We’re breaking down a football district a day this summer:
Oct. 4, South Sumter at Pasco: South Sumter gave the Pirates their last regular-season loss — a 32-7 defeat in Week 2 of 2009. The teams have combined for 10 playoff wins since then. Although the Raiders lose star Keanu Neal to the Gators and are expected to be in a rebuilding year, this matchup could decide the district title.
Three story lines
Pasco beefs up: Critics won’t be able to attack the Pirates for having a weak schedule. Six teams on their slate finished with winning records last year — that’s four more than 2012. Sunlake and Hernando have been among the North Suncoast’s top teams and will be formidable opponents. If Malik Johns and his team survive the regular season, they’ll be battle tested for the postseason.
Hernando County battle: Hernando is coming off its third consecutive playoff appearance but has never made the postseason four times in a row. The Leopards will try to do so, despite the loss of do-it-all athlete Tyrail Hawkins. Don’t be surprised if Nature Coast finds itself in the playoff picture behind Division-I prospects Rohan Blackwood and Jonathan Thomas, while Central and Weeki Wachee will try to build on their big improvements last fall.
Bulldogs bite: Zephyrhills came within a few plays of the postseason each of the past two years but were left out by surprise runs from Fivay and Anclote. With speedy athletes like Jordan Roberts and Jaylen Pickett, the Bulldogs are a sleeper pick to make a run this fall.
Players to watch
Marcus Applefield, OL, Weeki Wachee: The mammoth tackle has already landed 20 scholarship offers from schools like USF, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. A likely showdown in the regular-season finale against Blackwood — who has about as many offers himself — will be fun to watch.
Nate Craig, WR, Pasco: The 6-foot-3 sophomore has exploded since starring in a playoff loss to Robinson, landing more than a dozen major college offers from programs like Florida and Florida State. Expect a dominant fall.
Jeremiah Jackson, RB/LB, Hernando: The powerful D-I recruit could be one of Tampa Bay’s leading tacklers this fall and assumes the leadership of a defense that’s been solid. He holds an offer from UMass.
Cole Teater, QB, Central: He led the Bears in passing (five touchdowns) and rushing (548 yards, five TDs) as a junior. Teater should be even more productive this fall for a growing Central program.
Jonathan Thomas, WR/S, Nature Coast: The 6-foot-3 athlete starred at the Battle of the Bay 7-on-7 tournament, showcasing the potential of a junior with offers from Toledo and UMass. Expect a breakout season.
2. South Sumter
3. Nature Coast
6. Weeki Wachee
Photo: Central QB Cole Teater