FlaVarsity.com has compiled a team of regional experts across the state of Florida. We will introduce each expert during the summer, and we started off last week with Jacksonville expert Turner Street.
Our Panhandle expert is FlaVarsity.com publisher Mike Singer. Mike lives in the Tampa Bay area, but always keeps an eye on high school football in the Panhandle, and feels it's a region that's often overlooked. Here's a quick bio on Mike.
Mike Singer graduated from Dunedin High School in the Tampa Bay/Clearwater area and has lived in the area ever since. He started working for Rivals.com in March of 2013 serving as the recruiting analyst for Runningthebulls.com and as a recruiting contributor for FlaVarsity.com. He switched gears to become the recruiting analyst for CardinalSports.com in December of 2013, and became the publisher of FlaVarsity.com in May of 2014. Mike has a passion for high school football in the state of Florida and loves giving exposure to high school teams and players across the state.
To get ready for high school football this fall, we asked Singer several questions about what to watch for in his area.
Who is the top team in your area and why?
MS: Niceville is the team to beat in the Panhandle. They return six starters on offense and defense with a couple of transfers that should provide quality depth immediately. Additionally, Shi'kim Coward should be back at running back as he's returning from an ACL injury with two young, talented tailbacks providing depth behind him. Toss in the leadership of Coach Hicks who always produces a winning program, Niceville should contend in 7A once again in 2014.
Others to watch:
Escambia: They steamed rolled Lincoln HS in the Spring. If speed kills, Escambia will be brought up on several homicide charges this year.
Leon: Is this the year Leon becomes the top high school in Tallahassee?
Pace: They return Quaide Weimerskirch, the leading running back in the state of Florida, and a new quarterback to lead the offense.
Tate: A team ready to challenge Niceville, led by rising junior Sawyer Smith who is a dynamic quarterback.
Godby: Well, they are Godby.. The Cougars will be on the rebound after a 2013 campaign that ended much sooner than they expected.
Who is a team that might not be getting enough attention in your area that you think will breakout this season and why?
MS: Besides Escambia, Crestview has a young, fast, and talented defense. They are in year two of the coach Hatten system and returning many skill players. The losses of Emmanuel Reed, who transferred to Sebastian River, and coach Kevin Pettis (former coach of Crestview) will hurt them some, but will be replaced by a host of young hungry Bulldogs.
Who is the top 2015 prospect in your region? 2016?
MS: We're sliding Tallahassee into the Panhandle coverage, so it's a toss up for me between Lincoln wide receiver John Burt and Florida High quarterback Ronnie Harrison. Burt is obviously a stud and the 7th ranked receiver in the country, but Harrison is just so important to his high school team. He plays quarterback for Florida High and is an outstanding duel threat passer. He's going to play at the next level as a cornerback, but even has an offer from USF at quarterback. He's been committed to North Carolina for almost a year now, but Alabama is making a serious push at Harrison.
For the 2016 class, you have to take a look at the two Niceville rising juniors - Elijah Stove and Romeo Finley. I'll give the edge to Stove, and he's probably my favorite 2016 prospect in the state. He was just so big last year for Niceville in the playoffs and he and Tyre McCants stepped up in the Eagles' high flying offense when Shi'kim Coward went down. Stove has the ability to be a top flight outside or slot receiver, and is also a solid cornerback.
What will be the key storylines to watch in your area this fall?
MS: Two things, how much of an impact will the Niceville vs Clay-Chalkville (AL) on ESPNU to open the season will have on Panhandle Football as a whole (perception, recruiting, etc)? The Panhandle often doesn't get the respect it deserves, so a solid Niceville showing might help earn what they deserve.
Also, what team will emerge and make a run that no one is expecting? Last year it was Choctaw, who will it be this year?