At the beginning of August, FlaVarsity.com sat down and evaluated our 'Top 25' by looking at teams to keep an eye on. Over the next few days - we'll re-evaluate how we did. Who did we miss on and who did we see good things from. The next in the series is Class 7A.
The first five
No 1 - Manatee - Well, who didn't pick Manatee as their top team? Rivals -that's who. That Dallas Jackson must have a Florida bias. Or maybe he saw what no one else could see - except Joe Kinnan.
Kinnan told me the week they lost to Saint Thomas Aquinas - that the Hurricanes lacked depth at linebacker and in the secondary. Now - everyone knew this, but the front four for Manatee was simply playing too well.
Not too well - so it seemed - to take a half off. Manatee found themselves on the short end of a 14-3 halftime score to the Raiders and were down 21-3 before you knew it. Once again Cord Sandberg lost a game to a Florida opponent named St. Thomas Aquinas. It's only happened twice in his career.
The pre-season lovefest that was Manatee was based on balance and defense. We all thought the Canes offense had some question marks, but the defense was flat-out loaded. Demarcus Christmas, Blake Keller, Derrick Calloway and Marquis Dawsey had college scouts making reservations at the local Best Western. Then there was all-purpose back Anthony Lauro.
The first to go was Lauro - and that didn't seem to hurt the offense too much. But when DB Willie Smith went down with an ACL tear - that exposed a whole new realm. If someone (and that was a big if) could get time - they might be able to pick apart an out-manned secondary.
That 'someone' was St. Thomas Aquinas.
No. 6 - St. Thomas Aquinas
We had them in the top 10 - and as it turns out that's about where the Raiders would finish.
The biggest question going into 2012 was QB and John O'Korn did little to warrant a change. In fact, the Raiders' two losses came with the offense not making the big mistake. In one it was a special teams melt-down and in the other - well, let's just say the refs may have missed a call or two.
St. Thomas Aquinas quietly dropped out of the rankings for a few weeks when the Raiders were 3-2, but the old adage is - "it's not how you drive - it's where you park."
Parking in the George Smith Athletic Parking facility is reserved for winnners.
No. 9 - Lincoln
Again, right where we thought they'd be. We picked Lincoln early to be the team to beat in 7A north - along with a few others, but the Trojans were our favorite.
Lincoln did nothing to dispel that thought - and managed to get to Orlando - but St. Thomas Aquinas picked apart a weakened secondary and the Trojans never challenged an onslaught in the fourth quarter.
Still, Lincoln around the No. 9 spot was a good fit.
- No. 11 - Dwyer
This one we never saw coming. After finally getting that 'first' win over Glades Central, the Panthers seemed to be clicking - until facing off with Atlantic. Dwyer didn't have that 'knockout' punch capability that the Panthers had in the past. the QB issue proved to be too much and a second-round exit from the post-season was duly noted.
Still, this is a very talented young team that may be right back in the thick of things in 2013.
- No. 13 - First Coast
What Lincoln was last year, First Coast became this year. An unbeaten team that unceremoniously stayed home after the first round of the post-season.
Yes, the Bucs lost some talent from the 2011 state runner-up team - but that defense was lights out and we thought they'd make a very long run in the post-season. One bad game befelled the boys from Oceanway.
The question is - will the Bucs ever get it back? Look for First Coast to move up to 8A. Until First Coast can give super athlete De'Andre Johnson a decent running attack and offensive line, the sling-and-shoot mentality may be here to stay.
Graduating a very tough defense and replacing those guys is another task unto itself.
And then some
- No. 15 - Fort Pierce Central
We really expected the Cobras to make that 'last stand' against Manatee. In 2011, the Cobras went to Hawkins Stadium and played toe-to-toe with the eventual champs - but not this year. It was a 51-0 embarrassment at Lockwood Stadium. One that will leave a bad taste in the mouths of Cobra fans.
We ranked the Cobras where we did due to a perceived soft schedule. It's not their fault, but only one real game (Vero Beach) where FPC was seriously tested did not help prepare them for Manatee.
- No. 17 - Lakeland
You sort of have to include Lakeland in any pre-season conversations. But this Lakeland team was 'y-o-u ng.
And it showed.
Lakeland struggled to put away Bartow, George Jenkins and a couple of Miami schools that normally serve as JV warm-up fodder. Couple that with an offense that seemed to disappear at the most inopportune times.
Still, Bill Castle is the dean among coaches in the area and deserves the respect. We just flat-out whiffed on this one.
The ones that got away
My friend who coaches with Osceola told me they'd be 'ok' and to watch out. Turns out they were 'more' than OK. I saw a few of them at the IMG 7-on-7 tourney and was impressed. Should have ranked them earlier - but seeing is believing.
Just like Osceola, the Lions quietly went 11-1 before bowing to Lincoln on a defensive meltdown late. Very good program that flies under the radar of the other Seminole County programs and shouldn't. Look for big things from Oviedo in the future.