It’s about the midway point for the 2021 Florida high school football regular season.
Here’s a closer look at some of the developing storylines involving teams and players from schools in The Laker/Lutz News’ coverage area, within Hillsborough and Pasco counties:
Zephyrhills continues dominant ways
The Zephyrhills High Bulldogs have once again solidified the team’s place among the upper-echelon programs in Pasco County and the greater Tampa Bay area.
The Bulldogs are off to a 5-0 start, under sixth-year head coach Nick Carroll.
Outside of a narrow 16-12 road win over Lakeland Kathleen in its season opener, Zephyrhills’ other victories have been lopsided affairs over Hernando (43-2 win), Fivay (42-0 win), Wesley Chapel (34-9 win) and Weeki Wachee (48-0 win), respectively.
The Bulldogs have exhibited strong play in all three facets of the game — offense, defense and special teams.
Momentum-shifting takeaways also have been a calling card, as the Bulldogs have nine fumble recoveries and five interceptions to date.
Among the team standouts are senior tailback Jaylin Thomas, senior linebacker Theotis Smith and senior defensive end Maguire Neal, among others.
Zephyrhills is out to improve on its 8-3 mark from last season, which included a string of eight consecutive wins.
Land O’ Lakes enjoying turnaround season
The Land O’ Lakes High Gators strategically opted to go independent this year, rather than play a large-school Class 7A slate.
The decision was made, in part, to give a youthful roster chock-full of freshmen and sophomores more opportunities to have success and compete game-to-game, rather than become discouraged by a daunting large-school schedule.
The move is paying dividends, as the Gators are off to a 5-0 start under second-year head coach Trac Baughn, a longtime college and high school coach mostly throughout Mississippi.
The Gators haven’t been undefeated this far into a season since 2013, when the team got off to a 6-0 start under then-coach Brian Wachtel.
This season has included a nail-biting 28-26 road victory last month over Sunlake High in the annual ‘Butter Bowl’ rivalry game — something the Gators program hadn’t done since 2018.
One of the many bright spots has been sophomore quarterback Kyle Horvath, who’s completing nearly 62% of his throws for 1,023 yards, 16 total touchdowns and no interceptions.
Also of note: Land O’ Lakes junior varsity squad is off to a similarly impressive 5-0 campaign.
Gaither better than record shows
The Gaither High Cowboys entered the 2021 campaign with quite lofty expectations.
After all, last season’s team won 10 straight games before falling to Lake Minneola High in the Class 6A regional final.
And many key contributors from that banner squad returned this year, including a slew of NCAA Division I FBS recruits and national ranked prospects like defensive tackle Tawfiq Thomas, defensive end Mario Eugenio, and inside linebacker Kobe McCloud.
Not to mention the impact transfer of South Carolina high school quarterback Brooks Bentley, who has Division I FCS offers and comes from a legacy football family of three brothers who played college football.
But the Cowboys have somewhat stumbled out of the gate, now staring at a pedestrian 3-3 mark.
Their slate has been anything but a cakewalk, however, with multiple close defeats against fellow area powerhouses in Armwood (22-19 loss), Tampa Bay Tech (28-14 loss) and Mitchell (17-14 overtime loss) high schools.
The Cowboys should have a much more manageable schedule down the stretch, against the likes of Steinbrenner, Sickles, Leto and Hillsborough high schools, respectively.
These teams need a rebound
As some local teams have endured surprising — or expected — achievements on the gridiron, other programs are still trying to find their footing entering the second half of the season, be it tough scheduling or otherwise ineffective play.
These squads include Bishop McLaughlin (0-3), Freedom (1-5) Pasco (0-5), Sunlake (1-5), and Steinbrenner (2-4) high schools.
Pasco has had arguably the most challenging go, as they’ve yet to score a point this season, being outmatched by a 156-0 margin.
Moreover, Pasco’s season has faced more turmoil.
Due to mounting injuries, it forfeited its Oct. 1 contest against Ocala Vanguard High and canceled its Oct. 8 game versus Lake Gibson High.
The cancellation against a district foe (Vanguard) means the Pirates will now have to go independent for the remainder of the season, per rules from the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA).
COVID-19 still impacting play
The COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head in the early portions of the 2021 prep football season, with a number of cancellations and postponements across the Tampa Bay area and state as a whole.
Local programs impacted include:
- Wiregrass Ranch High was unable to play its first two football games of the season because of coronavirus outbreaks from their would-be opponents. It was a flipped script from 2020, when the Bulls missed out on the playoffs after its last game was canceled due to virus issues within its own program.
- Wharton High was forced to cancel multiple games amid coronavirus concerns, be it contract tracing or positive tests, within its own program. This included a highly anticipated matchup against nationally ranked Tampa Jesuit in early September.
High school football programs in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
- Carrollwood Day School Patriots (4-2)
- Freedom High School Patriots (1-5)
- Gaither High School Cowboys (3-3)
- Steinbrenner High School Warriors (2-4)
- Wharton High School Wildcats (4-0)
- Academy at the Lakes Wildcats (1-4)
- Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School Hurricanes (0-3)
- Cypress Creek High School Coyotes (2-3)
- Land O’ Lakes High School Gators (5-0)
- Pasco High School Pirates (0-5)
- Sunlake High School Seahawks (1-5)
- Wesley Chapel High School Wildcats (3-1)
- Wiregrass Ranch High School Bulls (3-1)
- Zephyrhills High School Bulldogs (5-0)
- Zephyrhills Christian Academy Warriors (4-1)
Published October 06, 2021