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May 25, 2013
We continue our whirlwind tour of the state - stopping in 30 places over 30 days - with the defending 8A champion Apopka Blue Darters.
APOPKA -- Should Apopka continue to develop the high-octane, quick-tempo play that led them to the 2012 8A state championship last year, the Blue Darters may just be the team to circle as the top contender in Florida's largest classification in 2013.
With the return of highly rated quarterback Zack Darlington, son of long-time coach Rick Darlington and implementer of his dad's revamped, pass heavy offense, the penny-shaking folks in northwest Orange County can expect a season filled with big plays and tons of points in 2013.
The Darters are going to score this year, and Darlington will get a ton of help as a number of playmakers return in the offensive backfield.
Running backs DaQuan Isom and Chandler Cox will provide a speed-power duo that will allow receivers Ray Ray Smith and James Krider to pressure even the state's top defensive backfields. There is a good amount of depth at wide receiver, so Apopka will be able to diversify its options even more than it did one season ago. Look for other contributors to step up.
Although a number of linemen graduate, the Blue Darters run the definition of a 'system offense', one with role players and a heavy reliance on skill position players, so finding the talent to fill the gaps should not be a problem with three months to go until the regular season.
The emergence of upcoming junior Martez Ivey, one of the nation's fastest-rising 2015 offensive line prospects, should quell any doubts about the potency of this offense.
While the offense cruised through the playoffs in 2012, the defense was a bit of an Achilles heel late in the season and could be an area for concern.
There is no shortage of talent in the defensive backfield with Rakeem Smith, Robert Thomas, Ben Bascom and JJ Simmons returning, but like the offense, there are big question marks along the line of scrimmage and at linebacker.
Look for Robert Greathouse and Shardell Blackshear to add depth - as both had plenty of playing time at defensive tackle last year.
Apopka is the type of team that typically hits its stride in the latter half of the season. This year, however, the Blue Darters will not have much time to get back into rhythm.
Two of the first three regular season games include national power Byrnes (Duncan, S.C) and long time rival Lake Brantley, and both of them are on the road.
Overall, there is reason to be excited for 2013 if you are an Apopka football fan. While a number of teams in Central Florida will challenge the Darters, including three high-caliber teams in district 8A-4, the defending state champions have the experience at all the right positions to make another run for the 8A state title.