FlaVarsity Football Analyst John Patton (follow him @FVStaff on Twitter) and staff continue to break down the FlaVarsity Top 25 Pre-season poll. Here's our No. 1.
WHO: Bradenton Manatee Hurricanes
2011 REWIND: Manatee had an interesting run to the FHSAA Class 7A state championship in 2011. The Hurricanes opened the season 1-2, losing 24-17 in double overtime at Olney (Md.) Our Lady of Good Counsel and the opener and falling 22-16 to Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep in Week 3 of a game MHS led in the third quarter. After that, Manatee never lost again, with a 3-point victory at Palmetto on Oct. 28 being the only regular-season game that included any nervous pacing. The playoffs were bookended by easy victories (55-2 against Largo Pinellas Park and a 40-0 trouncing of Jacksonville First Coast for the title), but the three games in between saw the Hurricanes respond to being pushed. There, they defeated Venice, Fort Pierce Central and Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer by an average score of 22-15.
TOUGH TO BELIEVE: Nineteen different players scored for Manatee in 2011. Also, 12 different Hurricanes either intercepted a pass or recovered a fumble.
BY THE NUMBERS: As a junior, quarterback Cord Sandberg completed a somewhat remarkable 72.6-percent of his pass attempts. The 4-star Mississippi State commitment finished the year 183-of-252 for 2,187 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
PLAYERS TO WATCH : Sandberg, Sr. DT Derrick Calloway, Sr. DE Blake Keller, Sr. RB/WR Anthony Lauro, Sr. DE Marquis Dawsey, Sr. WR Ja'Juan Pollack, Sr. DB Willie Smith, Sr. OL Thor Miller, Jr. DT Demarcus Christmas, Jr. OL Jake Stickler, Jr. OG Michael Galati
OUTLOOK: Seven offensive and five defensive starters return for Manatee, arguably the nation's best team.
An offense that averaged 36.3 points-a-game last year could be even stronger in 2012. In Sandberg, MHS has one of the state's premier dual-threat quarterbacks, and he has plenty of support.
Lauro is a 3-star prospect who finished his junior season with 631 rushing yards (second to Sandberg's 813) and 607 receiving yards on a team-high 51 receptions.
While the offense should be among the state's best, perhaps the biggest strength on the team is its defensive line.
Anchored by Calloway, a 4-star prospect who lists Arkansas, Texas Tech and USC as his leaders over Miami, Ohio State, Florida and others, the front four could be made up entirely of future Division I signees (3-star defensive end Keller already has committed to Central Florida).
Dawsey, Keller, Calloway and Christmas combined for 38 sacks a year ago and could improve on that number this season. The lone junior of the bunch, Christmas already claims offers from Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, South Carolina and South Florida.
No doubt that foursome will be of great assistance to an inexperienced linebacking corps that will need to step up as the season progresses.
FIVE GAMES OF FOCUS: Miramar (9/2), Miami Central (9/14), Weston Cypress Bay (10/12), @Venice (10/19), Palmetto (10/26)
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We will continue the countdown up until the opening day (August 30). Here's some previous stories related to the FlaVarsity Pre-season Top 25
href="http://flavarsity.rivals.com/content.asp?SID=957&CID=1399439" target ="blank">Lincoln at No. 9