Miami Central would like to get back to a scene like this from 2015 where they were winning state championships. They have a golden opportunity to do just that in Class 6A this year. [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 look at the revamped Class 6A.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Who will become king of Class 6A?

This is the looming question and there are already some favorites out there to make potential runs in place. However, gone are the likes of Miami Northwestern who won the last two Class 6A state championships who relocated to Class 5A, while another perennial favorite, Armwood (Seffner) is now residing in Class 7A.

Also gone are other strong playoff-caliber teams like Vanguard (Ocala), Lake Wales, and Sebring who were all reclassified to Class 5A back in December. Also gone are Panhandle favorites like Crestview, Navarre, Niceville, and Tate (Cantonment) who were all reclassified to Class 7A.

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However, there is one team that has won it four straight times in this decade that is still in the classification. That would be Miami Central.

With the changes made through reclassification being in play, the field is wide open for a new state champion to be crowned come December in Daytona Beach.

Welcome to the neighborhood of Class 6A

Some notable teams made their new home in Class 6A after reclassification, which made things very competitive for who could be in the hunt for a state championship this season.

Looking at 6A North, one of the most notable teams, which is also the highest enrollment school in Class 6A is Columbia (Lake City). They make their return to the classification after being in Class 7A for the last four years. Some have them pegged as a potential favorite to represent Class 6A North in the state championship game.

Other 6A North teams to enter the classification include Robert E. Lee (Jacksonville), Mosley (Lynn Haven), Ponte Vedra, Lake Minneola, Lecanto, Fivay, Freedom (Tampa), Gaither, Countryside (Clearwater), Seminole (Seminole), and St. Petersburg.

In Class 6A South, Miami Southridge became one of the biggest additions to the classification after dropping down from Class 8A where they won a state championship in 2016.

Teams to join Class 6A that were placed in 6A South include Gateway (Kissimmee), Jefferson (Tampa), Middleton (Tampa), Spoto (Riverview), Fort Pierce Westwood, Port St. Lucie, South Fork (Stuart), Braden River (Bradenton), Palmetto, Southeast (Bradenton), Dunbar (Fort Myers), South Fort Myers, Immokalee, Lely (Naples), Hollywood Hills, Belen Jesuit (Miami), and South Miami.

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.

Ilyas Akbar, Escambia, Sr. – The defensive end was recognized with third-team all-state honors at defensive end after racking up 64 tackles (27 for loss), seven sacks, forcing and recovering a fumble apiece last season.

Phillip Bangura, Gateway (Kissimmee), Sr. – Earned second-team all-state honors at running back last season after rushing for 1,369 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also had 264 yards receiving and four more touchdowns as well.

Tramel Brown, Gainesville, Sr. – Brown only gave up three sacks and had 33 pancake blocks at offensive tackle last season, earning all-state honorable mention honors.

Blake Bullock, Pace, Sr. – Bullock received all-state honorable mention honors at kicker last season after hitting 47 of his 51 point-after tries and booting 5 of his 9 field goals. He also had 17 touchbacks on kickoffs.

Adrian Cabrera, Springstead, Sr. – The inside linebacker led the state with 169 tackles (32 for loss) last season and also had two interceptions, one sack, forced three fumbles and had a fumble recovery while earning second-team all-state honors.

Le’vontae Camiel, Columbia, Sr. – Racked up 62 tackles (18 for loss) and 12 sacks last season earning third-team all-state honors at defensive end.

Don Chaney Jr., Belen Jesuit, Sr. – Chaney rushed for 1,079 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on his way to all-state honorable mention honors in Class 8A last season.

Khaishef Edwards, Largo, Sr. – At wide receiver, Edwards hauled in 34 catches for 942 yards and 11 touchdowns which recognized him with third-team all-state honors.

Mike Fangman, Naples, Sr. – The offensive center grabbed first-team all-state recognition last year after being highly rated in all of his games during the season by his coaches.

Rashard Farmer, Heritage (Palm Bay), Sr. – Had 48 tackles last season and collected 10 interceptions, returning five for a touchdown, earning second-team all-state honors at safety.

Ethan Gettman, Mainland, Sr. – Gettman averaged 38.2 yards per punt last season and also has a knack for deep kickoffs with 38 touchbacks recorded as he earned third-team all-state honors at punter.

Taron Keith, Mainland, Sr. – The dual-threat quarterback threw for 1,614 yards and rushed for 773 yards, scoring 21 total touchdowns on the way to all-state honorable mention recognition.

Cole LeClair, Middleburg, Sr. – One of best overall players Middleburg has seen in years, LeClair not only plays on the offensive line but the defensive line as well. Just on defense alone, he had 55 tackles last season (nine for loss) and four sacks earning an all-state honorable mention.

Dom Mammarelli, Naples, Sr. – The promising tight end was more of a blocking tight end for the Golden Eagles but had nearly 100 yards receiving and a scored, earning third-team all-state honors last season.

Ralph Mency, Robert E. Lee, Sr. – The defensive end earned second-team all-state honors at an athlete in Class 7A last season collecting 57 tackles, eight sacks, two interceptions and recovering two fumbles.

Jayion McCluster, Largo, Sr. – Had 129 tackles last season, broke up seven passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble while getting recognized with third-team all-state honors at inside linebacker.

Rent Montie, Clearwater, Sr. – One of the best quarterbacks the Tornadoes have had, Montie earned third-team all-state honors last season with 2,485 yards of passing offense with 24 touchdowns.

Keedrik Murray, Clearwater, Sr. – Hauled in 58 receptions for 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, plus had 206 kick return yards and a touchdown which earned Murray second-team all-state honors.

Jordan Oladokun, Gaither, Jr. – A cornerback that most usually won’t throw in the direction to, he collected 16 tackles and seven interceptions with three of those being returned for a touchdown last season, earning second-team all-state honors.

Frank Peasant, Escambia, Sr. – Rushed for 1,863 yards and 17 touchdowns last season and had 245 yards receiving, earning first-team all-state honors at the athlete spot.

Elan Sommala, Naples, Sr. – Rushed for 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, earning all-state honorable mention recognition.

Ar’quel Smith, Naples, Sr. – The outside linebacker for the Golden Eagles earned an all-state honorable mention after collecting 113 tackle (18 for loss), five-and-half sacks, forcing four fumbles, two interceptions and scoring two defensive touchdowns last season.

Jordan Smith, Columbia, Sr. – Threw for 3,600 yards and 35 touchdowns, plus rushed for 5000 yards and seven more touchdowns last year for the Tigers which earned him first-team all-state honors at quarterback.

Tim Smith, Sebastian River, Sr. – Smith earned third-team all-state honors at defensive tackle last season collecting 67 tackles (29 for loss), nine sacks, blocking six kicks, intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble.

Tyrese Smith, Gulf Breeze, Sr. – Smith earned second-team all-state honors as a utility player after collecting 64 tackles (17.5 for loss), six-and-half sacks, and collecting two interceptions, one that was returned for a score last season from the defensive end position.

Blaise Sparks, North Fort Myers, Sr. – A huge offensive lineman that helped the offense average 422 yards per game last season for the Red Knights while earning first-team all-state honors.

Deidrick Stanley II, Miami Central, Sr. – Standout cornerback, who was at Chaminade-Madonna last season had seven interceptions with 85 tackles which earned him Class 3A second-team all-state honors.

David Stickle, Pace, Sr. – Stickle earned second-team all-state honors at tight end and was primarily a blocking tight end as he had 101 yards receiving and two touchdowns last season.

Charles Toombs, Immokalee, Sr. – Earned Class 5A all-state honorable mention honors at safety with three interceptions as teams avoided throwing his way last season.

Gerand Turner, South Miami, Sr. – Turner earned third-team all-state honors at wide receiver after catching 53 passes for 1,140 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns last season.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

Miami Central – A lot of talent has come in as expected for the Rockets, a lot of them we will be hearing about as we progress through the season. Combine that with an always tough national schedule, plus with Miami Northwestern and Miami Carol City out of the way, you can see why a lot have the Rockets favored to return to the top in Class 6A.

NEXT IN LINE

Columbia – The team has a lot of talent surrounding the coaching capabilities of Brian Allen. Also, the fact the Tigers truly lucked out dropping a classification and being placed in 6A North, their path to a potential state championship is very much there for the taking. However, can they put the work in to do it and not stumble over themselves when it matters the most?

Miami Southridge – Don’t count the Spartans out from being in the mix for a possible chance to win Class 6A. They also have a very talented roster like new district foe Miami Central does. If they can do everything right to win the games they need to, competing for a state championship could be a possibility this season.

Naples – Given how the last couple of years have resulted in deep playoff runs, if Naples can play their best football when it matters most and get past the Miami powers in their region, they could be on the path to a possible state championship since 2007 behind the coaching of Hall of Fame coach Bill Kramer.

SLEEPERS

Escambia – The Gators could very well be a sleeper team this year given how easy the path could be for a 6A North team to make it to the state championship game this season. With some solid talent returning under the guidance of head coach Mike Bennett, this would have fans in Pensacola cheering in excitement for the first time in many years.

Mainland – Can’t rule the Buccaneers out totally from the state championship equation and now that finally, they are on the right side of the bracket being in 6A North, can they take advantage of the opportunity to get to the biggest game for the first time since 2003 when they won it in Class 5A? That is a huge question, but if they do it, the chance to play in front of a home crowd would be huge for the city of Daytona Beach.

Jefferson – This might be a longshot given the fact the Dragons are in 6A South and not 6A North, but they have had some considerable talent the last few years and could have a path that gets them close to the state championship game. How close remains to be seen.

Coaches Interviews
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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 6A-1

Escambia at Mosley, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m. CT

Escambia and Mosley have been decent the last couple of years and looking at things now, this game could be the deciding factor in who wins the district championship.

District 6A-2

Columbia at Robert E. Lee, Oct. 11, 6:00 p.m.

These two teams have been a pain to each other the last couple of years and they will be again this year as this game could ultimately decide the district champion.

District 6A-3

St. Augustine at Ponte Vedra, Oct. 25, 7:00 p.m.

Expect this St. Johns County showdown to decide this district in the final week of district play for both teams.

District 6A-4

Mainland vs. New Smyrna Beach at New Smyrna Municipal, Oct. 18, 7:00 p.m.

New Smyrna Beach should be right in the hunt for the district championship along with Mainland as we expect this game to decide the district champion once again this year.

District 6A-5

Springstead at Lake Minneola, Oct. 25, 7:00 p.m.

For whatever it is worth, this game likely decides the district champion and who will likely be the lone representative of the district in the playoffs this season.

District 6A-6

Land O’ Lakes at Gaither, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

This was more rather just pick a game for this district and this one looks like it might be the most interesting of them all with Gaither the most likely favorite to win the district this season.

District 6A-7

Clearwater at Largo, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

These two teams are the best teams in their district, and it is crazy that they will meet for their first district game together in Week 4 instead of it being in Week 10 for the possible district championship. Just note that whoever wins this game is likely going to win the district.

District 6A-8

Boca Ciega at St. Petersburg, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

The winner of this game is likely your district champion with the district only having four overall teams.

District 6A-9

Heritage (Palm Bay) at Lake Gibson, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

The two teams are the most experienced programs in the district when it comes to reaching the playoffs on a very consistent basis. Each has talent in their own right and whoever wins this one will have a clear path to winning the entire district.

District 6A-10

Jefferson at Hillsborough, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

Just something about this game is saying that it will be a great showdown for the fans which will give one of the two the ability to control the driver’s seat for the district championship.

District 6A-11

South Fork at Sebastian River, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

South Fork and Sebastian River each have some quality talent on their rosters and if they stay healthy, one of these two has the potential chance of winning the district in about two weeks after this game is completed.

District 6A-12

Charlotte at Braden River, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

Charlotte will be looking to use this as a springboard to a second straight district championship while Braden River will see if they still have what it takes to be in the mix for a district championship after losing two of their best players in the off-season to Sarasota.

District 6A-13

North Fort Myers at Fort Myers, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

This is just one of several district games for both teams that could make or break their chances at a district championship this season.

District 6A-14

Naples at Barron Collier, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

This is just one a couple of key district games for both teams and while a district championship won’t be determined in this one, whoever wins it will take control of the driver’s seat for it.

District 6A-15

Boyd Anderson at Dillard, Sep 27, 7:00 p.m.

This district game will determine a district leader who is likely to win the district this season.

District 6A-16

Miami Southridge vs. Miami Central at Traz Powell, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

A lot of talent will be flying around on the field for this game and too bad it won’t be for the district championship. Instead, the winner will get to take control of the district standings for the chance to win the district outright later in the season.

DISTRICT PREDICTIONS

District 6A-1

1. Escambia

2. Mosley

3. Pace

4. Gulf Breeze

5. Milton

6. Washington (Pensacola)

7. Fort Walton Beach

District 6A-2

1. Columbia

2. Robert E. Lee

3. Gainesville

4. Middleburg

District 6A-3

1. Ponte Vedra

2. St. Augustine

3. Matanzas

4. Englewood

District 6A-4

1. Mainland

2. New Smyrna Beach

3. Deltona

4. Seabreeze

5. Pine Ridge

District 6A-5

1. Springstead

2. Lake Minneola

3. Pasco

4. Lecanto

District 6A-6

1. Gaither

2. Land O’ Lakes

3. Fivay

4. Freedom (Tampa)

District 6A-7

1. Largo

2. Clearwater

3. Countryside

4. Seminole (Seminole)

5. Osceola (Seminole)

District 6A-8

1. St. Petersburg

2. Boca Ciega

3. Northeast (St. Petersburg)

4. Dixie Hollins

District 6A-9

1. Heritage (Palm Bay)

2. Lake Gibson

3. Gateway (Kissimmee)

4. Auburndale

5. Bayside

District 6A-10

1. Jefferson

2. Hillsborough

3. Middleton

4. Blake

5. Brandon

6. Spoto

7. King

District 6A-11

1. Sebastian River

2. South Fork

3. Fort Pierce Westwood

4. Port St. Lucie

5. Okeechobee

District 6A-12

1. Charlotte

2. Palmetto

3. Braden River

4. Port Charlotte

5. Southeast

District 6A-13

1. Fort Myers

2. North Fort Myers

3. Dunbar

4. Island Coast

5. South Fort Myers

6. Ida Baker

7. East Lee County

District 6A-14

1. Naples

2. Barron Collier

3. Immokalee

4. Palmetto Ridge

5. Golden Gate

6. Lely

District 6A-15

1. Dillard

2. Boyd Anderson

3. Hollywood Hills

4. Archbishop McCarthy

5. Northeast (Oakland Park)

District 6A-16

1. Miami Central

2. Miami Southridge

3. Miami Norland

4. Belen Jesuit

5. South Miami