By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
PASSING GAME: Junior Brad Wyatt is the county's top returning passer. How good were the county's quarterbacks last year? He threw for 170 yards and lost his job down the stretch to senior Ozzie Whitten, who was just good enough to help the Leopards earn the second seed in the Class 3A, Region 5 playoffs.
Wyatt finished 14-for-52 for 170 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions. He'll have virtually no experienced targets this season, but might have to throw more as Hernando's running game is a complete mystery. Junior tailback Art Starks led the Leopards with six catches and was second in the county with 108 receiving yards, 91 of which came on a halfback option pass. Coach Bill Browning said Wyatt is more confident and has improved his throwing, which was a major problem last season. Watching the final games from the sideline has helped him better understand his role, he added.
RUNNING GAME: Replacing 49 percent of an offense -- namely Dee Brown and his 1,001 yards and 12 offensive touchdowns -- will be extremely difficult. Browning had hoped sophomore Jagren Castillo, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman in junior varsity, would be part of the solution. Instead, he's part of the puzzle after suffering burns while lighting a fire during the summer. Speedster Starks (38 rushes, 198 yards, 2 touchdowns) is the top returning rusher and will have his chances, as will returning senior fullback Trevor Coleman (20 rushes, 71 yards, 2 touchdowns) and senior experiment Steve Cassell.
LINE: The Leopards lost their center -- literally and figuratively -- in Sam "Cave Man" Forrester, a dedicated program kid that led in the weight room, in the meeting room and by example. Hernando has a passel of possibilities, but Browning will not know how the group plays together for a while. A new, inexperienced line isn't a good sign for a new, inexperienced backfield.
LINE: Senior Steve Cassell has developed into a legitimate college prospect at defensive end. At 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, and with a 350-pound bench press and good pursuit speed, he has every tool he needs to dominate. That could be difficult when incurring constant double-teams, which he will face all season unless someone develops to support him. Cassell led the Leopards with six sacks last season. Brown, Coleman and eventually Wyatt, formed a strong unit last season. Brown and Coleman provided solid run support while the smaller, more nimble Wyatt became adept at blitzing and chasing down ball carriers in the flat. Coleman should again be a tough run-stopper, but Hernando lacks an explosive, sideline-to-sideline game-breaker.