Spring football gives coaches time to test out players who are new to the sport or evaluate players who have seen little varsity action. • Here are four of the North Suncoast’s secret weapons who saw little or no varsity time last fall but could become game changers this upcoming season.
ATH Issac Johnson, Pasco: His name and lineage invite comparisons to the quarterback of the Pirates’ 1992 state title team, but Pasco coach Tom McHugh sees something else in his 6-foot-2, 160-pound sophomore.
“Issac Johnson is Greg Jenkins when he was in ninth grade,” McHugh said. “That’s exactly what Greg Jenkins looked like. He ran the same way. He did the same things with his body.”
Jenkins starred as Wesley Chapel’s quarterback when McHugh coached there. He’s since transitioned to receiver and was recently signed by the Raiders as an undrafted free agent. Johnson could see time at safety this year and is one of a dozen offensive threats for the Pirates.
K Habib Garcia, Hernando: The Colombia native and strong-footed soccer player is a football rookie who impressed his teammates and coaches early by booting 52-yard field goals in the first week of practice.
“That’s a blessing for us right there,” running back/linebacker Jeremiah Jackson said. “He came outta nowhere and started hitting 50s. I told him, ‘As long as you keep kicking those 50s, we’re gonna treat you like God on this team.’ ”
RB Nathan Johnson, Sunlake: The 5-foot-10, 190-pound bruiser was called up to the varsity team late last season and rushed for two touchdowns as a sophomore. He’s a powerful back that can fill the void left by 1,000-yard rushers Josh Zifer and Eddie Burgos.
WR/DB Tyler Wiley, Weeki Wachee: The 6-3, 180-pound senior starred for the Hornets in basketball, averaging 20 points per game.
“He can do any dunk you want,” coach Mark Lee said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Football opponents will get a glimpse of Wiley’s 40-inch vertical leap this fall. And, unlike some converted basketball players, Wiley hasn’t shied away from contact this spring.
After three consecutive years without a sniff of the playoffs, Hudson has taken big strides heading into coach Mark Kantor’s second season. The roster has swelled to 55 players, and its players have started to add muscle to their frames to build on last fall’s 3-7 record with a breakout 2013 season.
“We’ve had a great offseason in the weight room,” Kantor said. “We’ve made huge strides, which is starting to pay dividends on the grass.”
The offensive line is noticeably bigger and will try to open holes for potential 1,000-yard hopeful Noah Siegrist. Fivay transfer Kameron Dewitt, 270-pound sophomore-to-be Grayson Stover and strong guard Alex Munson have become more seasoned while following Kantor’s weightlifting guidelines.
“It’s just a commitment to what I’m about…” Kantor said. “These kids are all in, which is great.”
By the numbers: Jonathan Thomas, Nature Coast
359 Receiving yards (a team high) for the run-heavy Sharks
104 Rebounds snagged for the 25-4 basketball team. Only two teammates had more
79 Receiving yards against Sunlake, the most the Seahawks allowed to any opposing receiver all season
6 Total touchdowns last fall
3 Rushing TDs
2 College offers (Toledo and UMass)
1.1 Steals per game in basketball
Friday’s annual black and gold scrimmage at Mitchell is never a chore, but the fun really started Wednesday for the coaches.
Forget the pressure on players in their first chance to show some film. The coaches are the ones feeling the heat. After all, they drafted the teams for the scrimmage.
“Oh, we had a war room and everything,” Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz said. “That was pretty fun to be a part of.”
The result is some of the first-teamers mixed with the No. 2s on offense and defense. Mustangs fans can drop by to watch at 7. Admission is $2.
Schmitz said the teams will play four quarters, starting with a 10-minute first period, with a minute shaved off each of the following.
“It’s exciting. The players always have fun with it and it’s great for team building,” Schmitz said.
“It adds a little humor to practice.” — first-year Wesley Chapel coach Tico Hernandez on the school’s farm animals that live next to the practice field. Drills are occasionally punctuated by the sound of a bleating goat or crowing rooster. As of Wednesday, no footballs had been accidentally thrown into the animals’ fence.
Miami became the last of Florida’s big three programs to offer a scholarship to Pasco receiver Nate Craig; Wisconsin also offered Thursday. His teammate, senior tight end/defensive end RJ Scaife, pulled in his first college offer, from Bethune-Cookman.
On tap Friday
Central has the North Suncoast’s first spring game. The Bears travel to Tavares for a 7:30 kickoff.
Correspondent Darek Sharp contributed to this report. Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.