By BRANT JAMES and GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
1. Can all three county teams make the state playoffs?
Mathematically, sure. Realistically, two teams seem like the more likely scenario. It's hard to imagine Central not making the postseason, and Pasco County isn't exactly brimming with teams that can block Hernando's and Springstead's paths. The Eagles would have to get past Land O'Lakes to earn their district's second spot, and an at-large berth would probably require six wins. Hernando's district is a weak one, but the Leopards need to have young players develop quickly to get past Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel.
2. Is it more likely the county will have a 1,000-yard passer or that cold fusion will be developed in a Springstead science lab?
Take Springstead, plus the isotopes. Nine Hernando County players combined to complete 88 passes for 1,175 yards last season, "led" by graduated Jose Flores, a converted linebacker who went 32-for-93 for 462 yards for Springstead.
Hernando junior Brad Wyatt is the "top" returning passer, having completed 14 of 52 for 170 yards, 1 touchdown and 6 interceptions.
Springstead's Everet Simmons, battling Brian Bolcar for the starting job, went 15-for-52 for 153 yards with 1 touchdown and 7 interceptions.
Central senior Chase Evans didn't throw a varsity pass last season as David Egan's backup and won't throw many more as the starter in the Bears' run-oriented system.
3. Are any mysterious newcomers out there?
How about a 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman, as in Hernando's Bryant Clark, a first-year high school player? No one knows how he will adjust to the competitive game, and playing line is a lot more than just flopping on people, but 300 pounds might offset some mistakes.
Springstead's intriguing newcomers are on the other end of the scale -- sophomore Derrick MacMurray is listed at 135 pounds and freshman tailback Joe Merando is 140, as is first-year junior receiver David Nhieu, the team's shortest player at 5-5.
Central has its share of small but speedy players as well. Junior Joe Brazeau, while 5-7 and 135 pounds, helped Central win the county weightlifting title and is the same size as senior David Ramos, who showcased his quickness on the track and basketball teams.
4. The past two years, county teams went all over the state for games. How come this year there is hardly any traveling on the schedule?
There is no Tavares or Fort Myers Cypress Lake or Eustis on this year's slate of opponents to send fans scrambling for the nearest atlas (okay, a simple road map got you there). New districting gave teams more reason to play nearby opponents in Pasco County, and those, combined with the annual conference games continuing with Citrus County's three teams, made for less dealing with strangers from afar. While this means less travel, it does mean fans will need to keep a closer eye on Pasco's teams, since their ups and downs now have a direct impact on this county's success.
5. Last year, we pleaded for more big-time college recruits. Will National Signing Day be more of a countywide event next February?
Local recruitniks should have plenty of official visits to keep up with, even more than last season when Dee Brown chose Central Florida and Central's Lance Holland and Jerry Daniels signed with Bethune-Cookman. Hernando's Steve Cassell and Central linemen Willie Winslett, T.J. Hedick and Billy Wood have drawn interest from top-tier programs such as Miami, Auburn and others. Also, Springstead led the county with four players named to a recent watch list at recruiting Web site floridakids.net. Verbal commitments galore!
6. Last year, you asked if Springstead would win a game. How many can it win this year?
Don't underestimate the Eagles, who made bigger strides in the second half of last season than any other team on the North Suncoast. The first half of the schedule is torrid, with four playoff teams on the road. But just consider the rest of the docket: first-year Mitchell, Lecanto (0-10 in 2000) and Gulf (1-9) should be victories, and the Eagles could surprise teams with their opener against Hernando. A prediction: Springstead's trip to Ridgewood on Oct. 19 and home game against River Ridge a week later could be a lot bigger than you'd imagine.
7. What's the confrontation we want to see, Part I?
Hernando and Central, 0-0, fourth quarter. Bears on the Hernando 5. Central quarterback Chase Evans hands off to Tim Gaynor. Guard Willie Winslett pulls to the right, looking for something to vaporize. Having seen this play 10 times already, Hernando coach Bill Browning has moved defensive end Steve Cassell to outside linebacker. Cassell reads the play, Winslett doesn't care. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Winslett meets the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Cassell at the line of scrimmage.
8. What's the confrontation we want to see, Part II?
Hernando and Central, 0-0, fourth quarter. Hernando on its own 20. Hernando quarterback Brad Wyatt hits Art Starks on a quick slant across the middle. The middle of the defense is gaping. Starks cuts up, visions of an 80-yard score coming clear. Gaynor, at linebacker, angles back to pursue, and after Starks slips on a divot, is two strides behind and ready to accelerate. They're good friends who often compare their stats. The loser of this race is going to hear about it.
9. What senior not named Cassell or Winslett will have a pretty good year?
Springstead's Steve Garofano. He rushed for 238 yards and a touchdown on 67 carries last season, exploding at the end of the Eagles' 19-17 season-finale win against Eustis with the best two-minute breakout we saw last year. In three plays -- a 55-yard touchdown run, onside kick recovery and game-clinching interception -- Garofano gave Springstead a spark that has lasted nine months. Look for more big plays in his senior year.
10. How seriously should Pasco County be taken?
This will be a source of amusement all season. Pasco has three times as many high schools as Hernando, and yet in the past two years, our neighbors to the south have amassed just two playoff berths (the breakdown: Land O'Lakes 2) while Hernando has three, despite being outnumbered. That could be a by-product of Pasco teams facing big-city Tampa teams in the old district alignment. Our thinking is that of 14 intercounty games, Hernando County is good for nine wins.