Cardinal Gibbons which won Class 5A last season will be looking for a second straight state championship in a very crowded and talented Class 4A this season. [PHOTO - Joshua Wilson/FHSF]

In our Countdown to Kickoff series, we dive into a class by class preview for each of the FHSAA’s eight classifications as we look at Class 4A.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

A new champion will be crowned

With Raines (Jacksonville) now in Class 5A, there will be a new champion in Class 4A this season. However, the field for someone to hoist the trophy up in December is very crowded in terms of who could be in the mix.

First, defending Class 5A state champion Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale) is in this classification and will be considered in the mix to possibly contend and get a second straight championship. However, they will have competition in the way with the likes of Miami Carol City and Booker T. Washington (Miami) also in their own region that will want to have a say in that process.

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After that, other teams that could be in the mix include Bolles (Jacksonville) from Region 1, Cocoa from Region 2 while Region 3 includes several teams that could be in the mix including Glades Central (Belle Glade), Tampa Catholic, and American Heritage (Delray).

Tons of new faces in the classification

Class 4A was on the receiving end of the reclassification of many new teams joining the classification or at least rejoining the ranks.

In Region 1, Bolles (Jacksonville) is the biggest addition to the classification after spending the last two years in Class 5A while Bay (Panama City) joins the ranks as enrollment has become an issue for them in the post-Hurricane Michael era.

With Region 2, Hudson dropped down from Class 5A as did Palatka and Space Coast (Cocoa). Over in Region 3, American Heritage (Delray) and Tampa Catholic both moved up from Class 3A while Clewiston, Lakewood (St. Petersburg) and Lemon Bay (Englewood) all moved down from Class 5A to join Class 4A.

Region 4 saw the addition of Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale) to the classification which moved down from Class 5A to Class 4A with Miami Carol City moving down into the classification from Class 6A.

Overall, the addition of these new teams to Class 4A has potentially made the classification more competitive for the next two years.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

NOTE: Players to watch is guided more around abilities on the field than star-rankings. A lot of this list is derived from last season’s FloridaHSFootball.com All-State Teams and while we would love to list everyone from every program, we had to make some considerations for this list for the preview.

Emile Aime, NSU University School, Jr. – Last year as a sophomore, Aime had 116 tackles (18 for loss), two sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries while earning first-team all-state honors at linebacker.

Louis Arnold III, Astronaut, Sr. – A solid defensive tackle, Arnold earned first-team all-state honors with 107 tackles (26 for loss), nine sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns.

DJ Arroyo, Cocoa, Jr. – Arroyo threw for over 3,400 yards and 29 touchdowns last season on the way to second-team all-state honors.

Jacorey Brooks, Booker T. Washington, Jr. – Had 733 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns last season while also collecting some defensive stats and second-team all-state honors.

Yulkeith Brown, Gulliver Prep, Jr. – At running back, Brown rushed for 1,430 yards and 22 touchdowns on the way to second-team all-state honors last season.

Nathaniel Davis, Bradford, Sr. – Davis earned first-team all-state honors last season at safety as he collected up 95 tackles, seven interceptions, forced three fumbles, while also collecting stats on offense and special teams.

Jaiden Dollard, Astronaut, Sr. – Dollard rushed for 1,281 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, earning second-team all-state honors.

John Cannon, NSU University School, Jr. – One of the top kicking specialists in Class 4A, Cannon was 70 of 73 on extra points last season and went seven of eight on field goals with the longest from 44 yards out, earning first-team all-state honors.

Jacob Camacho, Glades Central, Jr. – Camacho, who was at Glades Day last year, had 31 catches for 744 yards and eight touchdowns, plus had 55 tackles and four interceptions at safety, earning Class 2A second-team all-state honors at wide receiver.

Elijah Canode, West Nassau, Sr. – Canode was a leading tight end in Class 4A last year, recording 28 pancake blocks and hauling 222 yards in the passing game plus two touchdowns on the way to first-team all-state honors.

Zach Cowheard, NSU University School, Sr. – Had 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss season while earning second-team all-state honors at defensive end.

Davis Ellis, Bolles, Jr. – A transfer from nearby Episcopal, Ellis had 1,084 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns last season while earning all-state honorable mention at wide receiver in Class 3A last season.

De’kevious Freeman, Glades Central, Sr. – Was one of the Raiders’ impact players on the offensive line that earned second-team all-state honors.

Javon Garvin, Astronaut, Sr. – The inside linebacker had 138 tackles (13 for loss) two sacks and forced three fumbles while earning second-team all-state honors.

Donnell Harris Jr., Gulliver Prep, Jr. – The defensive end had 71 tackles and 23 sacks last season while earning first-team all-state honors while at Booker T. Washington last season.

Mac Harris, The Villages, Sr. – A tremendous athlete from the quarterback position, Harris threw for 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns while rushing for 1,334 yards and 24 touchdowns last season on the way to first-team all-state honors.

Caziah Holmes, Cocoa, Sr. – Rushed for 1,196 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as a junior while earning first-team all-state honors.

Eddie Jackson, Gulliver Prep, Sr. – Had 59 tackles and three interceptions last season as teams avoided mostly throwing his way, earning first-team all-state honors while at Booker T. Washington last year

Jeremiah Jenkins, Booker T. Washington, Sr. – The offensive center is a great blocker that had 25 pancake blocks last season while earning first-team all-state honors.

Delonus Kabir, Glades Central, Sr. – A leader at offensive tackle, Kabir was a solid blocker on the offensive line for the Raiders, earning first-team all-state honors.

TJ Lee, Gadsden County, Jr. – The offensive lineman who transferred from Godby, earned first-team all-state honors as a sophomore in Class 5A after having an 85% blocking grade with 41 pancake blocks and giving up no sacks.

Richie Leonard, Cocoa, Sr. – The Florida commit gave up zero sack last season and had 66 pancake blocks while earning second-team all-state honors.

Torrey Morrison, Booker T. Washington, Jr. – Morrison threw for 1,706 yards and 35 touchdowns last season which earned him an all-state honorable mention at quarterback.

Kynian Murphy, Santa Fe, Sr. – At safety, Murphy had 81 tackles (16 for loss), five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, and four pass breakups which earned him second-team all-state honors.

Phillip Pierre, Lakewood, Sr. – One of the best punters in the state last season with an average of 47 yards per punt and 12 punts going inside the 20, which led to first-team all-state honors in Class 5A.

Jalen Reeves, NSU University School, Sr. – The defensive tackle racked up 58 tackles (20 for loss) last season and 16 sacks, earning first-team all-state honors.

Troy Stellato, Cardinal Gibbons, Jr. – Stellato had over 700 yards receiving and hauled in five touchdowns last season earning him third-team all-state honors in Class 5A.

Marcus Tate, NSU University School, Jr. – Recorded an 89% blocking grade last season with 33 pancake blocks which earned him second-team all-state honors.

Nick Vattiato, NSU University School, Jr. – As a sophomore, Vattiato threw for 2,843 yards and 33 touchdowns, while rushing for two more touchdowns on the way to first-team all-state honors.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

University School – Have to go with the Sharks this year because they got a lot of impressive talent that is returning. The core group of players that are returning was just one game away from playing for a state championship last season and that speaks on experience these guys will have coming into the season.

NEXT IN LINE

Cocoa – Cocoa appears to be the favorite to represent the north after getting moved from Region 3 to Region 2. A good core of the talent last year that got them to the state championship game is returning, so this could put them in position to win it all again.

Cardinal Gibbons – The Chiefs will be in the mix, but the route to defending their state championship will be a tough one with quite a bit of talent that led the way last season having graduated. Still, though they will be in the mix once again this season.

Miami Carol City – There is plenty of talent on the roster for the Chiefs to make a run, but two things will remain to be seen is how the quick coaching change impacts the team and the fact that the Class 4A South field on teams competing for a possible state championship is quite crowded this year.

Booker T. Washington – Ice Harris might be gone, but a good core of the coaching staff still remains and so do some of the top players as well, so the Tornadoes will be considered in the mix to make a possible run to Daytona Beach this season.

SLEEPERS

Bolles – Being back in Class 4A and being in Class 4A North gives the Bulldogs have a chance to possibly get back to winning state championship once again with a brand new coaching staff that wants to restore the pride of the Bulldogs. The probably should be in “The Next In Line” list, but we hold them here for now.

Astronaut – One reason we put the War Eagles on this list is that they got some solid talent returning from last year’s double-digit winning playoff team. Also couple in the fact they are in Class 4A North and the path to getting a state championship game is much easier than being in the South where they were for the last few years.

Glades Central – Can’t count the Raiders out from possibly making a run to the state championship game with the talent and coaching they have, but as explained, Class 4A South is very crowded with quality teams and only one team can represent the area in Daytona Beach come December.

Tampa Catholic – This is a much better classification for the Crusaders to possibly win a state championship, the only issue is they are in the wrong part of the state that might give them a path. Still, with quality coaching and some talent that is come in, they could surprise a lot of people.

11 GAMES TO WATCH

Here are 11 games that could have an impact on the Class 3A playoff standings. Do note that are way more games that are worth watching that could be included on the list but wanted to focus on one game each week. Additional games will be spotlighted each week during the season.

WEEK 1

Cardinal Gibbons vs. Miami Northwestern (5A) at Traz Powell, Aug. 23, 7:30 p.m.

The battle of defending state champions opens the season for both teams and will have an early impact on the playoff race.

WEEK 2

Cocoa vs. Hoover (Ala.) at The Freedom Bowl (Milton, Ga.), Aug. 30, 8:30 p.m.

This will be a huge early-season matchup against two teams have that have been nationally ranked over the years and have been consistently talented.

WEEK 3

Miami Central (6A) vs. Miami Carol City at Traz Powell, Sep. 6, 7:30 p.m.

Throw out the classification numbers on this game because both of these programs are going to at it like it is a playoff game although neither will see each other in the playoffs for at least the next two years.

WEEK 4

NSU University School at Western (8A), Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

This will be a great game with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball for each team. Everything will be left on the field in this one.

WEEK 5

Cardinal Gibbons at American Heritage (Delray), Sep. 20, 7:00 p.m.

A midseason matchup that will have implications on the playoff races in Regions 3 and 4 as both teams seek out potential runs for a state championship.

WEEK 6

Glades Central at Cocoa, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

This is going to be a slugfest between two programs that have met over the years in the playoffs and state championship games. A lot of talent will be on display here.

WEEK 7

American Heritage (Plantation) (5A) at Cardinal Gibbons, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

The rivalry lives on for both teams with playoff race impacts to be felt across the state with this one.

WEEK 8

South Sumter at The Villages, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

A battle between the two Sumter County schools that will have a huge impact on the playoff race in Region 2.

WEEK 9

NSU University School at Clearwater Central Catholic (3A), 7:30 p.m.

What a great matchup here late in the season between these two playoff-caliber programs that will certainly have an impact on the playoff race.

WEEK 10

Bradford at South Sumter, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

This is a potential matchup that could have a huge impact on the playoff race in both Regions 1 and 2.

WEEK 11

American Heritage (Delray) at Gulliver Prep, Nov. 1, 3:30 p.m.

End of season matchup will certainly give each of these teams one last push to secure positioning in the playoff standings in their respective Class 4A regions.

REGION PREDICTIONS

Region 1

1. Bolles

2. Bradford

3. West Nassau

4. Santa Fe

5. Gadsden County

6. South Walton

7. Marianna

8. Rutherford

9. Bay

10. North Bay Haven

Region 2

1. Cocoa

2. Astronaut

3. South Sumter

4. The Villages

5. Palatka

6. Lake Highland Prep

7. Space Coast

8. Keystone Heights

9. Hudson

10. Cypress Creek (Wesley Chapel)

11. Umatilla

Region 3

1. Glades Central

2. Tampa Catholic

3. Lakewood

4. American Heritage (Delray)

5. Avon Park

6. Lake Placid

7. Clewiston

8. Lemon Bay

9. Tenoroc

10. Somerset Canyons

Region 4

1. NSU University School

2. Miami Carol City

3. Cardinal Gibbons

4. Booker T. Washington

5. Monsignor Pace

6. Gulliver Prep

7. Coral Springs Charter

8. North Broward Prep

9. Pine Crest

10. Immaculata-La Salle

11. Somerset Academy (Pembroke Pines)

This preview was updated to reflect new information that was learned including an adjustment made to Region 4 predictions.