RUSKIN — Never has Lennard had more hope before a football season — for good reason.
The Longhorns also have plenty of caution mixed in with optimism — for good reason.
“We’re trying to keep a healthy perspective,” coach Matt Kitchie said. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
Careful, careful. Lennard has had only two winning football seasons in its 13 years of existence — 7-3 in 2014 and 6-4 in 2015 — and the Longhorns went a mere 2-18 in the first two years under Kitchie.
Yet when you look at the Longhorns’ roster and their new 8A-8 district, things seem promising.
Lennard’s roster not only includes a big, bruising offensive line with four Division I-A recruits (averaging 6-3, 265 pounds), but a senior running back, Tino Hunt, who last year rushed for 1,607 yards and 16 touchdowns. The Longhorns also accrued several notable transfers, including junior Quay Smith, who came from Palmetto, where he excelled at positions all over the field.
“No doubt,” Kitchie said, “we have some talent this time around.”
That said, Lennard should be a top contender for the district title along with Sarasota Riverview — the only playoff team from a year ago in this lineup — and Newsome. Haines City, Ridge Community and Riverview appear to be the dark horses.
Sarasota Riverview would have been a huge favorite if not for the recent transfer of 6-foot-5, four-star wide receiver Malachi Wideman to Venice, and the graduation of running back Ali Boyce, who in 2018 rushed for 1,820 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Without Wideman and Boyce, the Rams — who made it to the state semifinals last year before losing 45-31 to eventual state champ Mandarin — are probably still the overall district favorite, just not by as much.
Newsome must also be considered a threat, because the Wolves, who are still driving folks crazy with their hybrid wing-T attack, return a solid group from last year’s squad that went 4-6 but did lay a serious 51-45 midseason upset in 2018 on Sarasota Riverview.
Of the three top district contenders, Lennard did have the worst record at 2-8. But it should be noted that the Longhorns competed in one of the state’s toughest districts a year ago, one that yielded three playoff teams (Bloomingdale, Plant City and Tampa Bay Tech). That’s quite a feat considering the current playoff structure where only district champs are guaranteed postseason berths.
And Lennard returns pretty much all of its key players, while being one of the few area teams not to lose a player to transfer.
“It’s a great atmosphere here,” said 6-foot-5, 285-pound lineman Michael Rankins, who is committed to Georgia Tech. “We believe good things are coming.”
High school football, Week 1
All games Friday night.
Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep, 7
Carrollwood Day at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7
Central at Umatilla, 7
Cambridge Christian at Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 7
Melbourne Central Catholic at Calvary Christian, 7
Weeki Wachee at South Lake, 7
Zephyrhills Christian at Lake Placid, 7
Bishop McLaughlin at Jacksonville Christ’s Church, 7
Fivay at Lecanto, 7
Lakeland Tenoroc at Hudson, 7
Seven Rivers Christian at Bayshore Christian, 7
Tampa Catholic at Naples Palmetto Ridge, 7
Admiral Farragut at St. Stephen’s, 7
Gibbs at Boca Ciega, 7
Bradenton Christian at Indian Rocks Christian, 7
Shorecrest at Northside Christian, 7
Palm Bay Heritage at Clearwater, 7
East Lake at Nature Coast, 7:30
Plant at Armwood, 7:30
Sunlake at Springstead, 7:30
Pasco at Land O’ Lakes, 7:30
Zephyrhills at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30
Chamberlain at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30
Gaither at Jefferson, 7:30
Robinson at Hillsborough, 7:30
Plant City at Jesuit, 7:30
St. Petersburg at Lakewood, 7:30
Northeast at Tarpon Springs, 7:30
Pinellas Park at Palmetto, 7:30
Lake Gibson at Hernando, 7:30
Anclote at Mitchell, 7:30
Cypress Creek at Wesley Chapel, 7:30
Osceola at Gulf, 7:30
River Ridge Crystal River, 7:30
Middleton at Alonso, 7:30
Blake at Riverview, 7:30
Newsome at Bloomingdale, 7:30
Wharton at Brandon, 7:30
Durant at King, 7:30
East Bay at Lennard, 7:30
Freedom at Steinbrenner, 7:30
Strawberry Crest at Leto, 7:30
Orlando Christian Prep at Seffner Christian, 7:30
Sickles at Spoto, 7:30
Immokalee at Clearwater Academy, 7:30
Palm Harbor U. at Dixie Hollins, 7:30
Largo at Braden River, 7:30
Dunedin at Keswick Christian, 7:30
Friday’s Plant-Armwood game will be streamed at theidentitytb.com or download The Identity Tampa Bay’s app.