There are players that simply play with tempo on the field, and there are the ones that set the tempo from a leadership perspective with their play and exert their influence on the outcome. A ton of those players exist throughout the Tampa Bay Region and we will hit all of them in some form or fashion during the season, but here are some guys to get the ball rolling and highlighting those “tempo” players aka impact players whether it be on offense or defense.
William Tate (QB) – Winter Haven (vs. Columbus)
The Blue Devils host the Explorers in a top-ranked match-up between one of Polk County’s best against the preseason #1-ranked team in Class 8A and finalists from last season out of Miami. Tate led the Blue Devils to a 10-2 record as a sophomore completing 109-of-182 passes for 1,620 yards, 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder will be responsible for something far more important than just producing on the scoreboard and that will be to protect the ball and keep the Blue Devils’ from getting into backs-against-the-wall field position against a high-powered offense like Columbus. Winter Haven has the offensive tools necessary around him to win this game against the Explorers, but ultimately the ‘Devils go as Tate goes this week.
Larry Dalla Betta (QB) – Mitchell (at Palm Harbor University)
The Mustangs put up 63 points in their spring classic versus Fivay, but if we’re speaking candidly that kind of production is expected this season with the kinds of options the Mustangs have at the skill positions and up front along the line. Dalla Betta appeared in 7 games last season throwing for 428 yards and rushed for 136 yards including a 102 yard performance on just nine carries versus Gulf at the end of the regular season. Dalla Betta’s ability to move the chains with his arm or his feet will be the “rubber-meets-the-road” moment for Mitchell on offense this year and his match-up versus the ‘Canes in Palm Harbor on Thursday may showcase the huge progression he’s made this offseason right off the bat.
Justin Hall (QB) – Sunlake (vs. East Lake)
The Seahawks have the guys to ground-and-pound as well as put the ball in the air if need be and Hall will take control of those reigns this season in an effort to pick up where Dayton Feiden left off with 1,870 yards rush and pass along with 13 touchdowns. The ‘Hawks went 56-44 in their rush-to-pass yardage ratio (2,109-pass/1,647-rush) and Hall appeared in 7 games last season with 98 total yards and three touchdowns to his credit, but facing an East Lake team in their fall classic will test the Seahawks as much as any other program in the area even with several questions of their own. A fast start from Hall and an ability to keep the coaching staff calm and collected with his decision making could mean everything to a team like Sunlake that already had enough pieces to win a district title this season.
Jacob Huesman (QB) – Braden River (at River Ridge)
River Ridge has the ability to play keep-away for longer periods of time than just about any other team with their rushing attack, but that attack gets nullified if Braden River’s Jacob Huesman can get loose with his arm against the Royal Knights. This game is all about styles-make-fights and River Ridge won’t shy away from their approach whatsoever, but the tempo of this game and the season for the Pirates for that matter rests on the arm of Huesman.
Otis Williams (RB) – King (vs. Jefferson)
The Lions went 5-5 last season and are hungrier than ever. Head Coach Tra Thomas is excited about his team and their offensive prospects moving away from their flexbone rushing attack and into more spread-based concepts. One of those playmakers on offense for King that can set the pace of the season right away is running back Otis Williams. The 5-foot-6, 180-pounder rushed for 900 yards while averaging a sensational 8.2 yards per carry and the Lions will look to get that kind of production from Williams and then some this season. If they have success on offense this season, we expect Williams to be one of the major factors in that success.
Mondreas Lofton (RB) – Jefferson (at King)
The Dragons obviously have one of the most exciting prospects in the area in QB Cade Weldon and it’s Weldon’s arm and feet that will do the majority of the talking this season on offense for the Dragons, but senior running back Mondreas Lofton could be the key component to relieve some of the defensive concentration from opposing teams on Weldon. Lofton rushed for 227 yards on a team that hangs their hats on the passing game, but his production in the backfield this season will be one of the most important tempo-setting moments for a team with high expectations.
Jacquel Waller (RB) – St. Petersburg (at Northeast)
This game has the potential to have nearly 100 points put up if the offenses do what they’re capable of doing. St. Pete’s in possession of a multi-headed rushing attack with Darius Miller and Jacquel Waller leading the way. Waller’s influence on the Green Devils run game could spell a pick-your-poison approach for defenses. If Waller goes off in this game then that could mean he starts taking turns each week with Miller producing yardage on the ground that will pile up in a hurry.
Keandre Griner (ATH) – Ridge Community (at Frostproof)
The Bolts need a viable replacement for Anthony Harding and Reggie Swift who’ve departed as graduating seniors. Griner is the true definition of an athlete playing anywhere and everywhere and with a vastly improved team all-around the Bolts may have found an emerging star on their hands if he stays on the same track he’s been on this offseason. If Griner gets the ball in his hands often and can set the pace versus a stingy Frostproof Defense, then the Bolts have a legit chance to make noise in their district this season.