Football preview: No. 24 Hernando


At a glance

Coach: Earl Garcia III, second season

Class: 4A, Region 2

Last season: 7-2, lost in region quarterfinal

Key players: FB/LB Nate Green, Sr.; RB/OLB Brian Lewis, Sr.; CB/WR Isaiah Riggins, So.; QB Blake Smith, TE/LB Sam Sternberger, Sr.; WR/DB Gabe Tafelski, Sr.; LB/K Anthony Talpa, Jr.; OT Chris Tolbert, Sr.; DL Delvin Williams, Jr.;  RB/WR/DB Jordan Williams, Sr.


Aug. 27 vs. Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30

Sept. 3 at Zephyrhills, 7:30

Sept. 10 vs. Pasco, 7:30

Sept. 17 at Citrus, 7

Sept. 24 vs. Nature Coast, 7:30

Oct. 1 at The Villages, 7

Oct. 8 at Springstead, 7:30

Oct. 15 vs. Lakeland Kathleen, 7:30

Oct. 22 Bye

Oct. 29 vs. Sunlake, 7:30

Nov. 5 at Lecanto, 7


Last season, Earl Garcia III, the son of Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, took over as the Leopards’ coach. It was a successful debut with Hernando going 7-2 and making the playoffs. Now, the road to the postseason becomes more challenging in a region that includes powerhouse Cocoa. To build up points in the playoff system, Garcia III put together a schedule that is front-loaded with tough games. On offense, the biggest task was replacing Contae Cason, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards and scored 16 touchdowns on the ground. To fill that void, the Leopards will rely on a multitude of backs. Jordan Williams, who was more of a receiving threat a year ago, could eventually have a featured role as a ball carrier. The ground game also will benefit from having three returning starters, led by offensive tackle Chris Tolbert. Defensively, Hernando has a veteran group with eight returning starters. The leader on that side is linebacker Sam Sternberger, who finished with a team-high 87 tackles last season.