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May 19, 2013

Manatee reloads for another run

We continue our 30 stops in 30 days with one of the top football programs in Florida - the Manatee Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes have won five state titles under Hall of Fame coach Joe Kinnan since 1983 and they are 53-5 with 18 post season games the past four years. Those five losses were to two national champions and three state champions.

Last year, Manatee was ranked #1 in the nation, but the Hurricanes (13-1) lost to eventual 7A state champion St. Thomas Aquinas in the state semifinals.

The loss snapped a 25-game winning streak and prevented Manatee from repeating as state champs. In 2011, the Hurricanes defeated Jacksonville First Coast, 40-0, to win the 7A state title.

Manatee is reloading for another run. They lost some key contributors but the talent is still there.

The biggest shoes to fill this season will be at quarterback where the 'Canes must replace two-time 7A Player of the Year Cord Sandberg (Mississippi State). Sandberg threw for 2,674 yards and 35 touchdowns last season. He was 39-4 in his career as a starter.

Despite the loss of Sandberg, Manatee still returns eight players on offense, including running back Trevon Walters (1,119 yards rushing, 16 TDs), wide receiver Brodrick Yancy (30 receptions, 5 TDs) and wide receiver Marquel Hines, who earned second team all-state honors after leading the team with 45 catches for 741 yards. He also finished second on the team with nine touchdown receptions.

Tackle Jake Stickler (6'6, 280) will anchor the offensive line.

"We have an outstanding, experienced offensive line with tremendous skilled players at wide receiver and running back," said Kinnan, who has a record of 280-70 entering his 29th season. "The defense has a lot of young athletes who have ability but lack experience."

Defense will be the biggest concern, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.

With only two returning starters, Manatee will build around Florida State commit DeMarcus Christmas, a second team all-state selection last year. The 6'4, 285-pound defensive tackle had 70 tackles last season, including 20 for a loss.

The Hurricanes also must replace first team all-state defensive lineman Marquis Dawsey, free safety Willie Smith (FIU), defensive end Blake Keller (UCF) and defensive tackle Derrick Calloway (USF).

Kinnan has added defending 3A champion University to the 2013 schedule, along with out-of-state gridiron powers Gilman (Baltimore, MD) and Friendship Collegiate Academy (Washington, DC).

"We must start fast because of our very ambitious schedule," he noted.

The Hurricanes, who will host defending 7A Runner-up Tallahassee Lincoln this Friday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m., look to finish the month strong.

"We have had an excellent spring," said Kinnan. "We are making progress."

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