In Sunlake’s rise from Pasco County doormat to regular playoff contender, the Seahawks haven’t had to face an offseason like this one: The graduation of 22 seniors, including two 1,000-yard rushers (Josh Zifer and Eddie Burgos). • “This is the most puzzle pieces we’ve had to put together here in a few years,” coach Bill Browning said.
The Seahawks return only three starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 8-2 team that was a late interception away from its second straight playoff appearance. Their top four rushers graduated, and four of their five sack leaders are also gone, including Will Alvarez, who is no longer at the school.
Two of Sunlake’s returning offensive starters are linemen looking to continue dominating the trenches: guard Trevor Highnote and tackle Tommy Speer. But the depth on the line took a hit when one spring standout, tackle Kyler Bruce, injured his knee.
The Seahawks are also looking for new receivers and a standout linebacker to fill in for Ben Wood, who will miss spring practice with a torn ACL.
“That just gives somebody else an opportunity,” Browning said.
Some Seahawks who have caught Browning’s attention include defensive back/receiver Joe Jean-Baptiste, converted track star Mosi Davis and Ricardo Williams, who missed most of last season for personal reasons but could become a breakout receiver/defensive back as a senior.
Sunlake tweaked its uniforms this year. The Seahawks didn’t abandon their black/Vegas gold/teal color scheme, but they did switch from black helmets to white helmets.
The goal, Browning said, is to keep players cooler when they’re practicing in the May heat.
“I love black helmets, but they absorb the heat like an oven,” Browning said.
Browning tested his theory by wearing a white cap one day and a black cap another time. He felt cooler wearing white, and he hopes his players are more productive this way.
By the numbers: Zephyrhills
848 Rushing yards from graduating senior Willie Williams, one of last fall’s breakout players
754 Total yards from scrimmage for athlete Devin Brockington as a junior
515 Combined pounds (bench press and clean and jerk) lifted by senior Malik Mutcherson to win the Class A, District 6 weightlifting meet in the 169-pound class
457 Receiving yards by Jaylen Pickett as a sophomore, who led the team
15 Wins in coach Reggie Roberts’ three seasons
10.84 Personal-best 100-meter time by athlete Jordan Roberts, who placed fifth at regionals this spring
The Gators became the first major state school to offer Pasco receiver Nate Craig, one of the state’s top prospects for the class of 2016. Florida State followed shortly thereafter.
FAU ended the wait for one of the North Suncoast’s most versatile athletes by offering Pasco athlete Malik Johns on Tuesday. Johns had one of Tampa Bay’s most unlikely streaks, opening last fall by scoring on punt returns in the Pirates’ first four games.
• Weeki Wachee offensive lineman Marcus Applefield continued his meteoric rise when Purdue gave him his seventh offer in the last five days. Florida and West Virginia have also expressed recent interest in the 6-6, 275-pound senior.
• USC stopped by Nature Coast to check on senior defensive end Rohan Blackwood, who already holds a dozen offers.
“(Cole) Teater reminds me of Kamerion Wimbley. Wimbley played quarterback at (Wichita) Northwest High School in Kansas. Cole is a great defensive end, and most schools are going to recruit him there. We just need him more at quarterback.” — Central coach Mike Einspahr, comparing his 210-pound rising senior with an NFL star linebacker.
“All these players remember it. Hopefully they can take that through so we treat each team how they treated us – return the favor to them.” — Hudson running back Noah Siegrist on the Cobras building from two winless seasons to three victories last fall
Tweet of the day
Pasco coach Tom McHugh @tmac114: “Malik Johns first official offer. FAU!!! It is about time.”
Photo: Sunlake's Ricardo Williams
Times correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere contributed to this report.