By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
4A-6 ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Central (7-2); 2. River Ridge (6-4); 3. Springstead (6-4); 4. Land O'Lakes (5-5); 5. Ridgewood (5-5); 6. Mitchell (2-9).
3A-7 ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Wesley Chapel (8-2); 2. Zephyrhills (7-3); 3. Pasco (5-5); 4. Hernando (3-7); 5. Gulf (1-9); 6. Hudson (0-9).
PIVOTAL GAME: Central at River Ridge, Sept. 14
This is the stumble game. The Bears could look past the Knights to a tough four-game homestand. Central should be 2-0 out of the gate, and a win here puts it in the catbird seat atop the district, a position the Bears can solidify with home wins against Springstead and Land O'Lakes. This is a proving night for all three county schools. We'll know if Hernando has anything when it plays host to Pasco in its oldest rivalry, and Springstead makes a trip to Land O'Lakes, where it gave the Gators a serious scare last season.
BEST GAME: Crystal River at Central, Oct. 5
I have to agree with Brant here -- even though the new alignment has taken postseason implications out of this game, this is still two likely district champions going head-to-head. Two years ago, the Bears ended the Pirates' hopes for an unbeaten season at Central's Homecoming, and this game will hold similar importance for a huge Bears senior class. The absence of Nate Madison put an asterisk on Central's 1999 victory, but it has a chance to end the Pirates' area dominance.
BIGGEST BLOWOUT: In past years, we could rip on Tavares or some out-of-area patsy here, but with all the teams staying close, it's harder to be diplomatic. Central seems to be the team most capable of hanging 40 points on an opponent, and a Week 2 home game against Lecanto could be a chance for the Bears to show that the Panthers' spring jamboree victory wasn't an ominous changing of the guard. With first-year Mitchell on the schedule for Central and Springstead, there's potential for a running clock in the second half of those games, too.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Vonada, Springstead.
Kudos for keeping his head up during a trying 16-game losing streak, and if the Eagles can continue their turnaround and go from 0-10 to a .500 team in two seasons, Vonada's positive thinking and stubborn optimism are big reasons why. The Eagles averaged 6.4 wins a year from 1989-98, and after a tough two-year stretch, there's reason for renewed pride at Booster Stadium.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tim Gaynor, Central.
Hard to argue this one going into the season. Gaynor wasn't even mentioned in last year's season preview, but you can't overlook him now. Steve Martin and Jamie McElfresh will also churn out big yards behind Central's veteran line, but Gaynor looks to be in position for a 1,000-yard, 15-touchdown season. If the Bears line stays healthy, a team total of 3,000 yards wouldn't be a stretch.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Steve Brooks, Springstead.
Hernando's Steve Cassell has drawn more attention in preseason, but if Brooks can show up full time as he did at times last season, it's good news for the Eagles defense. Last year's sacker supreme, Central's Lance Holland, finished with 18 sacks, so Brooks has a tough act to follow.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE YEAR: McElfresh, Central.
Nobody in the county made more than three field goals last season, so this honor can't be based on numbers alone. McElfresh, in his third year as punter, has shown a penchant for coming up with big kicks at crucial times, like a punt downed on the 5-yard line in the closing minutes of last year's win against Citrus.