By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
OFFENSE: Hernando possesses an embarrassment of talent at running back.
Juniors Jagren Castillo (509 yards and nine touchdowns) and Rod Roberts (449 yards, three touchdowns) and senior Art Starks (123 yards, one touchdown) give the Leopards great depth. It will be tested since Castillo and Roberts sustained leg injuries in a 14-13 win over Hudson on Friday night.
Castillo's high ankle sprain, suffered originally against Pasco, could have scuttled many offenses, but coach Bill Browning simply gave Roberts more carries. He responded by starting a 33-23 victory against Central with a 73-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
If Roberts' shin injury is serious, it will be Starks' turn.
An offensive line loaded with seniors has improved its cohesion and reduced penalties. The front five are not particularly big, but they have a certain margin for error with such a fleet backfield.
Senior Brad Wyatt (14-for-29 passing, 272 yards, 1 touchdown) has become business-like in directing the attack, and uses flat passes as a dangerous change of pace. He has just two interceptions after throwing 13 last season.
Sophomore Antonio Brown is another talented speedster who had a rushing touchdown on a reverse against Central last week. Predominantly a defensive player, the nephew and physical reminder of Hernando alum John Capel is a dangerous variable.
The Leopards average 22.6 points.
DEFENSE: Hernando has a certain excuse in that it generally starts nine underclassmen.
Still, it simply allows too many points (25.2) and big plays.
Central used two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to turn a blowout into a seemingly close game. Hudson (0-5) pushed the defensive line around and got 111 yards from Travis Miller.
Linebacker Andres Lawson potentially is one of the more dominating players on the North Suncoast, but he occasionally suffers from the team malady of over-pursuit and missed tackles.
Brown gave the unit big-strike potential against Central, returning an interception 65 yards for a touchdown.
OVERALL: Hernando is quite a surprise after going 3-7 last season.
There was no doubt the Leopards' backfield was solid, but so much depends on the offensive line. Center John Humbert, guards Steve Maxey and Robbie Jernigan, tackles James Johnson, Wayne Brown/Jesse Cooper and tight end Kris Davis have been sound.
Strong running has simplified Wyatt's role into caretaker, and he has directed the offense and thrown better passes than at any time in his three-year varsity career.
With Antonio Brown a likely future starter at quarterback and Castillo and Roberts back next season, Hernando could consider this a tune-up for a promising 2003. But, then again, the Leopards will have to replace the offensive line.
PLAYOFF PROSPECTS: Not good.
At 1-1 in Class 3A, District 7 (with a loss to Pasco and win over Hudson), Hernando must face district-leading Zephyrhills (4-1, 2-0) and Wesley Chapel (4-1, 1-1).
That will make finishing second in 3A-7 and earning an automatic spot tough. Losing to those teams would damage chances for an at-large berth.
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