We’re breaking down a football district a day this summer:
Oct. 25, River Ridge at Hudson: The Royal Knights won a 7-6 slug fest against Hudson in last year’s season finale. The Cobras could be one of Tampa Bay’s most improved teams this season, and River Ridge will benefit from dropping down one classification. This west Pasco matchup could decide a playoff appearance.
Three story lines
Sharks repeat? Anclote became one of Tampa Bay’s darlings by snagging its first playoff berth in program history with dramatic tiebreaker victories over Fivay and Zephyrhills. Its linemen lack experience, but the Sharks have three of the district’s top players (receivers Tymere and Shymere Carter and running back Willie Barrett) and will be the district’s top contender.
Parity reigns: Anclote was the only team with a winning record last fall; the rest finished somewhere between 0-10 and 3-7. Those collaborative struggles could translate into close games this season. With the district lacking superstars, the playoff race should be wide open.
New coaches: Gulf (Jason Messamore) and Wesley Chapel (Tico Hernandez) both have first-year coaches and enter the fall trying to eliminate uncertainties. With Mark Kantor (Hudson) and Jay Fulmer (Ridgewood) both entering their second seasons, more wins could follow from the familiarity. River Ridge’s Ryan Benjamin is one of the elder statesmen in the bunch and is looking to lead his alma mater to its first postseason appearance since 1998.
Players to watch
Willie Barrett, RB/LB, Anclote: As a junior, the powerful 6-foot back led Pasco County with 1,400 rushing yards while racking up 56 tackles on defense. If his offensive line plays well, Barrett could become one of Tampa Bay’s top rushers this fall.
Chris Branfield, OL, Ridgewood: The Rams lack depth and are breaking in a new quarterback to replace Will Fulmer. Success will depend on the lines, led by Branfield, Andrew Spirou and Joshua Sojka.
Marcus Hayne, WR, Wesley Chapel: The senior is the biggest question mark for a Wildcat team loaded with them. He’s new to football, but his 6-foot-7 frame made him one of Pasco County’s top basketball centers. Hayne showed off his hops with a 28-yard catch in the spring game and has the potential to become a game-breaker.
Chris Schwarz, RB/LB, River Ridge: His older brother, Austin, starred for the Royal Knights as one of the team’s top tacklers and rushers in 2011. Chris could develop into a similar player, beginning this fall.
Noah Siegrist, RB, Hudson: His junior season was solid (656 yards and four touchdowns), but expectations are higher entering his senior season. A beefed-up offensive line and improved, complementary passing attack with QB Joey Caruso have the Cobras expecting 1,000 yards from Siegrist.
Avery Welch, ATH, Gulf: He was one of the bright spots on the Bucs’ winless season, throwing two of his team’s three touchdown passes. He broke out in the spring game with 239 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, a passing touchdown and a catch.
3. River Ridge
4. Wesley Chapel
Photo: Wesley Chapel's Marcus Hayne