It’s on-and-poppin’ in the Pie this spring as several teams and prospects gear up for their respective games next month. We seem to say it–in some form or fashion–every year that THIS is the year that we could see something special (especially team-wise) from the county, and yes–we’re going to continue that tradition until we get it right. We’re not wrong in saying that special things will come from Pinellas this spring and fall though–not by a longshot. The county is loaded with playmakers heading into the spring representing every position on the field from the trenches to the skill guys–therefore SOMEONE has to benefit from all that talent–and that someone is all of us from HSFB fans, to college recruiters and even those of us in the media that get to chronicle their inevitable accomplishments.
As is the case in many circles these days, there are rumblings out there that hard-working athletes and programs aren’t getting the love they deserve. We can’t blame them for fighting for their due, especially with the high-stakes world of recruiting coupled with the impending wild-wild-west of school choice, but it’s hard to say THIS county isn’t getting its’ proper love. As mentioned in the opening, this county is loaded–and we’ve got a few numbers to prove it. Currently, there are twenty-five players from the classes of 2017 and 2018 from the top seventy-nine from the six county coverage area. There are seventeen-17’s and eight-18’s respectively from Pinellas–that’s over a third one one list (35%) and nearly a quarter (23%) of another.
There were just two teams that reached the 10-win mark last season and that was Admiral Farragut with a record of 10-2 and CCC with a record of 12-1 and advancing to the Class 3A state semifinals. Nine teams represented Pinellas in the postseason in 2015, those that made the playoffs last season were: (district champions designated with an asterisk)
Clearwater Central Catholic*
Five schools experienced coaching changes during the offseason as well. Teams with coaches beginning their first season at their new school are:
Clearwater Central Catholic – Chris Harvey
Dunedin – Todd Brooks
Keswick Christian – Phil Hayford
Osceola – Kevin Smalley
Tarpon Springs – George Kotis
Something has to give. Dixie Hollins is 8-63 the past six seasons with two 0-10 campaigns mixed-in. Their quarterback, Chadd Cann Jr was just recently offered by USF and linebacker Louis Cotto (’18) has transferred in from Farragut. Boca Ciega is 5-23 their last three seasons, but with a young team last season that featured one of the county’s most-exciting playmakers–WR Sam Thompson–the Pirates have a chance to upset the hopes of teams’ come this fall and their spring game versus Brooksville-Central will test them since the Bears have quite a bit of talent on their roster as well. St. Petersburg Catholic has to find their winning formula after a tough two-year stint that’s seen the Barons go 1-19. Head Coach Shannon Brooks isn’t one to make excuses and has worked to keep the positivity going at SPC and at some point things have to turn around for the program since they just had an 8-win season in 2013. Same can be said for Dunedin–the Falcons went 0-10 last season and are 3-27 the past three seasons, but that won’t stop them from trying to right the ship.
Having a 14-9 record and making the postseason back-to-back seasons is usually good–that’s what the Spongers’ experienced under Ron Hawn in his two seasons, so imagine what 2-8 must have felt like last season at Tarpon Springs under Mike Lube. The expectations of a 10-3 season and district championship are kinda the bare-minimum at a place like Tarpon, and they’ve gone back to the person that last delivered that in George Kotis, who went 29-16 in his four seasons from 2006-09 and was in the postseason three of those four years. A lot remains to be seen, but their game with Northeast–another 2-8 squad from last season–gives us a chance to see what both schools have ready to rock-and-roll and we expect both to be better than their ’15 campaigns for certain.
Northside Christian is 16-5 the last two seasons, but hasn’t been able to breakthrough and win a district title. With a district that’s wide open, could this be the Mustangs’ year? CCC registered their first undefeated regular season in school history last year, and will be arguably the county’s most-talented team from top-to-bottom, but a date with Clearwater this spring is the perfect litmus test for this assessment since the Tornadoes are ALSO arguably the county’s most-talented team from top-to-bottom. Not to be outdone in the least, Pinellas Park and Largo will certainly get all of the attention it deserves and both teams are well-built beyond their brand-named playmakers. If we are talking top six or seven programs in terms of expectations this spring and fall, the Packers and the Patriots belong near or at the top of this list.
Palm Harbor University went from 1-9 in 2014, to 6-4 in 2015. Obviously, if they continue the trend, we will be talking about a record-setting season for the ‘Canes, but can they stay healthy? Their game with Nature Coast Tech brings intrigue, since the Sharks were more than just the Deshawn Smith show, they just will have to learn to win without leaning on the reigning Mr. Football which is always easier said than done. East Lake and Countryside were in their customary postseason spots, but not without two completely different paths taken. Both were dispatched in the first round and both will have to sort out their starting quarterback situations. The Eagles and the Cougars will once again have talent, but they’ll be young in crucial spots and with that brings some level of growing pains. Keep your eyes peeled for highly underrated RB Xavier Jackson for the Eagles as they lean on their experienced guys to lead the young bucks that are going to be good players.
Clearwater won their first district championship since 2003 and as we mentioned, will be loaded for this season. The Tornadoes may not like the way their season ended last season losing their last two games to East Lake and Port Charlotte, but Head Coach Don Mesick and his crew aren’t going to make excuses for themselves. Clearwater is faced with a not-so-enviable-yet-easily-correctable situation where THEY will be their biggest competition at times this season and last year’s lessons seemed to have sunk-in which means the expectations for an even better season than 8-3 and first round of the playoffs are justified.
Calvary Christian may benefit nicely from Alonso-transfer Alex Laccabue at the QB position, while Osceola‘s run to the postseason was impressive to say the least, but the Warriors will have to replace their legendary coach George Palmer and 1,100+ yard rusher Travis Wateska. Speaking of major contributors, Gibbs will have to replace DJ Johnson–who, totaled 3,364 and 40 touchdowns at his QB position, which will be infinitely easier said-than-done. There always seems to be somebody ready to carry the rock at St. Petersburg, and the Green Devils will need to find a replacement(s) for Jacquel Waller and Darius Miller–who, rushed for 2,114 yards and 22 touchdowns combined last season. Lakewood gets the services of Matt Landers after he transferred back from Farragut, and the Spartans will have plenty of talent to surround him, so their spring game with 7A semifinalists Braden River carries a ton of intrigue.
Indian Rocks Christian begins life without their tandem in the backfield of Zeke Mcgaughy and Theo Anderson who combined for over 1,600-yards last season in-spite of the Eagles 2-6 record–one that was plagued by a terrible streak of luck that included season-ending injuries and bad bounces for IRC.
Pinellas County Spring Games:
Friday, May 13th:
Indian Rocks Christian at Poinciana
Wednesday, May 18th:
Berkeley Prep at Admiral Farragut
Thursday, May 19th:
Clearwater Academy at Shorecrest Prep
Keswick Christian, St. Edward’s (Vero Beach), Int’l Community @ Orangewood Christian
Pinellas Park at Largo
Friday, May 20th:
Brooksville Central at Boca Ciega
Cambridge Christian at Calvary Christian
Dunedin at Seminole
Nature Coast Tech at Palm Harbor University
St. Petersburg Catholic at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal
Saturday, May 21st:
Northside Christian at Trinity Catholic
Thursday, May 26th:
Dixie Hollins at Hudson
Gibbs at Jesuit
Friday, May 27th:
Clearwater Central Catholic at Clearwater
Osceola at East Lake
Palmetto at St. Petersburg
No date posted:
Tarpon Springs vs. Northeast