As we continue our look at North Central Florida, we break down the Class 4A-1A districts involving North Central Florida teams.
Class 4A-4 is a new district in 2011, and the Bradford Tornadoes could be the favorite. Coach Derek Chippoletti's team just missed out on the playoffs in 2010 with a five point loss at Fort White in the final game of the season. Only eight players graduated from the Tornadoes 2010 team, and should be strong on the offensive line and defensive front seven. Special teams and a lack of depth could be issues for Bradford however. The district is managable as well, with Mount Dora and South Sumter the main competition.
Also new to the district is the South Sumter Raiders, who were once a perennial playoff team. But the Raiders struggled the last two seasons, finishing 2-8 in 2010. Coach Inman Sherman returns a solid defense, but this South Sumter team should win more games as they are more experienced than last season.
Class 3A-3 has only two teams, so both will qualify for the playoffs. The Trinity Catholic Celtics must replace six starters on offense and break in a new quarterback from a team that was 14-0 and Class 2B state champions in 2010. The Celtics won 56-55 in triple overtime against Davie University School in one of the most exciting state championship games in FHSAA finals history. It was the second state title and first under coach John Brantley, who has turned out Division I quarterbacks in John Brantley III (Florida) and Rob Henry (Purdue) in his tenure as an assistant and head coach at Trinity Catholic. Seniors Austin McClellan and Jalen Gooden[ will get most of the running back work, and Reid Carlton will move up from the JV to be the starting varsity signal-caller. Nine starters return on defense, led by senior defensive end Jonathon General, who registered 12 sacks a year ago. It's a pretty challenging slate again for the Celtics, opening up at home against county rival North Marion.
Fort White is the other team in this district. With Williston becoming independent, the Indians joined Trinity Catholic as the only two teams in 3A-3, meaning both are already in the postseason. Demetric Jackson's team was 7-4 and a playoff team in 2010, but will have to improve on the lines and make up for a lack of experience in 2011. Sophomore Andrew Baker returns as the team's quarterback.
Class 2A-2 is a new six-team district in what is now being called the "urban" Class 2A. Two rivals from Northwest Gainesville, the Oak Hall Eagles and St. Francis Wolves will continue in the same district, along with Eagle's View, St. Johns Country Day, University Christian and St. Joseph. Oak Hall finished 3-7 in 2010 under coach Scott McDaniel, even though rising senior quarterback Jared Armstrong threw for for more than 1,600 yards. Senior running back Leon Cummings rushed and caught over 1,000 yards total last season as well. The Eagles always have to worry about size on the lines, and McDaniel hopes for improvement there in 2011.
St. Francis believes this is the year they make their first postseason appearance. After an 0-5 start in 2010, coach Matt Olesnevich led the team to 3 wins in the last five games to finish his first season at the school 3-7. Olesnevich came to St. Francis from Tallahassee John Paul II, who the Wolves will host on September 8. For the first time also in the program's history, there is some Division I talent to go around as well.
The only North Central team in Class 2A-3 is the St. Johns Lutheran Saints. In this seven team district, St. Johns Lutheran most likely will be playing for second place between 3-time Class 1B runner up Warner Christian. St. Johns Lutheran finished 9-2 in 2010, and returns to the FHSAA after playing the last few years in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. Senior running back Calib Alexander is the Saints player to watch, rushing for almost 1,600 yards and 26 TD's in only eight games last season. Vero Beach St. Edwards and Deltona Trinity Christian will also give competition to the Saints for the playoffs in 2011.
Class 1A is filled with North Central Florida teams. The Branford Buccaneers move into 1A-5 after being an independent for most of the early 2000's. Coach Jason Bond comes over from Moore Haven to coach Branford, who finished 6-4 in 2010. He brings a new multiple formation spread offense. How quickly the Buccaneers learn that will be key to their success this season. Branford faces a tough district with 2010 playoff teams Hamilton County, Jefferson County and Lafayette looming
Speaking of the Hamilton County Trojans, they enter 2011 coming off their most successful season in 11 years that included a district championship. Coach Mike Pittman won four straight state titles at Suwannee in the late 80's and has done a great job bringing the Hamilton County program back to the postseason. But Pittman must replace every skill position player except one, and that will also be tough with Jefferson County and Lafayette in the district.
The Lafayette Hornets enter this new district as a playoff regular. 2010 brought a 10-2 season and another playoff berth under Joey Pearson, but Lafayette lost a tough game to Jefferson County and has yet to get to the promised land. Senior quarterback Garrett Dubose returns after missing most of last season with a broken hand. The offense should be solid, but for Lafayette to get by Jefferson County and with the district they will have to improve defensively.
Class 1A-6, part of the new "rural" class, also contains plenty of teams from North Central Florida. After being an independent for most of the last decade, the Bell Bulldogs join the new 5 team district. Bell finished 3-7 a year ago under coach Roy Harden. The Bulldogs should be better this season but will have to worry about depth issues.
Al Cooksey hopes to improve on a 1-9 record in 2010 with his Bronson Eagles. This district is wide open with Bell, Hawthorne, Hilliard and Trenton also coming into 1A-6. The Eagles should be better offensively in 2011, and have experience returning at quarterback, running back and offensive line.
The only returning playoff team in this district from 2010 is the Hawthorne Hornets. In coach James Sims first season the Hornets finished 7-3, losing 41-0 to Jefferson County in the first round. Hawthorne may be the favorite in this district in 2011. Senior linebacker Marcus Gordon is a 2-time All-State performer, with 75 tackles and 5 interceptions in 2010. Junior Montrell Bryant is explosive, with three punt returns for touchdowns and 12 TD's of 60 yards or more at Hawthorne. The schedule is also beefed up with three 4A opponents to begin the season and games against North Florida Christian and Providence.
Another area team with a new coach is the Trenton Tigers. Chris Baker moved back to Newberry to become the head coach there, and Andrew Thomas comes over from Dixie County to take the reins of the Tigers. Trenton finished 7-3 in 2010, but came in third in the district behind Hamilton County and The Villages. The Tigers have experience at quarterback and running back but will be young up front.
There's nowhere to go but up for the Chiefland Indians. Jim O'Neal led Chiefland to the 2A state title in 1997, but finished 0-10 in 2010 in the first season of his second tenure as head coach of the Indians. Youth will once again be an issue, with only 2 seniors returning and the rest of the team made up of freshman and sophomores. Another issue is the tough district, with Union County, Newberry and Dixie County on the 1A-5 schedule.
After making the playoffs in 2009, the Dixie County Bears took a step back in 2010, finishing out of the postseason with a 6-4 record. Coach Brent Wilkerson also loses another fine running back, Mike West, who rushed for almost 1800 yards and 18 TD's last season. Javonta Jones should be the Bears new running back, but he will be running behind an offensive line that is questionable at best.
A familiar face has returned to be the new head coach of the Newberry Panthers. Former assistant coach Chris Baker left Trenton to come back and replace his mentor Tommy Keeler, who has moved on to Santa Fe. The two rivals as always will meet in the opening week. Newberry advance to the 2B state championship game in 2007, and had been a perennial playoff team but struggled to a 2-8 record in Keeler's final season. Newberry will have to get used to a new coach and new staff, but the transition shouldn't be that rough as Baker knows the program up and down. The district is also winnable, with Union County and Dixie County most likely the biggest competition.
Coach Ronnie Pruitt hopes to take the Union County Tigers back to the promised land in 2011. Ronnie's brother Robby Pruitt took Union County to three straight state titles from 1994-96. But in Ronnie's first season, the Tigers struggled to a 5-5 record and finished out of the playoffs. Coach Pruitt believes this team has a difference approach and work ethic and is more together than last year's group. Union County did lose 13 starters but running backs Josh Tyson and Prince Alexander should help the rushing attack and senior linebacker Kendall Wright could be an all-state selection. Union County hopes Orlando is in its future in 2011.
And finally in Class 1A-8, The Villages Buffalo comes off one of it's most successful seasons in school history, finishing 9-2 with a playoff berth in 2010. The Buffaloes will be very young this season, and have experience on offense but must improve up front on both lines. This district is also doable, as Crescent City and Pierson Taylor have struggled and Wildwood may be The Villages biggest competition.
For the Wildwood Wildcats, this new district gives them an excellent chance to win a district title. Wildwood finished 6-4 and out of the playoffs in 2010, but return ten players on offense for coach Matt LaBranche this season. Junior quarterback Sean Hensley combined for over 1600 total yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Senior linebacker Elliot West led the way with 102 tackles, with plenty of other veterans leading the Wildwood defense.
Marty Pallman is a broadcaster who covers high school football in the North-central area of Florida.,