While 2020 rages all around us leaving us more and more confused, our search for a better understanding of the “potential” 2020 HSFB season continues to roll along as we highlight some heavyweights from Polk, Pasco, and Hillsborough Counties. Our first team went 385 days between losses, but couldn’t have felt worse about that, while our second and third teams have moved beyond being better known for their marching bands, and more now for their best runs in their respective schools’ histories.
We know that the Braves went well over a year before suffering losses. We know that their 2018 season ended with a loss to Sebring on October 26th and a 4-6 record, but we also know their 2019 season didn’t end until November 15th, 2019—however it was in the second round of the playoffs in an upset thriller to Charlotte at home 45-42 in overtime, not like 2016 when they didn’t lose until the 6A title game against Carol City. We know that no other coach besides Doug DeMeyer’s run in ’16 has matched what HC Robert Paxia did in his first season at the school.
We know that LG’s 2019 season began rather impressively with wins over Hernando, Kathleen, and Zephyrhills by a combined score of 134-17. They also had another 3-game stretch that went 126-3 against Kissimmee Gateway, Kissimmee Liberty, and Palm Bay Bayside. While a 26-20 win (the first of two) over Auburndale in OT came close to blemishing that record, they ended up winning their other district games over Palm Bay Heritage, Kissimmee Gateway, and Palm Bay by an average score of 41-6.
We also know that their games against teams from ’round the neighborhood or down the street around the corner like the aforementioned Auburndale, Hardee, and Winter Haven gave them all they could handle.
We know they went 4-0 against Polk County (Kathleen, Auburndale x’s 2, Winter Haven) last season, but we also know not to be naive about just *who was* and *who wasn’t* on the schedule. All you can do is beat who’s on there, right? No judgement here at all. Let’s get that crystal clear.
We know that Lake Gibson is has been in the postseason 10 of the last 11 seasons, while only suffering through two losing seasons since 2008. We know their opponents are identical to last season, with one noted exception, the Kathleen game isn’t listed as of yet.
We know that the Braves return SEVERAL key components to the equation on both sides of the ball this season. We know THAT produces something called pressure–which isn’t anything new when you’ve been hit with the expectations that the Braves have been hit with for what seemingly feels like a yearly thing since 2000.
What we want to know is whether or not QB Logan Hackett and RB Jaylon Glover are ready to carry the load again this season. The 2-3-4 receivers in terms of stats are gone, but Samuel McCall is back and is a dynamic talent on both sides, so will it be much-more-of-the-same? Could the sophomore talent from last season be even better as juniors? That’s something we are interested in knowing and/or finding out as well. We are also intrigued to learn whether or not that the Braves could also sport an *even better* defense than last season, but time will be the only judge on that.
We know that the Mustangs are currently enjoying their best stretch in school history as they begin their 20th season as a varsity program. We know that Andy Schmitz has compiled a 52-16 record in his six seasons on the job in Trinity. We know that the Mustangs had been to the postseason just twice in their history before Schmitz took over, and since then they have not missed it since 2014 and have won five-straight district titles.
We know that Mitchell would have been in an old-fashioned Kansas Tiebreaker had the old system been in place with East Lake and Pinellas Park. Speaking of teams in their backyard (East Lake), the Mustangs handled them quite nicely 55-42 last season, while also soundly defeating their most-bitter of rivals River Ridge 38-20. In fact, the Mustangs have won four-straight against River Ridge, which might be most important of all to the folks that cheer for each program.
We know that their schedule remains identical to last season, so the expectations of a 8-2 (at worst) and 10-0 (at best) regular season will be present. We know this because it’s a schedule that includes Anclote, Land O’Lakes, Cypress Creek, Leto, Sunlake, and Wesley Chapel–games they won by an average score of 52-10 last season, along with East Lake, Pinellas Park, River Ridge, and Sickles.
We know that their season ended in the most-frustrating of fashions as they had multiple chances to get ahead of Manatee in the second round at home. While we know you can only play one game at a time, we know that merely getting to the playoffs isn’t the wave, it’s getting beyond the third round and possibly avenging (in a wayyyy to early prediction) a loss to Manatee, who should be in the same spot in the postseason order in spite of their offseason adversity.
We know that the Mustangs bring back an entire battalion of major contributors on offense and defense like their starting QB Ezra Brennan who threw for 2,000+ yards last season, their *very* reliable junior running back in Andy Treto that backed-up the now-departed to graduation Tyler Williams. We know that they return both their guards, their center, and their left tackle. We also know that they return their KR/PR specialist Garnell Wilds Jr, who also plays a big part in the secondary. We know THAT YOU WILL KNOW the name Johnnie Fairbank by the time it’s all said and done in 2020 as well, who posted a statline of 33 receptions for 697 yards and 12 touchdowns to go with 85 tackles (11tfl’s), plus three sacks, four hurries, seven interceptions, and six caused fumbles.
What we want to know about Mitchell is how deep is the roster? Their feeder program at Seven Springs Middle and their JV program is very well constructed and has started to bear fruit during this six-year run. Can they develop the-talent-behind-the-talent in order to get that program into the regional elite status? If adversity comes in the form of injuries, the depth is the first thing to either be highlighted or exposed. Will Pasco County Athletics sit them down in a room with Wiregrass Ranch and mandate that game on the schedule yearly and give the county another premier rivalry? For clarification: this isn’t about the “why they can’t” anymore. This is now about showcasing two of the best programs in the county and what they look like going at it head-to-head.
We know that just like Mitchell, the Bulls are enjoying their best stretch in school history. We know that from their inception in 1987 until 2012, the Bulls won just 63 games, had one winning season, and made the postseason just once. Since 2013, the Bulls have already won 49 games, have registered six winning seasons, and have been to the postseason four times.
We know that Bulls went 9-3 last season, with all three losses coming at the expense of Lakeland and Armwood–a pair of teams that went 24-3 combined. We know that Bloomingdale navigated a five-game stretch of Durant, Plant, Plant City, Tampa Bay Tech, and Kathleen and went 5-0 against them–something that the folks out in Valrico are certainly not used to seeing.
We know that Plant and East Bay are off the schedule this season, while Jefferson and Steinbrenner have been added. We know that the teams that remain on the schedule are Tampa Bay Tech, Newsome, and Armwood. We know that Lakeland, Kathleen, Plant City, Durant, and Strawberry Crest remain as part of their brutal district.
Speaking of Jefferson being added to the schedule, we know that’s going to be a juicy match-up as QB Tre Simmons has transferred from Culver City to Valrico. Along with it, he brings a much-needed replacement for Lance Alderson and a 2019 season that saw him throw for 2,400+ yards with 27 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
We also know that the heartbeat of the squad Dominic Gonnella is off to North Dakota State, along with ATH Gabe Akpewero, leading receiver Mike Frost Jr. and defensive studs Jake Little and Jack Sykes III. We also know that Alabama-commit Agiye Hall has transferred from Armwood and IMG to help resolve the issues at the wideout spot. We also know that it looks to be RB-by-committee with guys like Ollie Manhertz, Dinero McLendon, and Unique Lewis. They’ll also have studs Wa’myron Howard, Jamarion Neal, and Britton Pascoe returning on the defensive side.
What we want to know is first–the obvious–can they pull the distance closer between them and Lakeland in the district? Can they get the pieces they’ve got ready in time for that absolutely brutal schedule? Can they still make the playoffs even if they lose one more games than last year? THAT answer seems already in view since you can expect the likes of Durant, Plant City, and Kathleen to be very much improved. Still wayyyy more to learn than we already know.
****Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installment, as we head to the lake for the summer highlighting Lakeland, Lakewood, and Lake Wales.****