By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001
Meet the new Class 3A, District 7. Finally, a district race east Pasco County won't be watching from the sidelines.
After two road kill-like years in districts dominated by far-superior Hillsborough County schools and private schools, Pasco and Zephyrhills have been restored to district-contender status and Wesley Chapel is also a front-runner for the first time in its young history. Hudson should have an easier time as well.
So who are the leading contenders? On paper, at least, it starts with Wesley Chapel.
Wildcats coach John Castelamare's team went 5-5 in 2000, just its second season in existence, and returns all key starters save one. The Wildcats have the most talent in the district, all are two-year veterans, and have enough depth to field entire first- and second-team units on both sides of the ball.
Zephyrhills is the reigning Sunshine Athletic Conference champion, and 5-foot-10, 165-pound Michael Moody is perhaps Pasco County's best back, coming off a 1,139-yard, 11-touchdown performance in 2000.
Hernando coach Bill Browning must somehow replace all-everything Dee Brown, who led the team in rushing, scoring and tackling last season. Sophomore Jagren Castillo suffered second- and third-degree burns during the offseason, costing the Leopards their best running back.
But it is the 6-4, 223-pound Steve Cassell whom all district foes must account for, because he brings Division I talent to defensive end and fullback.
Nor should any district teams overlook rebuilt Pasco. Coach Ricky Thomas says his team boasts tremendous speed and hopes the players' dedication in the weight room pays off.
Cast in the role of spoiler are Gulf and Hudson, who were a combined 2-18 last season.
Perhaps the schedule is the best way to divine a district championship. Here Hernando has the advantage, because Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills must all visit Tom Fisher Stadium. The Leopards have more incentive than usual in 2001 to beat their archrivals, the Pirates; Pasco scored its final touchdown in last season's 35-7 road win with 2:26 left -- and went for two.
But Pasco proved it can handle Hernando on the road last season (it must do so again this season) and hosts Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.
The Bulldogs are truly at a disadvantage, and must visit Hernando, Pasco and Wesley Chapel. But the they should be hungry: Zephyrhills has not beaten Pasco since 1997, and is 0-3 against Hernando dating back to the 1993 season.