By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
RUSHING LEADER: John C. Cotey: Michael Moody, Zephyrhills. As tempted as I am to pick Pasco's Devon Hicks on a hunch, I'm going with the gifted Moody, who the Bulldogs are smart enough to give the ball to 20 times a game.
Jamal Thalji: Moody, Zephyrhills. He's the only proven commodity in the county, and the Bulldogs' balanced offense will keep opposing defenses from keying in on him -- which, even if they did, he'd still be hard to stop.
Steve Lee: Tyrone Tomlin, Wesley Chapel. Shift from wideout to Wing-T backfield gives Tomlin more touches, and more chances to torch defenses. Tomlin will be the Wildcats' first 1,000-yard rusher.
PASSING LEADER: Cotey: Tim Dare, River Ridge. I picked him last year and he disappointed. So Tim, could you hook me up this year?
Thalji: Drew Weatherford, Land O'Lakes. The Gators will air it out early, often and all the time. The offense will be built around Weatherford's generous talents, much as departed tailback Godfrey Pestana was the focus the past four seasons. Watch out for the spread formation.
Lee: Drew Weatherford, Land O'Lakes. This kid is fired up to air it out and has the arm and experience (11 games as a freshman) to do just that. Plus, the 6-foot-3 sophomore can easily see over the offensive line.
GAME OF THE YEAR: Cotey: River Ridge at Pasco, Friday. I'm not saying one game makes a season, but both teams need to get off to a hot start, especially River Ridge, which has Wesley Chapel the following week. And besides, this rivalry was on the verge of becoming the county's best before the FHSAA stepped in.
Thalji: My heart says Wesley Chapel at River Ridge, Sept. 7. My head says Oct. 26, when Pasco and Zephyrhills fight "The 9-Mile War" for a playoff spot. But the strange voice that talks to me at night says River Ridge-Zephyrhills on Nov. 2.
Lee: Land O'Lakes at Wesley Chapel, Nov. 2. Since they're in different districts, a playoff spot isn't on the line. But the SAC title might be and what better time to decide it than the last game of the regular season.
LEADING TACKLER: Cotey: Alan Minichino, River Ridge. He replaces Chris Robinson, so why not?
Thalji: Matt Embry, Land O'Lakes. Moving from defensive tackle to linebacker will take some getting used to ... say, the first hit. But let's face it, whoever leads the county in tackles depends on who "breaks down" the game film, doesn't it?
Lee: Jason Krupinski, Ridgewood. Mostly, because the Rams' defense will be on the field a lot. There will be no rest for this inside linebacker.
BIGGEST UPSET: Cotey: Mitchell over River Ridge. The west side Super Bowl will be all that, and there are too many former River Ridge players wanting to prove something against former teammates.
Thalji: Hernando has the most favorable schedule in Class 3A, District 7. But on Oct. 26, the Leopards visit Des Little Stadium and will see any postseason hopes dashed by the Gulf Buccaneers. Yeah, you heard me!
Lee: Couldn't agree more with Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz getting the better of his former team. Sure, River Ridge is the better team, but the Mustangs will be more pumped up for this game than any other on their schedule.
SURPRISE TEAM: Cotey: Gulf. A quarterback coach Keith Newton loves, a few key transfers on defense, a backfield that could finally produce, and the defense can't possibly be as bad as it was last year. Can it?
Thalji: Pasco. The swagger is back in Dade City (unfortunately) but (fortunately) the speed and talent might be also. Against Hillsborough County, Pasco's talent and speed just didn't compare. Within the county's friendly confines, however, is another matter.
Lee: Zephyrhills. No matter who quarterbacks the Bulldogs, they will only go as far as Michael Moody's legs can carry them. An elusive runner, Moody makes Zephyrhills a threat to beat anybody on his good days.
SAC CHAMP WILL BE: Cotey: River Ridge. The Royal Knights just have too much to prove, from the coach to the quarterback, and with Mitchell on the scene the team will be on extra alert to protect its west side turf.
Thalji: All the contenders -- Land O'Lakes, Pasco, River Ridge, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills -- are similar. All have depth and speed in the backfields and on defense. All are strong at the quarterback position. And all five will (yeah, I'm crazy) make the playoffs. But the X-factor this season is the line. Advantage: River Ridge. Give it to the best offensive line in the county. But no one's going undefeated in the conference this season, especially not the future SAC champion.
Lee: Wesley Chapel. Skill players have paid their dues and will come up big in big games. Core group won a ton at Weightman Middle, lost a bunch as underclassmen and are hungry enough to taste winning again.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cotey: Moody. Just too fast and too talented not to make big plays every game, and with an easier schedule than last year, hard to imagine him being stopped.
Thalji: I want to pick Moody but it's time to gamble. In an upset, I'll go with Weatherford. If his receiving corps emerges, the sky is the limit for the gifted sophomore in an offense designed to showcase his passing talents.
Lee: Tyrone Tomlin, Wesley Chapel. Forget the school records, Tomlin will be the first Wildcat to lead the county in rushing. And, with his hands, he'll probably be the all-purpose yardage leader too.
CRAZIEST PREDICTION: Cotey: Thalji gets a raise.
Thalji: I get a raise.
Lee: Gulf, Hudson or Ridgewood climbs to the .500 plateau. Heck, one of them is bound to be mediocre one day. Could happen, you know. Maybe? Ya think? Oh well, just a thought.
CAN THE COUNTY SWEEP ALL FOUR PLAYOFF SPOTS: Cotey: The only team that can stop a Pasco sweep in 3A-7 and 4A-6 is Central. And I think it will, but Pasco teams will grab three playoff spots.
Thalji: No. Central will be too tough not to earn a district berth. But as I've said above, there are five county teams good enough to make the playoffs this season, so think of this another way: Will a county team be good enough to earn an at-large playoff bid? I'll go completely crazy here and say ... yes.
Lee: Nope. There will be one game where a Pasco County favorite falls to a rival county team it should beat. At the end of the season, players need at least one game to whine about.
BUCS IN THE SUPER BOWL? Cotey: Not unless a 9-7 team can make the playoffs.
Thalji: God I hope so. Just so I never have to listen to Steve Lee's mind-numbing "What's wrong with the Bucs?" spiel every freaking week.
Lee: Not with Tony Dungy's offensive offense. The offensive coordinator and quarterback change annually, but the plays remain the same. Nice Christian fellow, great family guy, defensive genius, clearly the best Bucs coach ever. But PPAL teams are less predictable than the Bucs.