PLANT CITY — Eight months ago, junior Austin Carswell had almost no experience playing quarterback. In fact, the 6-foot-1 athlete didn’t even begin playing football until his freshman year at Strawberry Crest because he thought he was too small.
But when the Chargers’ starting quarterback, Tristan Hyde, went down in the third game of the 2013 campaign with a season-ending injury, Carswell — then a utility player — was forced to lead a team on the fly.
“I knew what I was doing because I would watch (Tristan) in practice, and he would help me and teach me a couple things,” Carswell said. “When he went down, it made me learn more stuff and helped me step up to the plate.”
Now Carswell, who threw for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in 10 games at starting quarterback, will again step up where he’s needed. But this time, it’ll be at neighboring Plant City High.
Carswell lives just blocks away from Plant City High. But since his older brother, Alex Carswell, a defensive end and wide receiver, went to Strawberry Crest, too, the brothers rode together to school every day.
Now that the elder Carswell is off to college, Austin Carswell decided to transfer to make it easier on his mother, who will drop him off in the mornings.
Strawberry Crest’s loss is the Raiders’ gain.
Plant City assistant coach Greg Meyer reported in January that Carswell had transferred. Meyer, who said he cannot comment on Carswell until he gets cleared by the district transfer board, said then that the Raiders would give the “versatile” junior a look at the filling Landon Galloway’s quarterback position.
If anyone knows how big a job that is, it’s Carswell. But once again, he longs to be tapped to take over.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking because everybody’s looking at me, not just in the school but around the community, to lead the team and go further this year,” Carswell said. “So I think that’s what I’ll be able to do.”
Two new Spartans
ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood doesn’t have the amount of transfers it did a year ago, but there are two familiar names who are now Spartans. Former Boca Ciega athletes Sekendric Biddines and Saivion Smith have transferred to Lakewood and are participating in spring practices.
Biddines, a rising senior, played wide receiver last season but will be used as a defensive back at Lakewood. Smith, a rising junior, was Boca Ciega’s quarterback but will also play defensive back for the Spartans.
“They have fit right in for us,’’ Lakewood coach Cory Moore said. “They still have some adjustments to make as far as how we do things here, but they have worked very hard during the offseason and now in the spring.’’
Prior to the start of the 2013 season, Lakewood had six players transfer from Northeast, including starting quarterback Ryan Davis. That isn’t likely to happen this season, but Moore said there is plenty of talent and depth as spring practices begin.
“This is the best offseason we’ve had around here,’’ Moore said. “The guys are very excited to continue from where we left off last season. We have depth at running back, I think both of our lines will be strong. It’s exciting right now.’’
New regime at Hernando
BROOKSVILLE — Hernando got an early start on practices, organizing most of their activities late last week.
With new coach Bill Vonada taking the reins, that extra time came in handy to institute his system with both a new staff and players.
Vonada estimates he will have 40 players out on the field by kickoff of the Leopards’ spring classic. Hernando, 3-7 last season under former coach Dwayne Mobley, hosts Crystal River on May 16.
The one leg up the team has is the return of quarterbacks with experience. Rising seniors Tyler Kline and John Colman saw time under center in 2013.
Kline started most of Hernando’s games, throwing for a team-high 539 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Colman played sparingly in six games, passing for 41 yards and three interceptions.
“The biggest thing we’re looking at from the quarterback position is to manage the game and make good decisions,” Vonada said. “Every player at this level is going to make his fair shares of mistakes, but you just don’t see a propensity for it from (Kline).”
Two Tampa Catholic 2016 prospects landed offers. Defensive end Malik Barrow claimed his first major college offer, from Mississippi State. The four-star recruit is 247Sports’ No. 206 prospect in his class. New teammate and Pasco transfer Nate Craig added an offer from Georgia.
• Their classmate, Plant City athlete TJ Chase, continues to reel in offers, too. The latest this week came from Tennessee and Ole Miss.
• Jesuit senior-to-be running back Kevin Newman claimed his first college offer, from Ball State.
• Robinson receiver Jahrvis Davenport landed an offer from Georgia Southern.
Staff writers Rodney Page and Matt Baker, and correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.