Lakeland is looking to go back-to-back on state championships for the first time in over a decade 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 ahead into Class 7A.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can Lakeland repeat at state champions?

It was a huge year last year for the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, being the only undefeated state champion last season and as such, the expectations are set even higher for the season in the quest to win back-to-back state championships.

That quest to win a second straight championship will start with a considerable amount of rising talent returning from last year’s state championship team on top of the return of all-state running back Demarkcus Bowman for his senior year. Add in a few transfers to the mix to make things even deeper and you got the recipe for another run to the crown.

Advertisement

However, St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), which is loaded with talent this year will have a say in the process, plus with teams like Navarre, Crestview, Armwood (Seffner), Niceville all now a part of the 7A North bracket now, the path to that second straight state championship is not as clear as it probably was last year. And let’s not forget, one of the shining stars outside of Lakeland in 7A North still resides there. That is Edgewater (Orlando) who has just as much talent, if not more than last year’s state semifinalist team.

Did Class 7A become a loaded classification?

Don’t look now, but Class 7A became a loaded classification with reclassification adding more teams that will be potential state championship contenders right out of the gate.

In Class 7A North the additions start with Crestview, Navarre, Niceville and Tate (Cantonment) from Class 6A, which are all located in just one district alone in Class 7A-1 with the three Tallahassee 7A school that also include perennial playoff team Lincoln (Tallahassee). Wekiva (Apopka) which has been in Class 8A the last few years and has made strides to become one of the top teams in the state has slid down into Class 7A for the next two years. Add in Edgewater (Orlando), a state semifinalist from last year, Viera (Melbourne) which represented 7A North in the state championship game a few years ago. and Armwood (Seffner), a state finalist the last few years in Class 6A, also in 7A North and you can see instantly why alone Class 7A is so much stronger now.

However, we aren’t done there yet.

In Class 7A South, the additions of Manatee (Bradenton), Mitchell, Atlantic (Delray), Plantation, American (Hialeah), Miramar, and North Miami have helped bolster this section of the state. With Dwyer (Palm Beach Gardens), St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) and Venice already mainstays in 7A South, the path to a state championship from this region has gotten much tougher.

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.

David Anderton, Edgewater, Sr. – One of the biggest reasons the Eagles had a high production rate on offense this last year with Anderton’s blocking grade at 88% and having 43 pancake blocks from the offensive guard which earned him second-team all-state honors.

Bradley Ashmore, Fletcher, Sr. – The offensive tackle earned all-state honorable mention honors last season after helping lead the Senators offensive attack into the playoffs.

Brian Battie, Sarasota, Sr. – Battie, who was at Braden River (Bradenton) last year rushed for 2,133 yards and 28 touchdowns earning first-team all-state honors at running back.

Demarkcus Bowman, Lakeland, Sr. – The talented running back rushed for 2,417 yards and 36 touchdowns last season while setting records, winning the Dreadnaughts the state championship and earning first-team all-state honors as well earning overall player of the year honors in Class 7A.

Chuck Brantley, Riverview (Sarasota), Jr. – The cornerback, who played at Riverview (Sarasota) last season had 58 tackles and nine interceptions, earning third-team all-state honors in Class 8A.

Aamaris Brown, Armwood, Sr. – Racked up 33 tackles and seven interceptions last season from the cornerback position, earning him Class 6A third-team all-state honors.

Derek Bryant, Pinellas Park, Sr. – Earning second-team all-state honors as a returner, Bryant had 1,894 all-purpose yards last season including 1,107 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns, plus catching 25 passes for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. He also had a punt return and kick return for a touchdown as well.

Henry Bryant III, Atlantic (Delray Beach), Sr. – The defensive tackle collected 60 tackles and 15 sacks last season earning first-team all-state honors in Class 8A.

Patrick Bryant II, Atlantic Coast, Jr. – The rising junior was an all-around player for the Stingrays last season averaging over 10 yards on kickoff returns, returning one for a score, averaging nearly 17 yards on punt returns, had 11 tackles on defense with one interception returned for a touchdown plus collected 39 catches for 635 yards and five touchdowns. All of that earned him third-team all-state honors as a returner.

Isaiah Connelly, Edgewater, Sr. – The running back rushed for 1,330 yards and 14 touchdowns last season on the way to third-team all-state honors.

Marlon Courtney III, Navarre, Sr. – The dual-threat quarterback earned Class 6A second-team all-state honors as an athlete after throwing for 2,428 yards and 19 touchdowns last season while also rushing for 410 yards and five touchdowns.

Cooper Davis, Viera, Sr. – A first-team all-state defensive end last season, Davis had 100 tackles (21 for loss), 21 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a blocked kick for the Hawks.-

Colby Dempsey, Dwyer, Sr. – Gave quarterbacks a fit last years picking off nine passes while collecting 40 tackles to earn first-team all-state honors at cornerback.

Kareem Dinzey, Harmony, Sr. – A lot of teams avoiding throwing Dinzey’s way last season but made them pay when they did by collecting 10 interceptions, 28 tackles, breaking up five passes and recovering at fumble which earned him third-team all-state honors at cornerback.

Gage Gaynor, Stoneman Douglas, Sr. – A leader of the offensive line, Gaynor earned third-team all-state honors last season as an offensive guard.

Jalen Glaze, Lincoln, Sr. – The cornerback earned second-team all-state honors last season after collecting 75 tackles, six interceptions, forcing two fumbles, recovering a fumble and scoring a defensive touchdown for the Trojans.

Ry’Shawn Glinton, Kathleen, Sr. – Glinton earned an all-state honorable mention at defensive end after collecting 105 tackles (20 for loss) and 10.5 sacks for the Red Devils last season.

Corbin Grantham, Buchholz, Sr. – The son of Florida Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, collected 79 tackles last season along with three interceptions, breaking up five passes and forcing and recovering a fumble which earned him second-team all-state honors at safety.

Elijah Gunn, Harmony, Sr. – At outside linebacker, Gunn earned second-team all-state honors after collecting up 154 tackles (35 for loss), 12 sacks, one interception, broke up two passes, recovered two fumbles and forced three fumbles last season.

Agiye Hall, Armwood, Jr. – Hauled in 878 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns last season, earning Class 6A second-team all-state honors at wide receiver.

De’Kwan Hughes, Armwood, Sr.  – Hughes is so feared by opposing teams that they never threw in his direction last season as he only collected 22 tackles, but that was enough to earn first-team all-state honors in Class 6A.

Evian Irving, Vero Beach, Sr. – Earned third-team all-state honors at outside linebacker after collecting 79 tackles, two sacks, one interception, recovered a fumble and forced two fumbles for the Indians last season.

Ridge Jacobs, Atlantic Coast, Jr. – Played his sophomore season at University Christian (Jacksonville) where he earned second-team all-state honors in Class 2A after passing for 2,138 yard and 23 touchdowns.

Griffin Lampton, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr. – An outside linebacker that transferred from Palm Beach Central, Lampton had 61 tackles (19 for loss) and 14 sacks last season which earned him third-team all-state honors.

Joshua Lopes, Doral Academy, Jr. – The kicking specialist booted 12 of 14 field goals with his longest from 45-yards out and made 53 of 55 extra-point attempts on his way to earning all-state honorable mention honors.

Charles Montgomery, Armwood, Jr. – Montgomery, who was at Bloomingdale last year, earned all-state honorable mention as an athlete after collected passing, receiving and rushing stats on offense.

Bryce Norton, Viera, Jr. – As a sophomore last year, Norton put up numbers you would expect from a senior, passing for 3,351 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 1,343 yards and 13 touchdowns which earned him not only first-team all-state honors but also the Class 7A offensive MVP award as well.

Stephen Passeggiata, Wellington, Sr. – Earned third-team all-state honors at defensive end collecting 68 tackles (27 for loss) and 14 sacks last season for the Wolverines.

Devante Penny, Pinellas Park, Jr. – One of the big reasons why the team racked up a lot of yards on the ground last season which earned Penny honorable mention all-state honors.

Clyde Pinder Jr., Armwood, Jr. – The huge defensive tackle had 30 tackles (18 for loss) and 10 sacks last season earning, second-team all-state honors.

Mark Pitts, Buchholz, Sr. – The offensive tackle started every game last year only giving up three sacks the entire season, earning an all-state honorable mention.

Cam’ron Ransom, Armwood, Jr. – The dual-threat quarterback earned Class 6A third-team all-state honors as an athlete last season after account for over 2,100 yards of offense and 32 touchdowns.

Dylan Ridolph, Wiregrass Ranch, Sr. – The first-team all-state outside linebacker had 82 tackles (23 for loss), 22 sacks and a forced fumble last season.

Adarian Robinson, Riverdale, Sr. – Small for his size at outside linebacker, Robinson didn’t let that impact the work he did on the field last season racking up 83 tackles (11.5 for loss) and 11.5 sacks which earned him third-team all-state honors.

Marcus Rosemy, St. Thomas Aquinas, Jr. – Hauled in 858 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season as a sophomore, earning third-team all-state honors.

Brandon Schabert, Seminole Ridge, Jr. – Earned a Class 8A all-state honorable mention last season after hauling nearly 850 yards receiving on 46 catches.

Logan Schaeffer, Niceville, Sr. – Earned Class 6A all-state honorable mention honors as a defensive tackle last season by collecting 38 tackles (nine for loss) and four sacks.

Nicholas Syms, Pinellas Park, Sr. – Collected 75 tackles (35 for loss), had two fumble recoveries and blocked two punts last season which earned him second-team all-state honors at defensive tackle.

Lawrance Toafili, Pinellas Park, Sr. – The exceptional running back rushed for 1,434 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, earning second-team all-state honors.

Travis Tobey, Sarasota, Sr. – Tobey, who was at Braden River last year, earned all-state honorable mention honor at tight end after having 452 yards receiving and five touchdowns plus collected 49 pancake blocks on the offensive line.

Nolan Troyer, Armwood, Sr. – The offensive center was a huge factor in the Hawks’ much-improved offense last season which earned him Class 6A second-team all-state honors.

Tykee Wallace, George Jenkins, Sr. – The cornerback had 34 tackles and seven interceptions last season which earned Class 8A all-state honorable mention honors.

Demario Williams, Plant City, Jr. – Williams, who will be a team captain this season, had 51 catches for 950 yards and 14 touchdowns last season plus had two kick return touchdowns which earned him first-team all-state honors.

Jalen Williams, Wekiva, Sr. – At the tight end position last year, Williams earned Class 8A first-team all-state honors with 37 catches for 534 yards and five touchdowns.

Eric Wilson, Armwood, Sr. – The rising senior rushed for 1,223 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Hawks which earned him an all-state honorable mention at running back.

Derek Wingo, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr. – A major force at outside linebacker last season for the Raiders, Wingo earned first-team all-state honors who collected 12 tackles for loss and six sacks from his position.

Weston Wolff, Venice, Jr. – Wolff had a breakout season last year as a sophomore catching 70 passes for 798 yards and three touchdowns which earned him an all-state honorable mention.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

Lakeland – Truly believe Lakeland has a solid chance of repeating as Class 7A state champions. Their roster is stacked with talent this year and with Demarkcus Bowman back for his senior year, it should not be a surprise that the Dreadnaughts are a favorite by many in the state.

NEXT IN LINE

St. Thomas Aquinas – I could put St. Thomas Aquinas as the favorite to win it all and I would likely be right as well. The Raiders are also stacked with talent and that is enough right there along just to consider them in the state championship hunt. The coaching and the national schedule are just a couple of more factors on top that have them in consideration once again this season.

Armwood – A ton of talent is gracing the roster of the Hawks, but the path to getting to the state championship game got a lot tougher now being in Class 7A. Being in 7A North with teams like Lakeland, Navarre, Crestview, Niceville, Edgewater (Orlando) and Buchholz (Gainesville) makes it for a very interesting path to playing for a state championship the next two years. Still, we can’t count the Hawks out of the race no matter how tough it gets.

Venice – We can’t count out Venice from making a potential state championship run. The Indians know what it takes with the talent they have had over the years to playing a national-caliber schedule. A deep playoff run is certainly possible once again in 2019.

Edgewater – The Eagles are deep on talent on the roster this season and they return some key players that helped guide their run to the state semifinals last year. If they stay healthy and win all the games they need to win, there is a chance they could be playing right up to the road in Daytona Beach for a state championship come December.

SLEEPERS

Atlantic (Delray) – This is a quality team that has already played for a state championship within the last few years and the boys are hungry to get back to play for another one. While there is some talent on the roster that can help them get there, the path to state is very challenging given the teams that are in the 7A South region.

Navarre – The Raiders are newcomers to Class 7A, but they have always been talented and with the coaching the have from Jay Walls, there is never a question can they win the game necessary during the regular season. The question here will be the path to make a run for the state championship.

Manatee – Might be a longshot still for the Hurricanes to play for a state championship, but with some changes on the coaching staff during the offseason has brought some excitement to Coach Yusuf Shakir’s program and if they can get the players to buy in to what they want fully, this might be one team that surprises the entire state, be it be this season or next.

Wekiva – If they can be anywhere near like what they have been the last two years, the Mustangs could have a chance to play spoilers role in 7A North. There is still some talent on the roster, but being in Class 7A now, things are very much different in terms of the path to a deep playoff or potential state championship run.

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 7A-1

Crestview at Navarre, Oct. 25, 7:30 CT

This district is loaded with so many great district games and it is hard to pick just one, but if we are to pick one that could determine the potential district champion, this is the game that we would want to see.

District 7A-2

Fletcher vs. Buchholz at Citizens Field, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

This game potentially could decide the district leader and potential district champion. This will be a hard-fought competitive matchup.

District 7A-3

Wekiva at Edgewater, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

This district game really should be the last one played and not the first one, but that is not how the draw went. Instead one of these two teams will have the inside track to winning the district outright by winning this game here.

District 7A-4

Lyman at East River, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

A lot is unknown about how the teams will do in this district, but if we were to say there is a game that needs to keep eye on this would be it.

District 7A-5

Viera at Harmony, Sep. 27, 7:30 p.m.

Both teams were district champions last year, but only one of them will be able to claim that right this year. Expect this to be a test for both with the winner getting the inside track to that district crown.

District 7A-6

Liberty (Kissimmee) at Winter Haven, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

This early-in-the-season district contest will test both teams as they appear to be the two best teams in the district right now. Winner will be in the driver’s seat to win the district.

District 7A-7

Lakeland at Plant City, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

A lot to like about this early season district showdown between two district champions from last season with talent on both roster and some great coaching will be seen in this one.

District 7A-8

Armwood at Tampa Bay Tech, Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m.

Here is a good little rivalry game that has now turned into a competitive district game. Expect both of these teams to give it their all because whoever wins will most likely be your district champion for this district.

District 7A-9

Mitchell at Pinellas Park, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

Both teams won their respective districts last season, but now only one will be able to claim such a feat this season. This opening district game will set the path to deciding who will be the district champion in this new district.

District 7A-10

Manatee at Venice, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

Huge rivalry game right here and now the fact it is back as a district game now makes it even more fun for the bragging rights – and yes there is very much the potential this game could also be for the district championship as well.

District 7A-11

Lehigh at Riverdale, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

This matchup will involve the two best teams from this district — nevermind the fact this is a rivalry game itself already — with the district championship most likely on the line depending on the potential scenarios that week. Both teams have some decent talent on the roster so this will be worth the price of admission.

District 7A-12

Dwyer at Palm Beach Lakes, Oct. 18, 6:00 p.m.

With some questions lurking about this Dwyer and the district itself, there is a chance the district itself is up for the taking by any of the five teams. But if there is one game that we say keep an eye on, it is this very game here that could decide some things for the district.

District 7A-13

Blanche Ely at Atlantic (Delray), Oct. 25, 6:00 p.m.

Atlantic is most likely the district favorite, but if Blanche Ely could very well have a potential say in that thought process and this will be the game here that should ultimately determine the district champion.

District 7A-14

Plantation at St. Thomas Aquinas, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

When these two teams meet, they go at it hard. As this will be Plantation’s third and final district game of the season, this game could very well decide the district champion.

District 7A-15

Miramar at McArthur, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

In a district that could go several different directions, this is one game keeping an eye on as it will set the course for how the rest of the district games play out in the second half of the season.

District 7A-16

North Miami vs. Hialeah, Sep. 13, 7:30 p.m.

A lot to like about this game as the last few years, this matchup has helped decide who win the district when both were in District 8A-13. However, this time around the matchup is going to set the tone for both teams and how the rest of the season plays out for them in district play.

DISTRICT PREDICTIONS

District 7A-1

1. Navarre

2. Crestview

3. Lincoln

4. Niceville

5. Chiles

6. Tate

7. Leon

District 7A-2

1. Buchholz

2. Fletcher

3. Fleming Island

4. First Coast

5. Creekside

6. Atlantic Coast

District 7A-3

1. Edgewater

2. Wekiva

3. South Lake

4. Forest

District 7A-4

1. East River

2. Lyman

3. Lake Howell

4. Winter Springs

District 7A-5

1. Viera

2. Harmony

3. St. Cloud

4. Melbourne

5. Tohopekaliga

District 7A-6

1. Winter Haven

2. Liberty (Kissimmee)

3. George Jenkins

4. Bartow

5. Poinciana

District 7A-7

1. Lakeland

2. Plant City

3. Kathleen

4. Durant

5. Bloomingdale

6. Strawberry Crest

District 7A-8

1. Armwood

2. Tampa Bay Tech

3. Wiregrass Ranch

4. East Bay

District 7A-9

1. Pinellas Park

2. Mitchell

3. East Lake

4. Sickles

5. Sunlake

6. Leto

District 7A-10

1. Venice

2. Manatee

3. Sarasota

4. Lakewood Ranch

District 7A-11

1. Riverdale

2. Lehigh

3. Gulf Coast

4. North Port

District 7A-12

1. Palm Beach Lakes

2. Seminole Ridge

3. Dwyer

4. Martin County

5. Royal Palm Beach

District 7A-13

1. Atlantic (Delray)

2. Blanche Ely

3. Olympic Heights

4. West Boca Raton

District 7A-14

1. St. Thomas Aquinas

2. Plantation

3. Fort Lauderdale

4. South Plantation

District 7A-15

1. McArthur

2. Miramar

3. American

4. Cooper City

5. Everglades

6. South Broward

District 7A-16

1. Hialeah

2. Doral Academy

3. North Miami

4. Homestead

5. Mater Academy

6. Miami Beach