Spring football practices are now underway for high schools across the state. Though the first games of the 2017 season remain several months away, Florida high schools are allowed a maximum of 20 practice sessions from April 24 to May 31, according to Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) guidelines.
Here’s a look at what schools in our coverage area in Hillsborough are working with:
Carrollwood Day School
Coach: Mark Jones (2nd year)
2016 record: 2-6
The Carrollwood Day School Patriots are hoping to rebound after a challenging season under first-year head coach Mark Jones. After a promising 64-0 victory over Avant Garde Academy in August, the Patriots suffered a six-game losing streak, then closed the season with a 34-7 win over St. Petersburg Catholic; the Patriots were outscored by a 240-33 margin during the losing streak.
Youthful last season, the Patriots may see significant improvements in 2017 following an offseason of polishing. Rising junior quarterback Chris Butash (448 passing yards, three touchdowns) could be in for a breakout season, especially with the return of top target Kyle Benedict (20 receptions, 225 yards). Meanwhile, defensive tackle Pierre Alsint (62 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks), the team’s top pass rusher, is also expected to return for his senior season.
Freedom High School
Coach: Floyd Graham (2nd year)
2016 record: 3-7
A relatively difficult district schedule and an ineffective offense led to a disappointing 3-7 season for the Freedom Patriots under first-year head coach Floyd Graham. In 2016, Freedom scored just five touchdowns all season, failing to score more than seven points in all but three games. An offensive resurgence this fall likewise could be tough with the exit of running back Trent Burnett (420 all-purpose yards) and wideout Carlos Ridicio (167 all-purpose yards). However, Graham has engineered a program turnaround before. While at Steinbrenner High from 2009-2011, Graham guided the Warriors from a 1-6 record, to 5-5 and 7-3 marks.
Gaither High School
Coach: Kirk Karsen (1st year)
2016 record: 5-5
Kirk Karsen, a former Sickles and Alonso defensive coordinator, takes over a Gaither program that loses quite a bit of offensive talent from last year’s 5-5 squad. Gone are senior tailback TJ Williams (1,253 all-purpose yards, 19 touchdowns) and quarterback Gavin DenBoer (1,218 yards, 10 touchdowns), who has transferred to Alonso High. The Cowboys also will miss a pair of Division I-caliber linebackers in Decalon Brooks (Florida State University) and Estefano Feliciano (Old Dominion University), a duo that combined for 195 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and nine sacks last season.
But, the cupboard isn’t completely bare.
The Cowboys still return leading receiver Cayden Jordan (22 receptions, 449 yards, one touchdown) and leading tackler Matthew Wood (112 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, three sacks). Another Gaither player to watch in 2017 is Donovan Jennings, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive lineman, who’s beginning to receive interest from multiple Division I programs.
Steinbrenner High School
Coach: Andres Perez-Reinaldo (6th year)
2016 record: 5-4
The Steinbrenner Warriors are looking for their third straight winning season in 2017— and it may be difficult.
The Warriors must mold a new starting quarterback, following Collin Wray’s defection to Clearwater High School. The program also needs to unearth additional weapons for the new signal caller, following the graduation of standouts Brett Bitter (43 catches, 652 yards, seven touchdowns) and Carson Kaleo (53 receptions, 502 yards).
Other significant losses include leading tackler Dane Coleman (103 tackles), outside linebacker/defensive end Devon Connors (56 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and kicker/punter Noah Ruggles (nine field goals made, 36.6 yards per punt).
Some potential impact Warriors players in 2017 include: tailback Josh Harris (355 yards, four touchdowns), receiver Brandon Garcia (28 receptions, 371 yards, three touchdowns), linebacker Charles Stephens (99 tackles) and defensive tackle Juan Batista (87 tackles).
Wharton High School
Coach: David Mitchell (13th year)
2016 record: 4-5
After a 4-5 setback last fall, the Wharton Wildcats look to regain its 2015 form, when the team finished 8-2. That starts with unseating district foes like Wiregrass Ranch and Gaither high schools — easier said than done. Even with the graduation of versatile athlete Randy Haynes Jr. (Ohio Wesleyan University) and productive defensive tackle Justin Visconti (Southeastern University), the Wildcats still should remain competitive in 2017. Expect significant contributions from powerful tailback Shannon King (5-foot-10, 210 pounds) and cornerback John Dixon (44 tackles, two interceptions).
Meanwhile, the Wildcats most prized prospect is Lavel Dumont, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive tackle transfer from Brooks Debartolo Collegiate High School. The three-star recruit has garnered several Division I offers, such as Marshall University and Western Kentucky University.
Published April 26, 2017