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  1. Sports

District spotlight on parity in Class 6A-9

For the first time in a decade, Largo's relentless pursuit of perfection in games that matter most came to an end. A loss to Venice last season ended the Packers' nine-year reign as district champions, as well as their 38-game win streak against district foes, both tops among Tampa Bay programs.

Though Largo showed some vulnerability, it also displayed perseverance to make the playoffs as a runnerup and keep a 10-year streak of making the playoffs intact.

But after years of playing in districts relatively light on teams — and playoff-worthy foes — the Packers could face some serious challenges to extend their string of postseason appearances.

Among the teams in the newly formed Class 6A, District 9 are Clearwater and Northeast, a pair of downtrodden programs that were a combined 1-19 two years but made significant strides last season. Now both teams are considered legitimate playoff contenders.

The Tornadoes have a prolific offense led by quarterback Garrison Bryant, running back Adarius Lemons and receivers Jacquez Jones and Zachary Lehman. In the offseason, the Tornadoes fared well in several 7-on-7 tournaments.

"No one in our district will keep us from scoring if we stay healthy," first-year Clearwater coach Don Mesick said.

Northeast, led by receiver Jalynn Williams, is trying to improve upon last year's 4-6 record. Vikings coach Jeremy Frioud, along with most of his staff, are quite familiar with the Packers after spending nearly a decade at the school as assistants under former coach Rick Rodriguez.

Osceola also has a strong running game, and Dixie Hollins and Boca Ciega will be improved.

"It's going to be incredibly competitive," Largo coach Marcus Paschal said. "We lose Venice, but Clearwater and Northeast are both on the rise. Osceola is right up there. Dixie Hollins and Boca Ciega will be better. We'll have to work."

The Packers have not exactly faded from the playoff picture. Running back John Clark returns, along with receivers/defensive backs Brandon Drayton, Dakarai Allen and Taj Taylor. The defensive line is stout with Javaris Sanders and Bobby Roundtree.

"We still feel confident we can make the playoffs," Paschal said. "We just have to keep working hard. We can't worry about anyone else."

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