Prep football midseason review

The 2019 Florida high school football regular season has reached the midway point. Here’s a closer look at how teams and players are faring from The Laker/Lutz News coverage area.

The Gaither Cowboys are off to a blistering 5-0 start and are ranked among the state’s top 10 teams in Class 6A.
(Courtesy of Gaither Athletics)

Perfect performers
At the midway mark, there are three programs sporting undefeated records — Academy at the Lakes, Gaither and Steinbrenner. What do each have in common? Potent offenses backed by efficient, veteran quarterback play.

  • Academy at the Lakes is averaging over 39 points per game. Junior quarterback Jalen Brown, a fourth-year starter, has completed 55% of throws for 785 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s also the team’s leading rusher (445 rush yards, six touchdowns).
  • Gaither is averaging over 38 points per game. Senior quarterback Tony Bartalo, a two-year starter, has completed 63% of throws for 1,320 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. He currently boasts multiple Division I offers.
  • Steinbrenner is averaging over 48 points per game. Senior quarterback Haden Carlson, a three-year starter, has completed 64% of throws for 783 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. He is a FIU (Florida International University) verbal commit.

Also notable: Wiregrass Ranch (5-1) has received stellar quarterback play from sophomore Rocco Becht, who’s posted a 56% completion rate, 936 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Land O’ Lakes Gators went 7-3 last year, but have struggled much of this season with a 1-5 mark thus far. (File)

Surprising struggles
Entering the 2019 season, Land O’ Lakes and Zephyrhills were expected to build off winning seasons and compete for a playoff spot in their respective classifications. But early season struggles has all dampened those hopes for both teams.

  • The Gators finished 7-3 last season — its first winning campaign since 2013. But, they’ve hobbled to a 0-5 start before finally securing a 44-0 win over Freedom last week. A team thin on seniors and an anemic running game has magnified the struggles.
  • One of the most consistent and dominant programs in Pasco County in recent years, the Bulldogs haven’t lost four or more games since 2012 and haven’t missed the postseason since 2013. But after losing 22 seniors from last year’s 11-1 squad, the Bulldogs have shown less bark this season. They lost their first three games, but have begun to show life with recent road wins against Wesley Chapel and Tarpon Springs, respectively.

New coaches finding their way

  • Sunlake has jumped to a respectable 3-3 mark under first-year head coach Trey Burdick, holding his own in assuming the role previously held by one of the county’s winningest coaches in Bill Browning. Under Burdick, the team is on pace to surpass the 4-6 mark the program has had each of the past two seasons. Better yet, Burdick, a longtime assistant under Browning, steered the Seahawks to a 34-23 victory over crosstown rival Land O’ Lakes in the annual ‘Butter Bowl’ showdown.
  • New Pasco head coach Jason Stokes already has led the struggling program to as many wins as it did all of last season. And while the 2-4 mark doesn’t seem all that great, the Pirates have battled hard in one possession losses to Sunlake and Springstead, respectively. With that, this year’s “9-Mile War” rivalry game against Zephyrhills should provide some more intrigue; Zephyrhills has won the past four contests. Stokes is no stranger to being a head coach in the Tampa Bay area — he steered Gaither to three playoff appearances between 2011 to 2016, and also had stints at Bloomingdale and Middleton, respectively.

Stat stuffers
Here’s a look at a top statistical performer from each high school in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:

Hillsborough County

  • Reggie Johnson II, Carrollwood Day, junior defensive end: 15 tackles, three sacks
  • Hussein Hafiz, Freedom, senior linebacker: 12 tackles (five for loss), three sacks
  • Deveon Knighton, Gaither, senior receiver: 28 receptions, 431 yards, six touchdowns
  • Deon Silas, Steinbrenner, junior tailback: 828 all-purpose yards, 11 touchdowns

Pasco County

  • Adrian Leverette, Academy at the Lakes, junior tailback: 379 scrimmage yards, five touchdowns
  • Jack Miller, Bishop McLaughlin, freshman receiver: 19 receptions, 502 yards, three touchdowns
  • Jehlani Warren, Cypress Creek, senior quarterback: 57% completions, 515 passing yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions
  • Ethan Forrester, Land O’ Lakes, senior quarterback, 39% completions, 790 passing yards, seven touchdowns, four interceptions; 336 rushing touchdowns, five touchdowns
  • Gabriel Barnes, Pasco, junior linebacker: 49 tackles, 20 hurries, three sacks
  • Mark Anderson, Sunlake, junior receiver: 475 all-purpose yards, three touchdowns
  • Brenden Maddox, Wesley Chapel, senior fullback/linebacker: 269 rush yards, four touchdowns; 45 tackles (six for loss)
  • Keith Walker, Wiregrass Ranch, senior receiver: 735 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns
  • Tyler Davis, Zephyrhills Christian, senior tailback: 616 rush yards, six touchdowns
  • Zyree Roundtree, junior tailback: 483 rush yards, four touchdowns

Schools in Laker/Lutz News coverage area (and their current 2019 records)

Hillsborough County:

  • Carrollwood Day School Patriots (0-5 overall)
  • Freedom High School Patriots (1-4)
  • Gaither High School Cowboys (5-0)
  • Steinbrenner High School Warriors (5-0)

Pasco County:

  • Academy at the Lakes Wildcats (eight-man) (4-0 overall)
  • Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Hurricanes (1-5)
  • Cypress Creek Middle High School Coyotes (2-3)
  • Land O’ Lakes High School Gators (1-5)
  • Pasco High School Pirates (2-4)
  • Sunlake High School Seahawks (3-3)
  • Wesley Chapel High School Wildcats (2-3)
  • Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls (5-1)
  • Zephyrhills Christian Academy Warriors (3-2)
  • Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs (2-3)

Published October 2, 2019

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