Spring football practices are underway for Hillsborough County schools in our coverage area. Programs such as Gaither High and Freedom High are hoping for turnarounds, while Steinbrenner and Wharton high schools are trying to build off last season’s successes. Carrollwood Day School fits the bill as a possible team on the rise for 2016.
Carrollwood Day School
Coach: Lane McLaughlin (10th year)
2015 record: 7-4
Carrollwood Day School prep fans should be excited about the potential for an entertaining season, and not just because the private school’s football team will be playing at a brand-new athletic complex in 2016. A majority of Carrollwood’s young playmakers on offense return, including incumbent quarterback Raymond Woodie Jr., leading rusher Yahsin Wooten (740 yards, 8 TDs) and leading receiver Markeis Colvin (20 receptions, 501 yards, 4 TDs.) The Patriots also return their top two tacklers from last season in linebackers Ryan Verscharen and Stephen Walters, who will be seniors. Replacing the production of two sack artists in Zac Watson-Parcells and Corey Shamley will be key to take a step forward in 2016.
Freedom High School
Coach: Floyd Graham (1st year)
2015 record: 3-7
It’s likely a rebuilding year for new Freedom coach Floyd Graham, who was officially hired on April 1. The good news for those that closely follow Freedom’s program is it’s something Graham should be able to handle, considering he created football programs from scratch at both Newsome and Steinbrenner high schools. However, Graham will have some uphill battles to climb in year one. Being hired in April doesn’t give him much time to implement his coaching philosophy, and develop a rapport with both players and assistant coaches. Also, the team is losing a plethora of seniors from 2015, including do-it-all playmaker Nasir Core.
Gaither High School
Coach: Jason Stokes (6th year)
2015 record: 4-6
In order to improve in 2016, the Cowboys must make some strides on the offensive side of the ball. The team scored nine points or fewer in six out of their 10 games. Luckily for Coach Stokes, bellcow running back Alex Rodriguez returns. Getting quarterback Gavin Denboer to cut down on his interceptions (10) is a must. The Cowboys defense should be able to hold its own, with the return of linebacker Decalon Brooks, last year’s leading tackler (114). The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Brooks, the son of Tampa Bay Buccaneers legend Derrick Brooks, is widely viewed as one of the top players in all of Tampa. The consensus three-star recruit already has Division I scholarship offers from Florida International University, Florida State University, University of Illinois and University of South Florida.
Steinbrenner High School
Coach: Andres Perez-Reinaldo (5th year)
2015 record: 9-2
The Warriors finally had a breakout season in 2015 under the tutelage of head coach Andres Perez-Reinaldo. Thanks to a potent offense and an at-times smothering defense, Steinbrenner’s only two setbacks last season were against dynasty prep programs in Manatee (Bradenton) High and Dr. Phillips (Orlando) High. On offense, quarterback Collin Wray (56 percent completion, 1,634 yards) returns, as do two of his favorite targets in Brett Bitter (35 receptions, 600 yards) and Carson Kaleo (34 receptions, 277 yards). Replacing the production of 1,000-yard rusher Jayquese Dantley is something the team will need to address. On defense, Coach Perez-Reinaldo and his staff must find some players that can carry the load, since the Warriors lose three leading tacklers in Tyler Mirabella, Patrick Lukert and Zack Deitz.
Wharton High School
Coach: David Mitchell (12th year)
2015 record: 8-2
The Wildcats enjoyed a successful 2015 campaign, with sizable victories over the likes of King High, Gaither High, Wiregrass Ranch and Leto High. However, it won’t be easy to replicate the scoring outputs (at least 30 points in seven games) from 2015. Coach Mitchell will have to replace quarterback Bryce Martin, leading rusher Miles Williams (1,102 yards, 10 TDs) and leading receiver Devontres Dukes (18 receptions, 360 yards) from last year’s squad. They also lost defensive stalwarts in linebacker Hayden Parks (75 tackles) and defensive lineman Godey Coleus (six sacks). One possible breakout candidate to watch is two-way player Shannon King, who will be a junior. The powerful 5-foot-10, 210-pounder rushed for nearly 400 yards, adding 6.9 yards per carry.
Published May 4, 2016