Miami Northwestern which has won the Class 6A state championship the last two years now resides in Class 5A and could be the instant favorite to win the classification and get the three-peat. [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 take a dive into Class 5A.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

With Cardinal Gibbons gone, who wants to claim Class 5A?

With reclassification, came the fact that Class 5A will have a new state champion this year with Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale) now in Class 4A. However, there is no shortage of potential teams that could fill that role.

First, the biggest of the names to come into the classification is defending Class 6A state champion Miami Northwestern, which will certainly be one of the early favorites. Another favorite to be among the fans will American Heritage (Plantation) who was not affected by the reclassification.

Advertisement

Then looking north from South Florida another state champion from the last two seasons has come into Class 5A with Raines (Jacksonville) that will certainly be looking for the three-peat like Miami Northwestern. Other teams that could possibly be in the mix include Jesuit (Tampa), Godby (Tallahassee), and even Vanguard (Ocala) which is another team to join the Class 5A ranks this season.

Who is new and new looks in Class 5A

There are a lot of teams new to Class 5A this school year. Matter of fact there is a lot of teams that were previously Class 6A programs that are now in this classification. Some of the more notable teams that were placed into the classification include Chamberlain (Tampa), Dunnellon, Raines (Jacksonville), Miami Northwestern, and Vanguard (Ocala).

With new teams in Class 5A and reclassification, the districts of the past four years look completely different for most of the districts in all areas of the state. One of the biggest differences that can be noted is there are no four-team districts, which was something the FHSAA worked hard to make sure did not happen. That process happened with making sure that all classifications were as evenly balanced as possible following the strict placement based upon geography and enrollment as practically as possible.

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.

Dylan Brazil, Bishop Moore, Sr. – Earning third-team all-state honors at utility, Brazil caught 31 passes for 543 yards and six touchdowns last season while scoring two more touchdown on special teams and average 36 yards per punt as a punter.

Fabian Burnett, Nature Coast, Sr. – As a dual-threat quarterback, Burnett had over 1,000 yards passing and 13 touchdowns last season while rushing for 900 more yards and nine touchdowns, earning all-state honorable mention honors.

Kendy Charles, Orange Park, Sr. – Collected 75 tackle (10 for loss), 11 sacks, one interception, two fumble recoveries and forced three fumbles from the defensive end position, earning third-team all-state honors last season.

Yanick Chin, Lake Weir, Sr. – Earned first-team all-state honors in Class 6A after collecting 83 tackles (23 for loss), 12 sacks, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and scoring a defensive touchdown as an outside linebacker.

Ladarius Clardy, Pine Forest, Sr. – Passed for 1,780 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 664 more yards and seven touchdowns last season, earning all-state honorable mention honors in Class 6A.

Gervon Dexter, Lake Wales, Sr. – The defensive tackle collected 53 tackles (18 for loss), nine sacks, forced seven fumbles while recovering a fumble last season as he earned third-team all-state honors in Class 6A.

Leo Duarte, Hardee, Sr. – As a kicking specialist converted 10 of 13 field goals with his longest from 47-yards out, plus went 28-30 on extra points, earning second-team all-state honors.

Jordan Elbert, Nature Coast, Sr. – The offensive guard earned second-team all-state honors last season but also played on the defensive line collecting up 50 tackles (six for loss) with four sacks.

Trey Fisher, Godby, Sr. – The second-team all-state quarterback threw for 2,505 yards and 27 touchdowns last season for the Cougars.

Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Dunnellon, Sr. – Had 48 catches for 778 yards and eight touchdowns last season, earning second-team all-state honors in Class 4A.

D’Adrian Freeman, Rockledge, Sr. – Earned second-team all-state honors at offensive guard as a leader of the offensive line that racked up over 3,700 yards rushing and 45 touchdowns last season. Only gave up four sacks and had 41 pancake blocks.

Chayil Garnett, Lake Wales, Sr. – Threw for 2,027 yards and 18 touchdowns last season while also scoring four more touchdowns on the ground, earning first-team all-state honors at quarterback in Class 6A.

Brett Gerena, Jesuit, Sr. – Collected 147 tackle (21 for loss), had two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble while earning second-team all-state honors last season.

Jyron Gilmore, North Marion, Sr. – A second-team all-state athlete last season for the Colts, Gilmore led his team in catches with 44 and had 651 receiving yards with six touchdowns plus posted stats in rushing. Also had 61 tackles and six interceptions at cornerback.

Terrance Griffin, Rockledge, Sr. – Collected 54 tackles (seven for loss), five interceptions and forced two fumbles at safety which he earned honorable mention all-state honors.

Joel Hadley Jr., Lake Wales, Sr. – The outside linebacker racked up 70 tackles (55 for loss) and six sacks last season, second-team all-state honors in Class 6A.

Isayah Hatter, Mount Dora, Sr. – Rushed for 1,396 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, earning all-state honorable mention honors in Class 4A.

Marquell Holbert, Raines, Sr. – The offensive tackle was a big reason why Raines had over 5,000 yards of offense last season which earned him all-state honorable mention honors.

Anthony Houston, Nature Coast, Sr. – Racked up 125 tackles (six for loss), five sacks and one interception last season, earning an all-state honorable mention.

Nate Ion, North Marion, Sr. – The inside linebacker collected 109 tackles, five sacks, and an interception last season on the way to third-team all-state honors.

Alvin Jones III, Godby, Sr. – Jones proved wise not only as a receiver last season but as a returner where he earned second-team all-state honors. He had 46 catches for 600 yards and six touchdowns to go along with the four touchdowns he had on punt returns.

Quinten Lindsey, Hardee, Sr. – The all-around athlete had stats on defense (16 tackles, four interceptions, two pass breakups) as well as rushing, receiving and passing last season which earned him all-state honorable mention honors.

Joran Love, Rockledge, Jr. – Love is a starter on both the offensive and defensive lines and earned an all-state honorable mention last season after collecting 35 pancake blocks and giving up two sacks as an offensive tackle and collecting 22 tackles and two sacks as a defensive tackle.

Norman Love, Lake Wales, Sr. – Had 641 receiving yards on 38 catches and scored nine touchdowns while earning all-state honorable mention honors in Class 6A.

Kristopher Love, American Heritage (Plantation), Sr. – The offensive guard is a huge asset to the Patriots as he was one of the top graded linemen last year with 82 pancake blocks and not giving up a sack on the way to first-team all-state honors.

Sean Meisler, Bishop Kenny, Sr. – At kicker, Meisler, was a strong of eight of nine on field-goal tries for the Crusaders with his longest coming from 44-yards out which earned him third-team all-state honors.

Zac Offord, North Marion, Sr. – The son of head coach Willie Offord earned third-team all-state honors last year at cornerback with 53 tackles, five interceptions, one forced a fumble, plus had 28 catches for 448 yards and four touchdowns for the state runner-up Colts.

Anthony Richardson, Eastside, Sr. – The quarterback threw for 1,567 yards and 17 touchdowns last season while using his shifty legs to rush for 924 yards and 16 more touchdowns which earned third-team all-state honors.

Johnny Richardson, Lake Wales, Jr. – Rushed for 1,400 yards and 29 touchdowns last season, earning third-team all-state honors at running back in Class 6A.

Jadan Robinson, Jones, Jr. – All-around player who caught 40 passes for 623 yards and eight touchdowns last season while also returning nine punts for 342 yards and four more touchdowns, earning second-team all-state honors.

Luke Rose, North Marion, Sr. – At safety, Rose had 151 tackles and six interceptions last season for the Class 5A state runner-up, earning first-team all-state honors.

Trevonte Rucker, Vanguard, Jr. – Earned second-team all-state honors in Class 6A as a utility player passing for 1,246 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 1,025 yards and scoring eight more touchdowns. He also had two receiving touchdowns.

Christopher Sharpe Jr., Ribault, Sr. – Sharpe stood out at defensive tackle last season for the Trojan who stuffed the run and bullied passers on the way to third-team all-state honors.

Deiontae Simpkins, Lake Weir, Sr. – As a junior last year, Simpkins threw for 2,497 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 716 more yards and 13 touchdowns, earning second-team all-state honors in Class 6A.

Brenden Shipp, North Marion, Jr. – Received honorable mention all-state honors after catching 37 catches for 665 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Avarius Sparrow, Jones, Jr. – Rushed for 1,371 yards and 19 touchdowns on the way to all-state honorable mention honors.

Ladarius Tennison, Rockledge, Sr. – A big-time athlete for the Raiders, Tennison received first-team all-state honors last season after racking 124 tackle (38 for loss), 10 sacks, one interception return for a touchdown, four forced fumbles, blocked two field goals just on defense alone. On offense, he had 13 receptions for 356 yards and five touchdowns and on special teams, returned five punts for 137 yards and one touchdown.

Jaree Turner, North Marion, Sr. – The wide receiver earned third-team all-state honors last season with 26 catches for 643 yards receiving and scoring nine touchdowns.

Jelani Vassell, Wesley Chapel, Sr. – Racked up nearly 1,600 all-purpose yards last season through rushing, receiving, kick return, punt return, and interception return stats, scoring 16 total touchdowns (eight rushing, six receiving, and two interceptions), earning all-state honorable mention honors.

Johnny Walker, Chamberlain, Sr. – Had 48 tackles (20 for loss), 13 sacks and forced a fumble last season while earning all-state honorable mention honors in Class 6A.

Jaylon Worsham, Wakulla, Sr. – Threw for 1,693 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 1,108 yards and 13 more touchdowns which earned him an all-state honorable mention at quarterback last year.

Demetris Wright, Zephyrhills, Sr. – The offensive guard was solid at his position last season with the deep run the Bulldogs had in the playoffs, earning him an all-state honorable mention.

Liam Zaccheo, Jensen Beach, Sr. – Earned second-team all-state honors as a safety last season in Class 6A after collecting 102 tackles (11 for loss), three sacks and forcing three fumbles.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

Miami Northwestern – They may have few holes to fill in, but there is plenty of talent surrounding the Bulls that third straight state championship could very likely happen. The only issue that Northwestern will face is the line of talented teams in 5A South that to win a state championship.

NEXT IN LINE

American Heritage (Plantation) – It was a tough one to decide who should be the favorite to win it all in Class 5A, but Northwestern just edged out for that honor. However, American Heritage is a close second and there is plenty of talent on the roster that will have them right in the state championship hunt again.

Raines – Again, as the same goes for Miami Northwestern, the same goes for the Vikings. Just because they have some holes to fill does not mean they are out of the state championship hunt. Their path to getting to Daytona for a third straight year is actually going to be a bit easier than it will be for Miami Northwestern.

Jesuit – The Tigers have been one of the top tier teams in Class 5A the last several seasons, having some runs to the state semifinals during that stretch. There is always talent lurking around for them, so will this be the season they finally play for a state championship for the first time since 1992?

Vanguard – The Knights had considerable playoff success in Class 6A thanks to a constant flow of talent that come through the program over the last few years under Coach Edwin Farmer’s leadership. While they couldn’t reach the championship game the last few years, the path is much easier now for the Knights to take advantage of getting to Daytona Beach this season.

SLEEPERS

Lake Wales – Quite a bit of talent returns for the Highlanders this season and they could sneak up on some people after having moderate success in Class 6A the last few years. The question will be to see if the Highlanders can take advantage of the opportunities in front of them this season.

Godby – Why not the Cougars? Just because they have a brand-new coach means nothing, especially when he has been on staff for some of their latest playoff runs. While they did see one all-state player transfer back to his home county, there is still plenty of talent left for the Cougars to have them in the mix for a possible state championship run.

Rockledge – Another team with quite a bit of talent returning on the roster and probably should be in the “next in line” section could very well find themselves in the mix for a state championship run, which if they did would be their first since 2003. However, the only issue here will be the other quality teams that are in Class 5A South.

Coaches Interviews
TBA

16 DISTRICT GAMES TO WATCH

We have selected one game from each district that will be worthy of keeping an eye on this season as it will have many impacts not on the district itself but with the playoff standings.

District 5A-1

West Florida at Pine Forest, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m. CT

This game will likely decide the district championship as both teams have been playoff-caliber teams the last several years.

District 5A-2

Godby at Wakulla, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

One of a few games we could have gone with for this district but thinking here has these two teams as the top two in the district this season. The winner of this one will have the inside track to winning the district championship.

District 5A-3

Baker County at Ed White, Sep. 13, 6:00 p.m.

Something about this game says that whoever wins this one could likely win the district and potentially be the lone representative of that district in the playoffs.

District 5A-4

Raines at Ribault, Oct. 12, 2:00 p.m.

The annual edition of the Northwest Classic comes to you this year in the middle of the season and with this being a key district game, the one that wins this will win the district.

District 5A-5

Eastside at Menendez, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

Menendez returns 10 starters from last year’s playoff team and with Eastside coming into this game with some considerable talent as well, the winner of this one will have the inside track to winning the district championship.

District 5A-6

Dunnellon at Vanguard, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

Could have gone with a couple of different games for this district, but this one will set the tone for how the district shapes up. Winner will have the early lead to win the district.

District 5A-7

Bishop Moore at Jones, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

Jones upended Bishop Moore for the district championship last season and with this matchup coming in the first week of district play will set the tone for how their expanded district will play out this season.

District 5A-8

Nature Coast at Hernando, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

These two foes have been at the top of this Nature Coast-area district for the last several years and should remain the same this season. Whoever wins this game will win the district.

District 5A-9

Rockledge at Merritt Island, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

It came down to these two teams for the district championship last season and I expect it will be the same way again this season but will be dependent on how well Palm Bay improves.

District 5A-10

Lake Wales at Hardee, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

Both teams were district champions last year, but only one this year will be able to claim it. Both have solid coaching and talent, and this could ultimately determine who gets to claim the district championship for 2019.

District 5A-11

Zephyrhills at River Ridge, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.

These two programs have been the most consistent Class 5A programs the last few years and I expect it to be no different this year for them to battle it out here for the potential district championship.

District 5A-12

Jesuit at Chamberlain, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

This will be the second district game for both teams and this could prove a bit more of a challenge for the host Chiefs and the visiting Tigers, but right now it’s the one district game that could change everything in the district if Chamberlain were to win it.

District 5A-13

DeSoto County at Cape Coral, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

This district is very intriguing because there is no clear-cut favorite in this district, but this is one game that could set the tone for how the rest of the season goes in district play for either program.

District 5A-14

Coconut Creek at Jensen Beach, Oct. 25, 7:00 p.m.

Thinking here is that these are the two best teams in this district for this year as Suncoast looks to rebuild. Whoever wins this game will win the district without a question.

District 5A-15

Hallandale at American Heritage (Plantation), Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

There is a chance this game could decide the district champion and there is a chance that it might not. This was a situation where it was “pick a game that might be interesting” for this district.

District 5A-16

Miami Jackson vs. Miami Northwestern at Traz Powell, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

This is a game that can either be for the district championship or by the time this game rolls around, Miami Northwestern has the district championship already locked away. Time will tell on this one.

DISTRICT PREDICTIONS

District 5A-1

1. Pine Forest

2. West Florida

3. Pensacola

4. Choctawhatchee

5. Arnold

District 5A-2

1. Godby

2. Wakulla

3. Suwannee

4. Rickards

District 5A-3

1. Baker County

2. Ed White

3. Bishop Kenny

4. Westside

5. Terry Parker

District 5A-4

1. Raines

2. Ribault

3. Yulee

4. Stanton

5. Paxon

District 5A-5

1. Menendez

2. Eastside

3. Clay

4. Orange Park

5. Ridgeview

District 5A-6

1. Vanguard

2. North Marion

3. Dunnellon

4. Lake Weir

5. Belleview

District 5A-7

1. Jones

2. Bishop Moore

3. Mount Dora

4. Eustis

5. Leesburg

6. Tavares

District 5A-8

1. Nature Coast

2. Hernando

3. Crystal River

4. Citrus

5. Weeki Wachee

6. Central (Brooksville)

District 5A-9

1. Rockledge

2. Merritt Island

3. Palm Bay

4. Eau Gallie

5. Atlantic (Port Orange)

District 5A-10

1. Lake Wales

2. Hardee

3. Sebring

4. Mulberry

5. Lake Region

District 5A-11

1. Zephyrhills

2. River Ridge

3. Wesley Chapel

4. Tarpon Springs

5. Anclote

6. Gulf

District 5A-12

1. Jesuit

2. Chamberlain

3. Booker

4. Gibbs

5. Robinson

6. Bayshore

District 5A-13

1. DeSoto County

2. Cape Coral

3. Mariner

4. LaBelle

5. Cypress Lake

6. Estero

District 5A-14

1. Coconut Creek

2. Jensen Beach

3. Suncoast

4. Boynton Beach

District 5A-15

1. American Heritage (Plantation)

2. Hallandale

3. North Miami Beach

4. Stranahan

District 5A-16

1. Miami Northwestern

2. Miami Jackson

3. Miami Killian

4. Miami Springs

5. Key West