ANALYSIS: It was a great year in 2008 with Tallahassee programs Lincoln and Godby losing state championship games and North Florida Christian winning another title. Pine Forest, Madison County, Arnold, Florida High, Port St. Joe, and Niceville all were legit contenders in their classifications.
TOP 5 TEAMS
1. NICEVILLE: Niceville suffered two close losses to Pine Forest, the latter ending their season. A lot of talent returns and expectations are high in 2009.
Roy Finch is a game-breaking type back at the high school level and he should build on an impressive junior campaign. The OU commit is small, but has the burst, speed, and athleticism to make long gains. WR Kody Williams is another top offensive threat. He had over 1,000 yards receiving as a junior and is one of the state's top athletes.
The defense has to tighten up some from last year. DL Charles Phillips, LB Mike White, and DB Chase Hooker return and should be the leaders as seniors.
Niceville moves to 4A and will need to contend with Ft. Walton Beach, Crestview, and Mosley in district play. Pace and Pine Forest lurk as first/second round playoff opponents. We feel that Niceville gets out of this bracket in 2009 and has enough to make a run to Orlando.
2. LINCOLN: The Trojans made a run to Orlando in 2008, but fell short against Plant in the State Title game. While they lost some key personnel, this is Lincoln and talent is seldom an issue. Former St. Pete Gibbs head coach Yusuf Shakir takes over at the helm.
QB Ryan White returns and the talented athlete will be asked to carry more of the load in 2009. White will have plenty of weapons starting with 2011 RB Javorious 'Buck' Allen. Allen has all the tools. Two WR's, Keondrick Daniels and Brent Monroe, should give White plenty of options down the field. South Carolina commit Cody Gibson headlines a stout OL.
The defense has two great LB's in Mark Wilson and Tony Harris. Wilson has been coveted on the recruiting trail, deciding on Illinois. They will need some DL to step up. Shakir is a former DB's coach at Lincoln, he will have the secondary playing well and they should be a force by the end of the season.
Lincoln draws a favorable district and should find themselves in the Region 1 final(state quarters) against perhaps Niceville(they play 9/3 in regular season). A win there puts them in great shape to return to Orlando.
3. NORTH FLORIDA CHRISTIAN: They were State Champs in 2008 and return a host of talent in 2009. They are the prohibitive favorites in 1A this year.
QB Clint Trickett returns and should be even better in 2009. Trickett understands the game, is a film room rat, and has the most accurate arm in the state. He should improve on his numbers across the board and establish himself as the state's top QB. Drew Gentry and Gage Baxter headline an outstanding OL, both are D-1 prospects. TE Chad Hollifield gives Trickett an elite weapon to work the middle of the field. He also can get down the seam. Cason Knight, Trey Norris, and Wesley Bell should see plenty of balls come their way.
Josh Major and Chris Carroll are football players on the defensive side. Major could play a number of different spots. Overall, the defense was solid in 2008, but yielded too many points vs. top teams. They need to tighten up against the more balanced attacks.
NFC should be in Orlando because of the offense. Trickett will be difficult to stop with the play-makers he has around him. The defense should be improved and they have a great chance to repeat. An interesting Jamboree game with Jupiter Christian(the defending 1B champ) awaits.
4. PINE FOREST: Pine Forest rolled to the state semi-finals undefeated where they lost 22-21 at Lakeland. While the losses were heavy, this program has shown the ability to re-load.
This team will once again rely on the defense to create stops and field position. Brian Broadnax and Isiah Johnson are two returning starters on defense who will be counted on heavily in 2009. Offensively, the Eagles will pound the ball and wear down defenses with their physical attack.
This team could gel and make another deep run in the playoffs or they just may not have enough to get by Pace or Niceville in the playoffs. They have a lot of question marks that should be answered by mid-season.
5. ARNOLD: Arnold quietly won their first 11 games before being ousted in the second round of the playoffs, they return most of that talent and are a legit sleeper in the 3A classification.
RB Jeremy Hester ran past defenders to the tune of 2,300 yards and 39 scores in 2008 and he returns to build on that as a senior. He has elite acceleration, is tougher than his size would indicate, and has deep speed. He can catch the ball as well. There is considerable buzz being created by sophomore QB Eddie Williams. The 6'4 signal caller holds the keys to how far this team can go. If the passing game keeps defenses honest, Hester will be that much more effective.
The defenses was stout all year until they ran into the buzzsaw that was Godby. The DB's were exposed in that one and will need to be better in 2009. LB Cullen Thompson returns with S Blake Deboard and they will be counted on to be tough in the middle of the field.
Arnold is an 8 team district so most of their games will have district implications. A projected second round tilt with Jacksonville's Andrew Jackson would be one of the better match-up's in the state. A win there and this team is on their way.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH: Madison County, Pace, Pensacola, Port St. Joe, Godby, Leon, Ft. Walton Beach, FAMU, Florida High, Pensacola Catholic
ALL AREA PRESEASON
QB Clint Trickett, RB Jeremy Hester, RB Roy Finch, WR Cason Knight, WR Kody Williams, TE Chad Hollifield, OL Drew Gentry, OL Cody Gibson, OL Gage Baxter, OL Sean Watson, OL Mack Helms
DL Brandon Denmark, DL Cullen Thomson, DL Jericho Lee, DL Brian Broadnax, LB Mark Wilson, LB Rodney Busch, LB Josh Major, DB Ryan White, DB Joe Lofton, DB Chris St. Hillaire, DB Josh Thomas
GAME OF THE YEAR: September 3. Niceville at Lincoln