By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002
It's that time of the year again, when the voices in our head start demanding answers to the 10 most pressing questions of 2002. Uh ... hello?
Yeah? What do you want?
Hello? It's time for 10 questions? Let's get this over with, please, it's 5 a.m.
Is it just me, or is there some genuine excitement brewing out?
Heck yeah. Everyone in the county has reason to hope.
At Gulf and Ridgewood it's exciting new offenses, and for the Rams there's a new coach in Troy Cornwell. Everyone wants a piece of defending conference and district champion Wesley Chapel, which returns county rushing record-holder Tyrone Tomlin and a host of veteran athletes.
Land O'Lakes quarterback Drew Weatherford is the best player in the county not named Tyrone. Zephyrhills returns talented QB James Adamo, and the Bulldogs are always tough anyway. Pasco QB Ben Alford is the county's most underrated player and his Pirates may be ready to overcome the exodus of talent to Wesley Chapel.
River Ridge has a big line, great fullbacks and a new dimension of speed. Third-year Mitchell is more physical, more punishing team on defense this season, which means they it might be ready to grow up, too. And Hudson returns a veteran team as deep at the skill positions as anybody in the county.
Q: That's all moot if Wesley Chapel goes 10-0 again. Will any Pasco County team go 10-0 this season, or dominate the way the Wildcats did last season?
The answer is ... no. No team will go 10-0. Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare doesn't think so. He believes the Sunshine Athletic Conference champion will go 6-4. But then again, you can't get him to admit he won 10 games last season either. It may be asking too much of Wesley Chapel to go 10-0, especially with road games at Land O'Lakes, Pasco and Zephyrhills. But then again, does anyone really think the talented Wildcats are going to go 6-4?
Q: Isn't it time for Devon Hicks to be the man at Pasco?
A: Yes, well past time. With apologies to Tomlin, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Hicks may be the single most amazing physical specimen in the county. The senior could be the bruising, punishing, game-clinching fullback the Pirates have lacked since riding Ron Croson in 1998.
Q: Which of the new westside offenses will make the most difference this season?
A: Let's hand the ball off to Ridgewood, or rather, 6-foot-4, 240-pound tailback Adamm Oliver. Cornwell's Power-I formation is the smartest way to use Oliver, sending him crashing forward behind fullback Monte Werner and a drive-blocking line. It's power football at its purest, and Oliver can pick up 3 yards falling forward. If Cornwell can create a passing game, Ridgewood could make some noise.
The most creative addition this season comes from Gulf alum Jimmy Watson, the former Florida lineman who studied with Steve Spurrier. He helped the Bucs install the wide-open Spread-I formation, using three wideouts, but it might take time to click. With 17 juniors, including quarterback Jeff Blanchette, this offense's time might come in 2003.
Q: Is Mitchell the county's next dynasty?
A: Well ... not quite. It looks as if the Mustangs are starting to collect some of the best talent on the west side, but will it be enough to break the eastside stranglehold on the SAC? Probably not. Mitchell is in its second varsity year but third year overall, and graduates 24 seniors, including quarterback Donnie Josephik, halfback Reggie Moise and fullback/linebacker Derek Shortz.
Coach Scott Schmitz said he rates winning the west side far behind championships and playoff games. But his Mustangs could climb atop the west regardless. Mitchell's zone is burgeoning with athletes. Schmitz knows how to beat the fleet eastside teams with great line play. He has the best facilities in the county and one of the deepest staffs. Nor is he lacking for able and motivated bodies.
Q: Who will have the best offensive line in the county? Please don't say River Ridge.
A: I won't. But the lightest guy wearing purple and silver at a certain New Port Richey high school stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 240 pounds. There are three 6-4 tackles weighing 286, 390 and 300 pounds, respectively. It's a deep unit and, hopefully, one willing to erase the painful memories of watching last year's line try to block at ... that school.
But here's a surprise addition: Wesley Chapel. The Wildcats lost all five three-year starters from last year's line, but look at these measurements: 6-4, 240; 6-2, 260; 6-6, 256; 6-3, 306; 6-6, 270, and 6-5, 255. If these guys learn how to pull and angle-block ...
Q: Which teams will make the playoffs? And who's on the bubble?
A: In Class 3A, District 7, it's hard to bet against Wesley Chapel grabbing at least the runner-up spot. Pasco and Zephyrhills will fight for whichever spot Wesley Chapel doesn't earn.
The Pirates face the tougher road because they have the toughest schedule in the county, with perennial state power South Sumter looming on Oct. 11. Last season's embarrassing 63-13 loss kept 6-4 Pasco from an at-large playoff bid.
It's unlikely the Pirates can upset the Raiders, so Pasco must look elsewhere for that seventh win: how about Sept. 27 when Land O'Lakes visits W.F. Edwards Stadium? The Pirates will need that non-district game far more than the Gators will.
In 4A-6, if Land O'Lakes doesn't land one of the automatic bids the season is officially a failure. Mitchell, Ridgewood and River Ridge need to upset Central or Springstead, or both, to even think about the postseason.
Q: Who will have the best junior varsity team this season? Wait, that's a dumb question.
A: It sure is. You know why? Because who cares.
Seriously, JV football is absolutely vital to a program's future success. But the reality is that in this county, where depth is in critically short supply, a stellar freshman's or sophomore's JV days are numbered.
Q: Which one of the "Big Three" is the best quarterback in Pasco County? Step up to the plate now.
A: It depends on who you ask. Ask Zephyrhills coach Tom Fisher, and he'll say Adamo. Ask Thomas, and the Pasco coach won't hesitate to say Alford. Ask Land O'Lakes coach John Benedetto, and he'll say Weatherford. Ask me, and I'll say Weatherford.
Weatherford, just a junior, is the best of one of the best quarterback classes in county history. He leads the county in starts with 20, dating back to his freshman year. He can stand tall in the pocket like Adamo and fling rockets. Or he can roll out like Alford and sprint for the first down.
Come 2003, the Weatherford recruiting hunt will be the story in Pasco County football.
Q: Who will be the surprise team this season? Let me guess -- it'll be a school west of U.S. 41, right?
A: Of course. Let's see. Ridgewood and Gulf have exciting new offenses that utilize talent much more efficiently than the overrated Wing-T scheme. But the lack of quality, experienced depth is a daunting problem for both, who traditionally lose key two-way starters to a rash of injuries every season.
River Ridge has the size, speed and horses, but third-year coach Mike DeGennaro still has to prove he can guide a team through the rough spots and close games. Mitchell could surprise everyone, but frankly, it just wouldn't surprise us to see Schmitz lead the improved Mustangs to 5-5.
So that leaves Hudson. Fourth-year coach Terry Voyles is as well-respected a coach as there is in the county. His teams give everyone fits, especially on the west side, against whom he went 3-1 last season and lost to River Ridge by just six points. Voyles has a deep backfield and receiving corps this season, and veterans up and down the roster.