Early forecast

Published August 5, 2007

Though the school year won't start for a few more weeks, football season begins Monday with the first official day of practice. 

Full-contact sessions won't begin until Thursday, but it's never too early to take a look at where the county's teams stand as they begin preparations for the fall.


Last year

8-3. After finishing the regular season with eight straight wins, the Bears suffered a heartbreaking, last-second 21-20 loss to Daytona Beach Seabreeze in the first round of the playoffs.

First 2007 game

Aug. 31 vs. Hernando

Three things to watch:

1 The evolution of Chase Walker: The senior quarterback made his first start as a sophomore. Now he'll look to lead a determined class of seniors back to the playoffs.

2 Defense: Central's unit was suffocating last season, allowing just 12.5 points per game over the final eight games of the regular season.

3 Duane Marks: The senior running back patiently bided his time behind star DuJuan Harris the past two seasons. He exploded for more than 100 yards in the Bears' spring game and should be in store for a big season.



Last year

2-8. After blowing out Central 25-3 in its season opener, the Leopards lost eight of their last nine, leading to the dismissal of coach Matt Smith.

First 2007 game:

Aug. 31 at Central

Three things to watch:

1 Spread offense: Gone is the bunched-up, full-house backfield attack Smith employed. New coach Rodney Byrd unveiled his spread offense in a win over Umatilla in the spring, but the Leopards still have plenty of work to do in the passing game.

2 George Fribley: The senior running back packs plenty of speed and big-play ability note his five touchdowns in a season-ending loss to Pasco, but he must prove he can carry his team as a feature back.

3 Seniors: Hernando is loaded with experience at nearly every position, including running back (Fribley), quarterback (senior Jason Davies) and linebacker (seniors Taylor Rotunda and Nick Pauliot). It will be interesting to see how much of a factor veteran leadership plays.


Hernando Chr.

Last year

5-5. The injury bug bit the Lions on multiple occasions early last season, sidelining much of the seniority.

First 2007 game

Aug. 31 vs. Bishop McLaughlin

Three things to watch:

1 Maturation: With zero returning seniors and four juniors, this is the youngest HCA team in the school's four years of fielding a program. The Lions have a new coach in David Raley, but the former assistant isn't a new face. The Lions, an athletic group, will run the West Coast offense with quarterback David Rotteveel.

2 Development of the offensive line: The large graduating senior class included the entire offensive line. Raley anticipates his starting line will include Kyle Marra, Stephen McCall, Josh Westfall, Ethan Whitten and Tim Worsley.

3 How well the team jells: The Lions return quite a bit on defense, but will be missing middle linebacker Corey Drummond, who held the group together. Someone, Raley said, will have to step up and lead the squad.


Nature Coast

Last year

8-2 regular season and district champs. The Sharks had their best season in their short four-year history and reached state playoffs.

First 2007 game

Aug. 31 at Dunnellon

Three things to watch:

1 Team resilience: Nature Coast coach Jamie Joyner has scheduled six teams for the Sharks that all reached the state playoffs. The stiffer competition could further prepare the younger, but possible more talented Nature Coast for district play and the postseason. Quarterback/linebacker Stephen Pelaez and nose tackle Preston Williams are among the top returning leaders for the Sharks.

2 Fullback battle: D.J. Williams earned the spot for the spring game, but Britt Langley and Tadd Govedich will give him competition.

3 Tevin Drake: The rising sophomore made a splash at tailback last year, rushing for 857 yards and 11 touchdowns. Expect big things from the 5-foot-101/2, 187-pound Drake.



Last year

5-5. The Eagles suffered a couple of last-second losses at the hands of county rivals and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

First 2007 game

Aug. 31 at Crystal River

Three things to watch:

1 Mental toughness and leadership: Coach Bill Vonada was looking for the intangibles during spring football and since then he has seen several players - Luis Delgado, Ben Noury, Mike Greco, Anthony Derenzi and Zach Bailey, for starters - step up.

2 Position battles: Coach Bill Vonada said the Eagles started roughly 22 guys in the spring game and then had quite a few come off the bench. No position is locked up, and that is especially true at fullback. Four fullbacks carried the football in the spring game, Vonada said. The Eagles don't plan on sticking with one player. Expect returner David Bushnell, Steven Parthart and Greco all to see time at some point running the football.

3 Depth: The Eagles have quite a bit of it, particularly at quarterback where two juniors are possible starters - Noury and James Mahla. Vonada said if one is at quarterback, the other likely would be at receiver.

Kellie Dixon can be reached at (352) 848-1430 or kdixon@sptimes.com David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.