Pinellas and Manatee Counties: What we’ve learned in 2016 – already

The weeklong tour around the Bay Area finishes with a look at what we’ve learned thus far in Pinellas and Manatee Counties. Both counties have been active during the offseason from transfers to coaching moves and we are still well over a month from spring football beginning. The vast majority of the headlines this offseason in both counties have dealt with coaching moves while the transfers that have occurred have some serious potential in terms of impact.

Matt Landers (#1) is back at Lakewood this season after playing for Admiral Farragut in 2015.
Matt Landers (#1) is back at Lakewood this season after playing for Admiral Farragut in 2015.

We’ve learned that on the transfer side of things in the two counties, things are about to get interesting with some high-profile moves made thus far. Admiral Farragut’s Matthew Landers is now back at Lakewood, while Northside Christian’s Riley Gibbons is now at Clearwater Central Catholic. Not to be outdone, Manatee saw a potentially huge piece to their puzzle arrive from Sarasota in the form of running back Josh Booker, who was the leading rusher for the Sailors last season and certainly looks the part in frame and on film.

Perhaps one of the biggest things we’ve learned is that coaching–especially in Pinellas–is staggeringly young in terms of their years at their respective programs. Eighteen of the twenty-five schools in the county will have coaches beginning their fourth year or less, while eight of those eighteen will be entering their first or second seasons. That leaves just three coaches with double-digit experience. They are: East Lake’s Bob Hudson entering his 14th season, Indian Rocks Christian’s Mark Buchanan beginning his 12th for the Eagles and St. Petersburg’s Joe Fabrizio starting his 11th season for the Green Devils. Lakewood’s Corey Moore is beginning his ninth season while Pinellas Park’s Kenny Crawford is starting his eighth season, however.

Two head coaches in Pinellas County with sixty years of experience combined retired this offseason. They are CCC’s John Davis and Osceola’s George Palmer. Dunedin finally found a replacement in the form of East Lake’s Todd Brooks and two schools in Bradenton–Southeast and Bayshore–have finally found replacements after both their respective coaches resigned. They are Port St. Lucie Offensive Coordinator John Biezuns (Bayshore) and former Southeast standout Rashad West (Southeast).

Speaking of Manatee County, a third of the county’s coaches will enter their first or second season, but there’s nuance to that figure since there’s only nine schools in the county. Two of those three coaches are the ones just mentioned in the previous paragraph and the other is IMG’s Kevin Wright who is beginning his second season with the Ascenders. Five of the nine coaches in the county have at least 5 years of experience, however. Bradenton Christian’s Allan Gerber begins his ninth for the Panthers. Palmetto’s Dave Marino enters his seventh, St. Stephens’ Todd Creneti begins his sixth and Braden River’s Curt Bradley begins his fifth season. Lakewood Ranch’s Mick Koczersut begins his third season with the Mustangs.

Something else of interest we’ve learned out of Manatee County is that the big-boys from Bradenton–speaking of the ‘Canes of course–will host Armwood in their fall preseason classic then head up to Alabama to face a very solid Hewitt-Trussville High School team. That opening schedule also includes a week three trip to Venice after their early season rivalry game with Palmetto. On a side-note, Venice opens with Georgia powerhouse Camden County the same week the ‘Canes are in Alabama.

As far as the players are concerned–transfers aside at this point–we’ve learned there’s some strikingly good talent coming from Pinellas County. Fifteen of the top 49 in BCP’s Fire 79 overall rankings in the Class of 2017 and eight of the top thirty in the sophomore class hail from Pinellas. Although Manatee County has just one player on the entire list, we feel as though something’s gotta give this season and many more players will be breaking down the door demanding a presence in that group in the not-so-distant future.