By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
Last year’s Sun All-Area team was very senior-heavy, leaving just eight of the area’s top players returning from 2016.
Charlotte and North Port represent opposite ends of the spectrum of success last season, yet it’s the Bobcats, not the Tarpons, who already know who their quarterback is going to be in 2017.
The Tarpons offense boasted four players who are off to NCAA Division-I schools this coming year, most notably quarterback Dee Hicks and running back Maleek Williams.
How do you replace their output?
“You don’t,” Charlotte coach Binky Waldrop said.
Of all returning players, The Sun’s 2016 defensive player of the year Devin Leacock is the way-too-early-to-tell frontrunner for all-area player of the year in 2017.
Here’s a look at where all four area schools stand as spring practice begins.
LAST SEASON: 12-1, lost in State semifinals
SPRING GAME: at Palmetto Ridge; May 19, 7:30 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: Dee Hicks, Maleek Williams, D’Vonte Price, G’Vonte Price, Jacob White, Malik Gainer, Cazea Smith, Dalton Mills, Daniel Frederique, Tommy Zozus, Jack Fining, Lavell Cudjo
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Savorion Warren, Ny Harvey, Andrew Grace, Jeremiah Harvey, Layton Hall, Jack Andreu, Chase Watter, Alex Villarreal, Jordan Deackoff, Jayden Grant, Kenny Scribner
STORYLINES: As of now, coach Binky Waldrop has no idea who his quarterback is going to be. After a season of having a dynamic quarterback in Hicks, they could likely return to a more traditional quarterback in Zach Radulesco or Anthony Squitieri. There’s also a possibility they do some wildcat-type formations. Interception-leader from 2016, Savorion Warren, will likely make more of an impact on offense this season, while the eight TFLs and seven sacks of Jordan Deackoff return for his senior season on the defensive line.
LAST SEASON: 3-7, missed playoffs
SPRING GAME: at Berkeley Prep; May 18, 7 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: Brayden Curry, Victor Mellor, Robbie Cerami, Brendan Schuman, Thomas Chaney.
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Hayden Wolff, Justin Hinck, Chase Mason, Mike Morales, Brad Vito, Logan Lydic.
STORYLINES: The development of Hayden Wolff will be key for the Manta Rays. The junior-to-be has added weight to his 6-foot-5 frame, and now has a whole year of varsity football under his belt. Unlike last year, he won’t have Brayden Curry — Lemon Bay’s No. 2 all-time rusher — to hand the ball to. The loss of Victor Mellor also will be a lofty one for the Manta Rays, but it appears as if Daniel Baldor will fill Mellor’s free safety/ wide receiver role from last year. Finally, first-year head coach Don Southwell, previously the defensive coordinator, will be returning to his offensive roots and taking over as offensive playcaller this season.
LAST SEASON: 1-9, missed playoffs
SPRING GAME: vs. Southeast; May 18, 7 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: Austin VanCamp, Vitally Margitich, Ryan Stahley, Gregg Pardue, Sha’heen Belcaries, Brody Bauer
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: C.K. Poulos, Devon Allen, Javon Howell, Andrew Bosma, Dane Balsinger, Des Peterson, Phillip Osipov, Jake Donlan, Jeff Guillaume, D.J. Bradford.
STORYLINES: The Bobcats didn’t lose very many seniors from a year ago, but the one place they were hit hard was on the offensive line. They rotated about seven players up front last year, and four of them won’t be returning in 2017. The offensive core of Poulos, Allen and Howell all return for their senior seasons with another year of experience under their belts. Allen returns at quarterback to lead the Bobcats attack. Defensively, Balsinger and Osipov will make a big impact on the line.
LAST SEASON: 8-2, lost in region quarterfinals
SPRING GAME: at Riverview; May 19, 7:30 p.m.
KEY SENIORS LOST: Pop Bush, William Furlow, Josh Lindstrom, Jaden Hunter, Ernest Harvey, Devyn McCormick, D’Andre Lewis
KEY PLAYERS RETURNING: Devin Leacock, Paul Barnes, TJ Luther, Shawn Campbell, Marc Jean-Louis, Luidson Jeanty.
STORYLINES: Leacock had 10.5 sacks in his junior season, and then went out and added 45 pounds of muscle. He’s certain to be a force to reckon with as a senior. The Pirates will rely on him because, although they didn’t lose very much to graduating seniors, the hardest place they were hit was at linebacker where Bush and Lindstrom patrolled. Look for Nick Torres to fill into the role Bush played last year. Other key returners include TJ Luther (all-area DB) and Shawn Campbell. Both Luther and Campbell will play important roles as Port Charlotte has plans to continue the upward trajectory it has been building the last few years.