Published: June 27, 2013LAND O' LAKES - The new high-tempo Land O' Lakes offense is doing more than testing the fitness of opposing defenses.
The Gators have been moving the ball at will during the summer league, and the defense also appeared to take a major step forward Tuesday when interceptions and deflected passes came in bunches.
Junior Kamal Wells said the excitement level on both sides of the ball is high.
"Everyone's getting the ball, defense is making stops and everything is hyped," Wells said.
Coach Brian Wachtel said his players have picked up the new schemes quickly.
"I've seen a lot of improvement, and I'd say we're becoming more seasoned on offense and defense," Wachtel said. "We had the spring to put the defense in, and the summer has greatly helped us with our understanding of the concepts. The changes offensively, the kids are really picking it up fast. They've done a phenomenal job today, but we've got to keep getting better."
Seahawks looking for new leader
Sunlake has been one of Pasco County's most consistent teams the last three years.
The Seahawks have averaged nine wins per season during that stretch, and did so with three different quarterbacks.
Three years ago it was the hard running and accurate passing of Jacob Jackson. A high-flying attack led by Cameron Stoltz was used in 2011 and a run-heavy offense guided by the speedy Josh Zifer last season.
Senior Esteban LeWallen has taken the majority of first-team snaps during the spring and summer, but coach Bill Browning said junior Dayton Feiden has played well enough to make it a battle for the starting spot.
"I think it's going to go right into the fall before we determine who's the starter," Browning said. "They both have strengths and weaknesses, and we'll have to see where the chips fall."
Browning said either quarterback has the ability to bring balance back to Sunlake's offense, which ran the ball 79 percent of the time last season.
"I try to tweak the offense based on what the quarterback's forte is," Browning said. "We may be more pass mode one year and run mode the next. . I anticipate us being more balanced this year."
Sharks ready for more expectations
A key word for Anclote is expectations.
The Sharks have a new mindset after making their first postseason last fall, but coach Matt Wicks has also made it clear those new standards come with a target.
"Expectations are very high," said Wicks, the only coach in the program's four-year history. "We've got a lot of returning players who want to get back to the playoffs, and we now won't be able to sneak up on anyone."
While managing expectations, Anclote has been searching for a new signal caller after the graduation of John Forgione, the Sharks' starting quarterback since midway through his freshman season.
"Andrew (Janus) hasn't been able to do anything this summer after he broke his leg in our spring game against Springstead, but he's been in the system for going on four years," Wicks said. "He knows the system well. Brandon (Vinkler) is really smart and has been picking things up fast, so we've got some good options."
Vinkler helped lead the Sharks to winning the Weeki Wachee 7-on-7 tournament this past weekend and said his confidence is growing.
"This is the first time I've played with varsity kids, so I'm getting used to things and seeing faster defenses," Vinkler said. "It's tough, but it's getting easier each week."
Bulls preparing to be better
Wiregrass Ranch first-year coach Mike Lawrence said he doesn't know how good his young offense can be, but he is sure the Bulls will put up more than the 61 points scored last fall.
"The pieces are definitely there," said Lawrence, who was the team's offensive coordinator last year. "Here in 7-on-7, without offensive linemen or running the ball, it's never going to be the same. Most of it is making sure timing and spacing on their routes is correct, but we won't know until we put pads back on."
Wiregrass Ranch has been unable to put up much offense the last two seasons, combining for 107 points and an 0-20 record. The Bulls must replace last year's leading receiver Ryan Shea, but return several other offensive threats like quarterback Shane Bucenell, receivers Mark Hutchinson and Jaye Miner and running back John Harris-Scott.
Cobras believe in 7-on-7
Hudson takes the 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments more seriously. Cobras coach Mark Kantor said that during his time coaching Gaither, he noticed Plant took each 7-on-7 opportunity in full and the Panthers have reaped the benefits with state championships.
"We take 7-on-7 seriously," Kantor said. "I've always taken a look at guys I've coached against and there's a dude in south Tampa by the name of Robert Weiner and he's got more rings than I've got in my whole dresser. (Plant) takes it serious down there, and I've talked to Robert and try to take some things from him and the guy has won five titles."
Hudson participated in the Chuck-N-Duck passing tournament at Weeki Wachee High this past weekend and reached the semifinals vs. Anclote, which they lost the game and were not able to complete due to weather. In Hudson's first 7-on-7 game Tuesday vs. Fivay, the Cobras defeated their neighborhood rivals 21-15, and Kantor sees his skill players making great strides this summer.
"We had a really good tournament up in Weeki Wachee," Kantor said. "The kids are starting to mold and really develop. Every day is a chance to make these kids better and our staff is doing a great job of doing that. Staff is coming to work and working hard each day."
Progress seen in young, skill players
River Ridge went through a disappointing 3-7 season in 2012 and also lost some of its top skill players, including quarterback Josh Maisel and two-way standout Brian Clinkscale. Royal Knights coach Ryan Benjamin must now find the athletes to replace a good percentage of the offense.
Benjamin knows his team is going to be young, with the Royal Knights starting 11 underclassmen in the spring game against Fivay, and River Ridge already has players stepping up to fill in for graduated seniors. Sophomore Pat Mathieson is looking like River Ridge's starting quarterback heading into the regular season, and Chris Schwartz, the younger brother of former River Ridge FB Austin Schwartz, has shown promise in the backfield.
"(Chris) is a spitting image of his brother Austin," Benjamin said. "He has a great work ethic and attitude. He's shown to be a great team leader as a sophomore to be. He's in the weight room every single day and he's doing such a great job."
Kyle LoJacono, Andy Villamarzo