As the 2013 high school football season fast approaches, The Laker/Lutz News sports staff is previewing the new districts marked up by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Our fourth installment in the series takes a look at Class 5A-District 7.
For past editions, go to LakerLutzNews.com.
Meet the teams
Anclote (6-5, 5-2 in 5A-6)
Gulf (0-10, 0-7 in 5A-6)
Hudson (3-7, 3-4 in 5A-6)
Ridgewood (1-9, 1-6 in 5A-6)
River Ridge (3-7, 1-6 in 6A-6)
Wesley Chapel (3-7, 2-5 in 5A-6)
ANCLOTE’S TITLE TO LOSE
The Anclote Sharks made the playoffs last season as a district runner-up behind region semifinalist Pasco, and are the only team in 5A-7 that had a winning record last season.
And the bad news for fellow opponents — all signs point to coach Matt Wicks’ team keeping its foot on the gas pedal.
Though they lost a few key offensive linemen, the Sharks return one of the top running backs in the North Suncoast in senior Willie Barrett.
Barrett rushed for 1,901 yards on 20 carries last season, and finished with 22 total touchdowns. He was also invited to compete in the Under Armour All-America underclassmen combine, which was at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg in January, and featured some of the best players in the country.
If Anclote can keep running the ball with Barrett and find a good replacement for quarterback John Forgione — who graduated in May after passing for 906 yards with 15 touchdowns his senior season — the Sharks will be very hard to knock off, and could cruise to their first district championship in program history.
KANTOR TURNS AROUND HUDSON
Former Gaither coach Mark Kantor came to Hudson without any real expectations other than to win a couple games here and there.
But after his first season, which saw the Cobras improve from an 0-10 record in 2011 to 3-7 last year, Kantor might just sneak Hudson into the playoffs in his second year.
The Cobras return a host of playmakers, including running back Noah Siegrist, who rushed for 656 yards and four touchdowns during his junior season. Under an experienced leader like Kantor, Siegrist could thrive in 2013.
Another big key for Hudson this season will be the development of quarterback Joey Caruso. As a sophomore, Caruso appeared in six games for the Cobras last season and passed for 266 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Though those are not Joe Montana-like numbers, Caruso will continue to get better, especially with one year under his belt in Kantor’s system.
WILDCATS GET STRONGER
With interest back in its program, Wesley Chapel has high hopes for the future.
The Wildcats struggled to draw players into its program under Ben Alford last season, and it showed as only 26 players were on the spring roster in 2012.
But optimism is shining bright this season under first-year coach Tico Hernandez, who took over for Alford after he left Wesley Chapel to take a director job in Iowa. And that could be a major impact for the young Wildcats.
Hernandez has instilled a new motto for his players — Building Men for Others — and that doesn’t just ring true in the community, but on the field, too.
Wesley Chapel lost 12 seniors to graduation after last season, but returns a host of leaders, including quarterback Ty Tanner, who passed for 445 yards with four touchdowns during his sophomore campaign.
Still, even with a new culture, there are bound to be some bumps in the road.
Question marks swirl around the Wildcats’ offense, which loses leading-rusher Daquan Caesear (671 yards on 125 carries) and top-receiver Jordan Primus (222 yards on 18 receptions). On defense, Wesley Chapel returns Nalu Fraticelli (108 total tackles) and Mark LaBarbera (67 total tackles), but loses Kudiel Gomez, who had 57 total tackles, including five for losses.
It won’t be easy going up against the likes of Anclote and nondistrict opponents in Pasco and Sunlake. But Wesley Chapel has enough quality players to get close to a playoff spot this season.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Willie Barrett, running back, Anclote
Barrett represents the Sharks’ biggest bite out of the backfield. The senior has one offer on the table from South Alabama, but expect Division I programs to line up at the door for his services if he is able to repeat or better his near-2,000-yard season in 2012.
Marcus Hayne, wide receiver, Wesley Chapel
Hayne has been one of the best players for the Wildcats’ athletic program, but on the hardwood, not the gridiron. The 6-foot-7 senior is giving football a try after helping lead the Wesley Chapel boys basketball team to its first district title in seven years. With that kind of experience, he will be an appreciated member of the locker room and possibly even an under-the-radar playmaker that will give Tanner a nice target down the field.
CAN’T MISS MATCH-UP
Wiregrass Ranch at Wesley Chapel, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m.
Yes, it’s a nondistrict game. Yes, Wiregrass Ranch has never defeated its cross-town foe in the regular season. And, yes, this could be one of the dark horse picks for the best game in Pasco County this year.
This game won’t have implications for the district championship, but a reloaded, hungry to win Wiregrass against a scrappy Wesley Chapel bunch will make for some big fireworks.
And if the spring meeting between these two teams in early June was any indication of what’s to come in November, you better buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a dogfight.
3. River Ridge
4. Wesley Chapel