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Eagles in for rocky start, strong finish

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002

3A-7 ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Wesley Chapel (10-0); 2. Zephyrhills (7-3) 3. Pasco (6-4) 4. Hernando (3-7) 5. Gulf (3-7) 6. Hudson (0-9).

4A-6 ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Land O'Lakes (9-1) 2. Central (7-2) 3. Springstead (7-3) 4. River Ridge (4-6) 5. Mitchell (2-8) 6. Ridgewood (1-9).

PIVOTAL GAME: Central at Springstead, Oct. 4. The Bears will have begun the season 4-0, while the Eagles will be staggering at 2-2. Not to worry for Springstead, though. The roughest part of the season will be over, with non-district Crystal River and eventual 4A-6 winner Land O'Lakes behind it.

BEST GAME: Wesley Chapel at Land O'Lakes, Nov. 8. Both teams will enter undefeated. Gators quarterback Drew Weatherford will have established himself as one of the better college prospects in the Tampa Bay area. In the end, the Wildcats will prove they are still the best, for now.

BIGGEST BLOWOUT: Ridgewood at Land O'Lakes, Oct. 4. Weatherford plus Ridgewood (a team that went 1-9 and allowed 296 points last year) equals busy scoreboard light bulbs.

COACH OF THE YEAR: John Castelmare, Wesley Chapel. Go 10-0 and you're coach of the year.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Weatherford. Central's Tim Gaynor is a senior, 20 pounds heavier and one of the top returning rushers in the state. Running backs cannot do it alone, however, and Gaynor lost offensive line workhorses T.J. Hedick and Willie Winslett. That gives the advantage to Weatherford, a combination of pure passing and scrambling ability.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Andres Lawson, Hernando. As a sophomore inside linebacker, he was a surprise impact player last season, leading the county with 96 total tackles and earning a spot on the All-Citrus/Hernando first team.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Willie Fifer, Hernando.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Questions. Have we got questions.

Is Springstead ready to use last season's 6-4 effort as a vault to the prosperity of old?

The Eagles seemed poised to, with several defensive players back, but linebacker Allen Lamb's return to California weakens them there. The offense was already a concern with both quarterbacks and the team's biggest gamebreaker -- wideout Jeff Hill -- now graduated. The once-solid running back situation is a bit murkier with the off-field problems of Justin Melnik, the county's third-leading rusher.

Is Tim Gaynor enough to offset a rebuilt offensive line at Central, and will the Bears adjust to a new coach and system quickly enough?

The question(s) of the year in Hernando County. Gaynor earned most of his early-season yards along the sidelines, but became more of a straight-ahead back late in the schedule. That's his new role as a fullback, and fullbacks are no good without running lanes. New coach John Wilkinson is an offensive line specialist, so perhaps there is a quick fix.

Oh, and will Central attempt more passes in its first game than it did all last season?

Of course, say Bears coaches. Central will likely attempt 20-23 passes per game, easily eclipsing the 18 attempted by Chase Evans last season. Chase went 8-for-18 for 88 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. Joe Brazeau will be the envy of every Central QB since Steve Crognale took over in 1995.

Does Brad Wyatt finally fulfill his quarterback destiny?

Coach Bill Browning made Wyatt his starter as a sophomore, hoping he would flourish. Wyatt guided the Leopards to the playoffs his first season -- although it was Dee Brown who threw the 91-yard halfback option touchdown pass to Art Starks that got the Leopards in. Last year was a disaster for the 3-7 Leopards. Wyatt was second in the county (dubious distinction) with 607 yards on 55-for-119 passing. Trouble was, he had only four touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Now a senior, he's being pressed by junior Heath Hensley and sophomore Antonio Brown.

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