Understatement of the year–the county is LOADED with talent for the next two years. Following the newly-minted Fire 79 rankings that were available as of this morning, Hillsborough County can claim 22 of the 49 spots in the Class of 2017–good for 45-percent of the list, while the depth of the county is present-and-accounted-for in a major way with a whopping 11 of 20 players–good for 55-percent–of the Class of 2018 list containing players from the county. Overall, 42-percent of the entire Fire 79 list heading into spring contains players from Hillsborough.
Eleven teams from Hillsborough made the postseason in 2015, those teams were Armwood, Tampa Bay Tech, Plant City, Jefferson, Plant, Sickles, Steinbrenner, Jesuit, Tampa Catholic, Cambridge Christian and Brandon. The Hawks were in Orlando as state finalists along with Cambridge Christian in their respective classes while Tampa Catholic and Jesuit were state semifinalists in Class 3A and Class 5A respectively.
We know heading into this spring that the county will be one-stop shop for running backs with seven rushers returning that went for over 1,000 yards last season including a 2,000 yard rusher. Players like Devan Barrett and Malik Davis are going to get the majority of the attention–and rightfully so–but players like Karmi Mackey, Andrew Cunningham and Darrian McNeal will post gaudy numbers along with as many as a dozen others that could hit the 1,000-yard mark. The county can boast that it had thirty players finish inside the top 300 statically last season in the state.
Not to be upstaged by the backs, Hillsborough’s QB situation could get very interesting–and impressive to say the least–with the return of Cade Weldon from injury at Jefferson and Austin Sessums from Tampa Catholic–who threw for 2,700 yards last season. Michael Penix Jr. is at Tampa Bay Tech and looks to pair with UF-commit Daquon Green while several other signal-callers are on the cusp of breakout seasons. The county also boasts one of the nations’ most sought-after prospects on the defensive side of the ball in the form of Hillsborough’s Zach Carter.
Heading into spring, we’ve got six new head coaches, but an astounding eight coaches that have a combined 113 years at their respective schools combined. Coaches that are beginning at least their 10th season at their schools are Armwood’s Sean Callahan (beginning his 27th), Hillsborough’s Earl Garcia (24th), Berkeley Prep’s Dom Ciao (10th), Durant’s Mike Gottman (13th), CDS’ Lane McLaughlin (11th), Newsome’s Ken Hiscock (11th), Plant’s Robert Weiner (13th) and Wharton’s David Mitchell is beginning his 11th season.
On the flip-side, coaches beginning their first season on-the-job at their respective schools are Freedom’s Floyd Graham, Strawberry Crest’s Ron Hawn, Bloomingdale’s Max Warner, Sickles’ Patrick Murphy, King’s Raphael Tolentino and Seffner Christian’s Travis Puleo. Graham–who is no stranger to football in the county–is back following a year stint in Georgia. Graham was the first head coach–three years at each school–for Newsome and Steinbrenner. Hawn was the HC at Tarpon Springs from 2012-14 posting a 17-16 record and had the Spongers in the postseason two of those three seasons.
Warner comes from Virginia Tech following a year in Blacksburg on the Hookies’ Staff, but is well-familiar with the area after serving as OC for Hillsborough before leaving for VaTech aiding dramatically in the development of Dwayne Lawson. Sickles has replaced Brian Turner with Patrick Murphy and he also brings along Paul Mandeville to run the defense for the Gryphons. Tolentino was most recently at Oak Ridge in Orlando as an assistant while Puleo replaces legendary coach Steve Lewis following his retirement.
The action in Hillsborough gets started on the infamous Friday the thirteenth with Seffner Christian traveling to Orange County while all of the public schools will get their work via jamborees on Thursday of the following week. Although the public schools only get one half of football to showcase their work from the spring, we are still looking forward to getting a look at many of the kids that have camped this offseason now that the pads will be on. Here are the schedule of games for Hillsborough County:
Friday, May 13th:
Seffner Christian at Foundation Academy (Winter Garden)
Wednesday, May 18th:
Berkeley Prep at Admiral Farragut
Thursday, May 19th:
Armwood, Strawberry Crest, Tampa Bay Tech at Plant City (Jamboree)
Bloomingdale, Durant, Newsome at Brandon (Jamboree)
Chamberlain, Leto, Middleton at Blake (Jamboree)
Hillsborough, Freedom, Wharton at King (Jamboree)
Jefferson, Robinson at Plant (Jamboree)
Lennard, Riverview, Spoto at East Bay (Jamboree)
Gaither, Sickles, Steinbrenner at Alonso (Jamboree)
Friday, May 20th:
Cambridge Christian at Calvary Christian
River Ridge at Tampa Catholic
Carrollwood Day, Lake Highland Prep at Victory Christian (Jamboree-Southeastern University)
Gibbs at Jesuit