounds) probably won't be called on to win games solely with his arm. "We're going to use the kids we've got," Schmitz said. "We've been a real pass-oriented football team the past couple of years, and this year I'd say we're going to run the ball a little more than we have in the past."
Is Tyler Guy the guy to turn around Zephyrhills?
Guy, right, is a talented athlete with leadership skills and a season of varsity experience entering his junior season. But can he rally the Bulldogs after several heartbreaking losses last season that ended their string of consecutive playoff berths? Zephyrhills often does a good job of developing its quarterbacks, and because Guy is naturally talented, he should fit more comfortably into that role.
Who replaces Ridgewood every-single-down back Byronell Arline as the North Suncoast's top rusher?
Our nod goes to Nature Coast's Tevin Drake, left, coming off a breakthrough 1,500-yard season. Although still a few weeks shy of completing his sophomore year, Drake has played 17 varsity games and drawn the interest of such Division I schools as Georgia and USF. If he weren't likely to share handoffs with Antwan Story and Eric Williams, we'd suggest a 2,000-yard season is attainable.