ANALYSIS: Plant has won two State Titles in the last three years. Armwood is considered one of the state's top programs year in, year out. Largo has been to the state semi's the last two years and Tampa Catholic is very dangerous. Hillsborough, Tampa Bay Tech, and Alonso are knocking on the door.
TOP 5 TEAMS
1. PLANT: Plant has had back to back national recruits at the QB spot in Robert Marve and Aaron Murray, now it is Phillip Ely who takes over after filling in admirably for Murray last year when he was injured. The program is flush with talent and will once again be in the mix for a state title.
Ely steps in and has some experience under his belt. The talented rising junior has the accuracy and arm to make this three in a row at the QB spot. The starting OL returns which is led by massive Andre Mondor and Jon Vega. It is clearly one of the top units in the state. WR DeAndre Queen is a play-maker and should be the top target. Allen Sampson is a big play threat. T.J. Glover should handle most of the carries, but elite transfer James Wilder adds a new dimension to the attack. He could play some RB or TE for the Panthers.
The heart and soul of the defense is Mike Mirabella. The LB flows to the ball and makes plays. He is one of the top LB's in the state. Wilder will make a big impact on this side of the ball as well. DE Anthony Harrell will supply the pressure which should allow Javonte Martin and Eric Dungy to patrol the secondary and make plays.
Plant's offense should not miss a beat and this defense is always upper tier. They are an extremely dangerous team that will be in the mix to get to Orlando.
2. ARMWOOD: Armwood was supposed to ride an outstanding defense to the state title in 2008, but were ousted in the Regional Finals. They lose a ton of talent, but this is Armwood, they re-load and have some young talent ready to step up.
Josh Grady is the new QB and expectations are high for the Freedom transfer. He has good size and athleticism and should allow the Hawks to be balanced on offense. Sophomore RB Matt Jones has all the makings up being an elite talent. RB Sherman Jessie and WR Richard Jules are experienced players who will be relied on. The OL is typically a strength, it may take some time, but this unit will be knocking people around my mid-season.
DL Theodore Jackson is a terror. He has an explosive first step and should be one of the state's most feared rushers. Brandon Hickman is the top returning LB. The secondary will be young, but fast and talented, Khiry McQuay is a top transfer.
Armwood should be a different team come playoff time, they need some time to break in some new players, but the system is in place to succeed. By November the young pups will have a season behind them and provided they remain healthy, this team can get deep in the playoffs.
3. HILLSBOROUGH: Only 6-4 in 2008, the Terriers have high hopes in 2009. A host of talent returns and have a bunch of new talent that has transfered in.
QB Tarean Austin returns and the talented rising senior has all the tools but needs to be more consistent. He has a bevy of BCS offers and three years of starting experience. His two favorite weapons should be Terrence Mitchell and Charles Lovett. Both can stretch the field with speed and are dynamic with the ball in their hands. Rodney Johnson and Jamie Knott should man the RB spot and both bring athleticism, experience, and speed to the spot.
The defense is where the transfers really need to help. Mitchell will be a stud in the secondary and a pair of LB's Michael Scaglione and Chris Oliver can be counted on, but help is needed.
This is a legit state championship sleeper type team. We will have to see how the newbies fit into the plan, but there are offensive weapons here that few teams have. They are in Armwood's district which does not leave a lot of wiggle room.
4. ALONSO: THe Ravens went 7-4 in 2008, but return a prolific offense and might break out this year.
Offensively, it all revolves around QB C.J. Bennett. Few QB's have consistently impressed as much as C.J. The Wyoming commit can make all the throws and is playing in a perfect offense for his skills, a shotgun/spread. Leading WR's Justen Davis and Jesse Anaya return to haul in Bennett's passes. They need to mix in the run a little more.
The defense does not need to be great, they need to get some stops. It will be young and inexperienced, but the talent is there. With some help and a player or two stepping up, they have the potential to be good...which will be enough. Senior Defensive linemen Ian Hopkins and Josh Armand will join rising stud junior DE Anthony Chickillo to form a good start to a dominating defense.
Alonso is in Plant's district, that should be one of the better game's in the area. Those teams could see each other twice next year. For Alonso to beat Plant, they need the defensive line to dominate and several players to step up in the secondary.
5. TAMPA BAY TECH: TB Tech went 10-2 in 2008, losing two games to Armwood. The good news is they are 5A and Armwood is 4A in 2009.
RB Maurice Hagens is a beast. The Miami commit can pound the ball inside and beat on defenses. The addition of Armwood transfer Tavari Grant provides more depth. C.J. Jackson should be the top WR target and the OL will be one of the area's best.
Greg Hickman joins a loaded defense and might be the missing piece. LB Sam Jones, DB Jerome Speights, and DB Tim Stewart also return to a defense that was downright stiff against everyone but Armwood.
This will be a team that no one wants to play in 2009. They can pound the RB's and have enough balance to keep defenses on their heels. They easily could break through in 2009 and make a serious run.
OTHERS TEAMS TO WATCH: Tampa Catholic, Largo, Countryside, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg
ALL AREA PRESEASON
QB C.J. Bennett, RB Jeremy Deering, RB Maurice Hagens, WR Andre Davis, WR Justen Davis, TE Michael McFarland, OL Chaz Green, OL Andre Mondor, OL Tyler Moore, OL Garrett Wolfe, OL Andre Gunn
DE Tim Jackson, DE James Wilder, DT Theodore Jackson, DT Eric Hammond, LB Mike Mirabella, LB Sean Holte, LB Jeremiah George, CB Javonte Martin, CB Terrence Mitchell, S Christian Green, S T.J. Mutcherson