Keep doubting them if you want, but the schools along the Suncoast and Nature Coast aka Pasco and Hernando Counties have just what you’re looking for if you like guys that can run the ball. Although it’s never easy to replace 6,197 yards and 86 touchdowns–the numbers of Nature Coast’s Deshawn Smith and River Ridge’s Chris Schwarz combined last season–the two counties have some young men that are more than willing–and talented at that–to make a run at the standard set by Smith and Schwarz finishing numbers one and three respectively in the Sunshine State.
Last season, the two counties combined for ten 1,000+ yard rushers–second only to Hillsborough in-total. They had six players finish statistically inside the top fifty in Florida. They can boast that they possessed three of the state’s top five rushers–two from Hernando and one from Pasco, had eight rushers place inside the top 100 per maxpreps.com–four of which return this season–plus altogether had eighteen rushers inside of the top 300–nine of which return for another season.
We start with the returning studs that will be names that you’ll hear early-and-often as the spring and summer progress. Pasco County will return six of the nine rushers that finished their seasons inside the top 300, while Hernando County accounts for the other three.
While Pasco can boast the majority of that list of heralded returners, it’s Brooksville Central’s De’vonta Smith that will lead the crew heading into spring ball in terms of numbers when you combine both counties and he certainly is now Hernando’s top rusher in 2016. Smith was credited for 2,193 yards and nineteen touchdowns–good for fifth in the entire state. Zephyrhills’ Antwione Smith is poised to battle with Anclote’s Braxton Johnson and Mitchell’s Mychael Hamilton for Pasco’s rushing title that was earned by Schwarz last season. Sims led the Bulldogs with 1,804 yards and 20 touchdowns and puts him at the top of the returning rushers statistically in the county as we begin spring.
Looking at spots 3-10 in Pasco and Hernando, the competition gets thick for best-of-the-best this season–especially when you add the next two names to the already mentioned leaders. Last season for Anclote, Braxton Johnson rushed for 1,421 yards and twelve touchdowns to put him at third on this list while Mitchell’s Mychael Hamilton–just a sophomore currently–rushed for 1,244 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Mustangs en route to a district championship. Rounding out the top five is Gulf’s Dayday Peters who checks-in with 720 yards and three touchdowns in spite of the Bucs not winning a game last season.
Number six on the top nine returners statistically is Nature Coast Tech’s Brian Haygood who was more-than-solid as another option for the Sharks with 710 yards and seven touchdowns for the Class 5A semifinalists. Weeki Wachee’s Montae Bostick is ready to try and fill the shoes of Shawn O’Gorman after posting a nice junior season with 706 yards and five touchdowns for the Hornets. Sunlake’s Justin Metzger is number eight on the list after 577 yards and five touchdowns for the Seahawks and Bishop McLaughlin’s Luis Valentin Jr. rounds out the list with 568 yards and seven touchdowns.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t highlight the humongous losses due to graduation for some schools as these players will simply be missed for their leadership as much as their contributions on the stat sheets. Of course there’s Mr. Football, Deshawn Smith at Nature Coast and Chris Schwarz at River Ridge. Scroll a little bit further and you have Ridgewood’s Glass Wilson V–who’s off to Presbyterian to continue his career–who finished with 1,600+ yards for the Rams. Hudson will have to replace a pair of rushers in Billy Werner and Nate Munson while Hernando will need someone to replace Christian Dowdell. Fivay will need to replace Ammillious Bennett, Weeki’s Shawn O’Gorman is off to FIU and Bishop McLaughlin will look for a replacement at their quarterback position for Scott Edwards–who finished the season in the top 250 as a rusher for the ‘Canes.