By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
Binky Waldrop stood near the 25-yard line at Staver Field with Charlotte High School football players, coaches and parents around him.
The Tarpons’ 2015 season had just come to an end in a Nov. 27 loss at Naples in a regional final, and the coach was taking time to look back at all his team accomplished up until that point.
The 10-0 regular season and district title. The 12 wins, two of them over rival Port Charlotte. The school’s fourth trip to a regional title game since 2002.
But after looking back on what had just ended, Waldrop took a moment to look ahead at what was to come.
“We’ve got 14 starters coming back next year,” he said. “We’re going to be a great football team.”
Next year officially begins today, as Charlotte, Lemon Bay, North Port and Port Charlotte all hit the practice fields for the first time in 2016.
Here’s a look at where all four area schools stand as spring practice begins:
LAST SEASON: 12-1, lost to Naples in regional final
SPRING GAME: at South Fort Myers, May 20, 7 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: QB Brennan Simms, RB Elijah Mack, WR Stantley Thomas, DE Chris Comer, LB Chase Shepard, OL Cainyn Cooper, K Justin Andrukiewicz
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: DB Travon McClary, ATH Dee Hicks, WR/DB Jacob White, RB Maleek Williams, HB D’Vonte Price, DE G’Vonte Price, OL Jack Fining, OL Tommy Zozus
STORY LINES: Charlotte loses a ton of production in Mack (1,280 rushing yards, 23 touchdowns), Thomas (1,105 receiving yards, eight touchdowns) and Comer (school-record 15 sacks), but they have the depth to replace a lot of what they lost. Williams and D’Vonte Price rushed for a combined 1,027 and 15 touchdowns last year. D’Vonte Price, White and Hicks had more than 290 yards each. Hicks and McClary led a secondary that allowed just four passing touchdowns through the first 12 games last season. The key for the Tarpons will be figuring out who will play quarterback. Simms was stellar last year with 2,359 yards, 25 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and finding someone new to lead the offense will be a huge key to the offense.
LAST SEASON: 8-3, lost to Immokalee in regional quarterfinals
SPRING GAME: at Cardinal Mooney, May 21, 6:30 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: QB Jeremy Snook, WR Ronnie Blem, WR Jaryd Clary, RB Stephen Yulee, DT Jared Connor, G Zach Pellicciotti, C Sean Porter, DB Cade Thorne
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: RB Brayden Curry, QB Victor Mellor, LB Logan Lydic, LB Robbie Cerami
STORY LINES: The Manta Rays lose as much as they bring back. Half of the two-headed quarterback attack (Snook) is gone, but the top passer of the two is back in Mellor, who passed for 260 yards and rushed for 486. Top wide receivers Clary and Blem are gone, but back is Curry, who rushed for 897 yards in coach D.J. Ogilvie’s jet sweep attack. Lemon Bay will also have to deal with the losses of big bodies Porter, Pellicciotti and Connor along the lines, but return two talented young linebackers in Lydic and Cerami. It will be interesting to see what the Mantas show in their spring game, as Cardinal Mooney is a team they beat last regular season and will play again this year.
LAST SEASON: 2-8, missed playoffs
SPRING GAME: at Southeast, May 19, 7 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: LB Darius Jackson, S Anthony Brown, WR Juvens Delise, DE River Silva, DL Devon Gouveia, OL Olivier Barolette, CB Nyreon Washinton
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: QB/WR Devon Allen, QB Skylar Razwilavich, RB Octavious Cummings, LB John Cruz, RB Javon Howell, WR C.K. Poulos
STORY LINES: Last season was another tough one for the Bobcats, but the good news is that the team is relatively young heading into coach Brian Hatler’s second season at the helm. They’ll have to replace some senior leadership lost with the upcoming graduation of the senior class, but a lot of the top statistical performers will be returning. Allen did it all for the Bobcats, passing for 480 yards, rushing for 163 yards and catching seven passes for 93 yards. Cummings led the team in rushing with 341 yards and five touchdowns, Poulos was the top receiver with 261 yards on 29 catches. North Port also returns a standout defender in middle linebacker John Cruz.
LAST SEASON: 7-5, lost to Charlotte in regional semifinal
SPRING GAME: vs. Bayshore, May 20, 7:30 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: RB Brennan Norus, DE Kordell Slater, RB Marquell Platt, LB Aaron Wertz, LB Vance Cohee, DE Noah Bayne, LB Deejay St. Pierre, DL Dominick Price, LB Josh Lindstrom
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: RB Ernest Harvey, S Tiyan “Pop” Bush, QB Paul Barnes, S T.J. Luther
STORY LINES: The Pirates lost an awful lot in Norus, who rushed for a school-record 1,821 yards and 17 touchdowns as the lead back in coach Jordan Ingman’s triple-option rushing attack. But if they can replace even half of what he gave them up the middle, that should open up plenty of space to operate on the outside for Harvey, who rushed for 958 yards and caught 25 passes for 302 last yards as a junior. Barnes should also be more solidified at quarterback after starting the final eight games of the season. Port Charlotte loses a lot of beef up front in Slater, Wertz, Cohee, Bayne, St. Pierre and Price, but it will have an experience secondary led by Bush and Luther returning.