No more waiting or wondering when the season will begin. After a delayed start, football is back with most Pasco County public schools kicking off the regular season on Friday. That also means it is time for rankings. Here is the first super seven of the season.
Last year: 10-2 (lost in region semifinals)
Up next: vs. Pinellas Park (Sept. 18)
Andy Schmitz has guided the Mustangs to the playoffs every year since taking over in 2014, including five straight district titles in that span. That postseason streak should continue with perhaps the fastest and most complete team Mitchell has had during this recent run. But the Mustangs will have to wait until getting started. This week’s opener against Land O’ Lakes was cancelled after the Gators’ varsity and junior varsity teams went through quarantine due to a positive coronavirus test. On offense, Mitchell returns quarterback Evan Brennan (2,301 yards, 31 touchdowns last season) and two of his top receivers, Johnny Fairbank (697 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Ronnie Fiumara (424 yards, six touchdowns). The Mustangs also added Maguire Anderson, who transferred from Sunlake and recently picked up an offer from Valparaiso. Mitchell’s opportunistic defense got even better in the offseason with the addition of Cole Castro, who transferred from River Ridge. Castro had 10 interceptions last season and was named the Sunshine Athletic Conference’s Western Division defensive player of the year. With Castro, the secondary has four starters — Nic Fairbank, Khamari Smith and Garnell Wilds are the others — who had a combined 21 interceptions a year ago. And that total does include linebacker Johnny Fairbank’s’ seven picks.
2. Wiregrass Ranch
Last year: 7-4 (lost in region quarterfinals)
Up next: at St. Petersburg
There should really be a 1A and 1B at the top of the rankings. That’s how even the Bulls are with Mitchell and the debate over which team is the likely will not be settled until the two square off on Oct. 9 in the most anticipated matchup in Pasco County this season. Wiregrass Ranch quarterback Rocco Becht, who threw for 1,985 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first full season as starter, has gotten the attention of colleges. In the offseason, the three-star prospect picked up offers from five schools, including FIU, Iowa State, Toledo and Wake Forest. Though the Bulls top two receivers graduated, they do return receiver Broden Guirl and tight end Gabe Thompson, who has committed to Army. On defense, the biggest loss was Dylan Ridolph, who set nearly every school record for sacks and is now playing at Catawba. There still are some playmakers left, most notably defensive back Grady Clower (three interceptions last season) and linebacker Craig Kailimai. Kicker Adam Mihalek is among the best in the area.
3. River Ridge
Last year: 8-3 (lost in region quarterfinals)
Up next: at Fivay
The loss of Cole Castro, now at Mitchell, hurt because the versatile playmaker contributed on both sides of the ball. But the Royal Knights still have talent to win another district title. Trenton Hawks is back at quarterback and should get plenty of protection from a veteran offensive line that includes Robby Rinaldi and Alex Storey. The defense is led by linebackers Connor Finer and Aidan Benjamin and defensive back Aaron Wyman.
Last year: 4-6
Up next: at Auburndale
The Pirates closed out last season with two straight wins, including a huge 27-9 victory over bitter rival Zephyrhills in the finale. Devin Jernigan returns at quarterback. Graduation took away a lot of the production at the other skill positions. JaBrounze Cooley, a receiver, and running backs Amir Burgess and Savion Spaights, will be counted to be go-to guys. Burgess, who had a team-leading 96 tackles last season, leads the linebacking crew once again. On the edge, watch out for Ja’bari Mention, who had three sacks last season.
Last season: 5-5
Up next: at Tampa Catholic (Sept. 25)
The Bulldogs had to endure some setbacks. A player tested positive for coronavirus last week, forcing most of the team to quarantine. Because of that, Zephyrhills had to cancel its first two games of the season and likely will have just six games on the schedule. Once the Bulldogs play on Sept. 25, they can lean on a trio of skill players — quarterback Timothy Jackson, running back Zyre Roundtree and receiver Tre Gallimore — for offensive production. Gallimore, who had four interceptions last season, is part of an opportunistic defense that includes Jaylin Thomas. Up front, look for Maguire Neal (13 sacks last season) to apply the pressure.
Last season: 7-3
Up next: at River Ridge
After winning a combined three games in his first two seasons, Falcons coach Matt Durchik started seeing results with what was being built. Fivay won four games in 2018 and seven last year. That 7-3 record a year was the program’s first winning season since 2012. The foundation still is there for continued success. On offense, it starts with the running game with two productive backs, Austin Blanford and Angel Gonzalez-Gordon both returning. The defense is led by defensive back Melvin Rivera, who had 112 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception last season.
Last season: 4-6
Up next: at Wesley Chapel
The Seahawks went through some growing pains under Trey Burdick, who became just the program’s second coach last year when he took over the legendary Bill Browning. The result was the team’s fourth straight season going 4-6. Sunlake is equipped to take the next step, especially in the passing game with the return of quarterback Kevin Spillane. Defensively, the Seahawks graduated their top three leading tacklers. The top returner is linebacker Mitch Hammond.
On the bubble
Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills Christian