Mandarin is coming off winning the school's first ever football state championship and will be looking to go back-to-back this season in Class 8A. [PHOTO - Joshua Wilson/FHSF]

STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can Mandarin repeat as Class 8A state champions?

Mandarin (Jacksonville) will get every chance to repeat as state champions, but as the trend has shown over the years, it is hard to repeat as state champions in the state’s highest classification. As a matter of fact, according to the FHSAA record books, the last team to win back-to-back state championships in the highest classification was Miami Northwestern when Class 6A was the highest classification back 2006 and 2007. The only other teams to do it have been Miami Carol City in 1996-1997 in Class 6A; Pine Forest (Pensacola) in 1987-1988 in Class 5A; Merritt Island in 1978-1977 in Class 4A; and Coral Gables, twice, all in Class 2A with the first back-to-back state championship wins coming in 1963-1964 and then once again in 1967-1968. Look for quite a few teams including Plant (Tampa), Deerfield Beach, and Columbus (Miami) to have a say in this.

Some fresh faces in Class 8A…

Some new faces are making an appearance in Class 8A this season and some could have an instant impact on how things go for the state championship race. Some of the most notable additions include Bartram Trail (St. Johns), Oakleaf (Orange Park), Hagerty (Oviedo), Lake Nona (Orlando), and Plant (Tampa). Out of those teams, Plant has won in this classification before, which happened in 2011. If anything, the additions of roughly about 15 teams help keep the guessing going for who could possibly win the state championship this season in Class 8A.

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.

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Matthew Adcock, Steinbrenner, Sr. – The offensive tackle had 54 pancake blocks last season for the Warriors, earning him third-team all-state honors.

Deshauwn Alleyne, Centennial, Sr. – The inside linebacker racked up 115 tackles (22 for loss), six sacks and had five pass breakups last season, earning second-team all-state honors.

Carson Beck, Mandarin, Sr. – One of the most talked-about quarterbacks after his performance last season, Beck not only earned first-team all-state honors but also Class 8A overall player of the year award after throwing for 3,546 yards and 39 touchdowns, leading Mandarin to its first-ever football state championship.

Dimitris Biamby, Coral Gables, Sr. – Earned an all-state honorable mention at inside linebacker last season after collecting up 120 tackles and five sacks for the Cavaliers.

Cameron Brown, Steinbrenner, Sr. – Averaged 35.6 yards per punt last season, placing 15 punts inside the 20 which earned him third-team all-state honors at punter.

Xavier Correa, Treasure Coast, Sr. – One of the top defensive linemen in the Treasure Coast area last year, Correa earned an all-state honorable mention at defensive end.

Marcus Clarke, Winter Park, Sr. – The standout wide receiver had 59 catches for 997 yards and 21 touchdowns, plus had touchdown returns through punts and interceptions which earned him second-team all-state honors last season.

Keonte Coffie, Oviedo, Jr. – Rushed for 1,545 yards and 17 touchdowns last season earning second-team all-state honors.

Jonathan Denis, South Dade, Sr. – The offensive guard was a huge asset to the Buccaneers last season which had over 4,500 yards of total offense, earning him first-team all-state honors.

Stephen Dix Jr., Dr. Phillips, Sr. – Leader of the defense last season for the Panthers, he collected 137 tackles (25 for loss), seven sacks forced five fumbles, recovered two fumbles, blocked a kick and had one interception earning first-team all-state honors.

Jaiden Francois, South Dade, Sr. – The first-team all-state cornerback collected 79 tackles, eight pass breakups, and 12 interceptions last season.

Tucker Gleason, Plant, Sr. – The dual-threat quarterback earned Class 7A second-team all-state honors as an athlete last season with 2,201 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and rushing for 1,097 yards and 13 more touchdowns.

Malaki Grant, Flagler Palm Coast, Jr. – Racked up 132 tackles (18 for loss) and seven sacks as a sophomore last season, earning all-state honorable mention honors.

Jackson Hacker, Plant, Sr. – Had 80 tackles (16 for loss), 15 sacks, forced one fumble and recovered three fumbles on the way to second-team all-state honors at outside linebacker last season.

Michael Hayes Jr., Riverview (Sarasota), Jr. – The utility player did it all for the Rams last season, playing quarterback, running back, wide receiver while also returning punts and kickoffs which earned him second-team all-state honors.

Xzavier Henderson, Columbus, Sr. – An all-around athlete that did it all for the Explorers last season, earning second-team all-state honors at the athlete position.

Aydin Henningham, Deerfield Beach, Sr. – Henningham earned third-team all-state honors at athlete having stats in receiving, rushing as well at safety plus special teams at Park Vista last season.

Kyjuan Herndon, Sandalwood, Sr. – The running back rushed for 1,553 yards and 19 touchdowns plus had two receiving touchdowns earning second-team all-state honors last season.

Triston Herndon, Sandalwood, Sr. – The outside linebacker collected 54 tackles and had 14 sacks which earned him third-team all-state honors at outside linebacker.

Tino Hunt, Lennard, Sr. – Earned Class 7A all-state honorable mention honors at running back after rushing for 1,607 yards and 16 touchdowns last season for the Longhorns.

Branden Jennings, Sandalwood, Jr. – Had a huge sophomore year last year collecting 136 tackles and six sacks while earning second-team all-state honors at inside linebacker.

Larry Johnson, Western, Sr. – Collected 73 tackles (20.5 for loss) and 10 sacks from the defensive tackle position on the way to second-team all-state honors last season.

Tre’Vez Johnson, Bartram Trail, Sr. – At cornerback, he picked off three passes while collecting 42 tackles for the Bears last season which earned Class 7A all-state honorable mention honors.

Jaylon Knighton, Deerfield Beach, Jr. – The highly rated running back not only earned first-team all-state honors last season, but also Class 8A offensive player of the year after rushing for 2,099 yards and 28 touchdowns while setting a school record for rushing in a single season.

Hudson Levine, Mandarin, Sr. – Levine excelled last season as the Mustangs’ kicker, completing seven of nine field-goal attempts and booting in 43 of 56 point-after attempts, earning third-team all-state honors.

Deajuan McDougle, Deerfield Beach, Sr. – An excellent wide receiver had 61 catches last season for 853 yards receiving and eight touchdowns which earned him third-team all-state honors.

Dwayne McGee, Osceola (Kissimmee), Sr. – Rushed for 1,164 yards and 15 touchdowns last season at running back to earn an all-state honorable mention.

Robby Menello, Spruce Creek, Sr. – The offensive center was team leader last season and had the size to help open up holes for Marvin Scott to run through which earned him an all-state honorable mention.

Henry Parrish Jr., Columbus, Sr. – Earned first-team all-state honors at running back after rushing for 2,025 yards last season in helping the Explorers reach the Class 8A state championship game.

Ethan Pouncey, Winter Park, Sr. – The cornerback had 43 tackles, 21 pass breakups and intercepted eight passes, returning three of those for scores, earning second-team all-state honors for last season.

Michael Rankings, Lennard, Sr. – Was responsible for helping open the holes for Tino Hunt’s rushing attack last season, earning Class 7A all-state honorable mention honors at offensive tackle.

Bryan Robinson, Palm Beach Central, Jr. – An offensive weapon at wide receiver, Robinson had 976 receiving yards and scored nine touchdowns on the way to earning third-team all-state honors last season.

Jalen Rivers, Oakleaf, Sr. – Lead the way in opening the holes up for the Knights’ rushing attack last season earning him Class 7A second-team all-state honors at offensive tackle.

Marvin Scott III, Spruce Creek, Sr. – Rushed for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, earning third-team all-state honors at running back.

Deon Silas, Steinbrenner, Jr. – Silas proved huge as a special teams return specialist that became a part of 1,200 all-purpose yards. He also scored eight rushing touchdowns and scored on two kickoff returns, which earned him third-team all-state honors at returner.

Sean Washington, Oakleaf, Sr. – Hauled in 51 catches for 823 yards and six touchdowns last year, earning Class 7A all-state honorable mention honors.

Avantae Williams, DeLand, Sr. – Earned all-state honorable mention honors as a safety last season after collecting 59 tackles, breaking up five passes and returning two punts for touchdowns.

James Williams, Western, Sr. – Was at American Heritage (Plantation) last season where he collected 71 tackles (five for loss), five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns from the safety position on the way to Class 5A third-team all-state honors.

THE FAVORITE TO WIN IT ALL

Deerfield Beach – Going with the Bucks with Jaylon Knighton leading the way here. There is a ton of other talented athletes on the roster, but if there is going to be one reason why it will be Deerfield Beach’s year (finally) it is going to be what Knighton does on the field to not only to match but exceed what he did last year.

NEXT IN LINE

Mandarin – Not counting out the Mustangs to possible repeat as state champions, but some of the guys that made it a reality last year have graduated and moved on. Yes, Carson Beck is still under center, he will have to figure out who his new targets are going to be and see if the defense can come together to allow for another run to happen.

Columbus – The one thing about the Explorers is that while they have a few guys each year that are always talked about in the recruiting circles, they have a ton of guys who are doing their job as student-athletes and helping make sure that the winning traditions continue. Don’t be surprised if another deep run happens this season for Columbus.

Plant ­– Plant has been here and done that before in Class 8A and they instantly moved into one for the potential favorites to make a run for a state championship when they were moved into the classification during the reclassification process. With talent always on the roster, some of it being hidden gems, the Panthers will make sure they are not forgotten in the hunt for another crown.

SLEEPERS

South Dade – Have to think the Buccaneers are a sleeper here because they have done it before when no one thought they could do it and this might be a scenario to where it can happen again. There are some quality athletes back once again this season and if they do what they are supposed to do, a deep run in the playoffs or playing for a state championship game would not be a far-fetched idea.

Oakleaf – There is something to like about Oakleaf. Plenty of talent on the roster, some with guys who are making noise on the national level. The question will be if they can stay healthy and win the games they are supposed to, they could have a chance to make a very deep run this season.

Western – Until a couple of years ago, no one at the statewide level had heard of Western, but now they have been making noise the last couple of years, more attention is being shined on the program and the talent that is on the roster. With some playoffs win under their belt over the last couple of years, could this finally be the season the Wildcats push hard to make a run for the ultimate goal of a state championship? It could be possible.

Sandalwood – It would be ridiculous to think three teams from the same district all have a chance of making a possible run, but this is what happens when all three teams have some amazing talent on the roster. However, the biggest issue for the Saints will come down to making sure they win the games they are supposed to and staying healthy. Too many mistakes in key games can be costly and

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 8A-1

Mandarin at Sandalwood, Oct. 18, 7:00 p.m.

Huge district showdown that could very likely be for the district championship and it will be shown on national TV as well. So, get your popcorn ready for this one.

District 8A-2

Seminole (Sanford) vs. DeLand at Spec Martin, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

There is a lot of history and tradition between these two historic programs and now that it is a district game once again, expect it to be all left on the field at the end of the night. Winner of this one could likely win the district outright.

District 8A-3

Winter Park at Hagerty, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

A key district game at the midway point of the season that likely sets the tone for who will possibly win the district championship

District 8A-4

West Orange at Apopka, Oct. 11, 7:00 p.m.

Both teams have new head coaches, but this still could be one of the more competitive games in this district.

District 8A-5

Boone at Dr. Phillips, Sep. 13, 7:00 p.m.

This game will set the tone early for who will win the district with these two teams likely to be the top two teams in this new district.

District 8A-6

Lake Nona at Osceola (Kissimmee), Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

District championship could very much be on the line in this game depending on how one or both does in their prior district games before this one.

District 8A-7

Steinbrenner at Plant, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m.

Steinbrenner is going to be much improved this season and Plant still has a lot of talent. This will be the best game for this district this season without a question.

District 8A-8

Riverview (Sarasota) at Newsome, Oct. 18, 7:30 p.m.

This will probably be the best game in a district that has so many probabilities to who finishes in what order this season.

District 8A-9

Vero Beach vs. Treasure Coast, Oct. 11 at South County, 7:00 p.m.

Vero Beach won’t be a strong talent-wise while Treasure Coast appears to pose the biggest threat to the Indians’ dominancy as district champions. This game could decide it all for the district championship.

District 8A-10

Palm Beach Gardens at Palm Beach Central, Oct. 25, 6:00 p.m.

There are still some uncertainties about this district with some looming questions, but there is a chance this game decided the district champion as the regular season draws close to an end.

District 8A-11

Park Vista at Santaluces, Oct. 25, 6:00 p.m.

This is another district game in a district that has some questions still, but this probably will decide the district champion.

District 8A-12

Boca Raton at Deerfield Beach, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

There is not much to love about the district, but if there is a district matchup to pick from this district that could be at least half exciting, this would be it.

District 8A-13

Stoneman Douglas at Taravella, Oct. 4, 7:00 p.m.

These two teams will probably be the most competitive in their district this season and whoever wins this game probably will end up winning the district overall.

District 8A-14

Western at Cypress Bay, Sep. 27, 7:00 p.m.

A district game that might be somewhat competitive for this district, but it is also not saying much at the same time either.

District 8A-15

Columbus vs. Coral Gables at Tropical Park, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.

This game will be for the district championship. If you know the history of this district rivalry, you will not want to miss this one.

District 8A-16

Miami Palmetto vs. South Dade at Harris, Oct. 24, 7:00 p.m.

The winner will walk away with the district championship with likely the loser still making the playoffs no matter what. It will be a battle between two well-coached teams.

DISTRICT PREDICTIONS

District 8A-1

1. Mandarin

2. Sandalwood

3. Oakleaf

4. Bartram Trail

5. Nease

District 8A-2

1. Seminole (Sanford)

2. DeLand

3. Flagler Palm Coast

4. Spruce Creek

5. University (Orange City)

6. West Port

District 8A-3

1. Winter Park

2. Hagerty

3. Oviedo

4. Timber Creek

5. Colonial

6. University (Orlando)

District 8A-4

1. Apopka

2. West Orange

3. Lake Mary

4. Lake Brantley

5. Evans

6. Ocoee

District 8A-5

1. Dr. Phillips

2. Boone

3. Oak Ridge

4. East Ridge

5. Olympia

6. Windermere

District 8A-6

1. Osceola (Kissimmee)

2. Lake Nona

3. Celebration

4. Cypress Creek (Orlando)

5. Freedom (Orlando)

District 8A-7

1. Plant

2. Steinbrenner

3. Alonso

4. Palm Harbor University

5. Wharton

District 8A-8

1. Riverview (Sarasota)

2. Newsome

3. Ridge Community

4. Riverview (Riverview)

5. Lennard

6. Haines City

District 8A-9

1. Treasure Coast

2. Vero Beach

3. Centennial

4. Fort Pierce Central

District 8A-10

1. Palm Beach Central

2. Palm Beach Gardens

3. Forest Hill

4. Wellington

5. Jupiter

District 8A-11

1. Park Vista

2. Santaluces

3. John I. Leonard

4. Lake Worth

District 8A-12

1. Deerfield Beach

2. Boca Raton

3. Monarch

4. Spanish River

District 8A-13

1. Taravella

2. Douglas

3. Coral Springs

4. Coral Glades

District 8A-14

1. Western

2. Cypress Bay

3. Flanagan

4. West Broward

5. Piper

District 8A-15

1. Columbus

2. Coral Gables

3. Miami High

District 8A-16

1. South Dade

2. Miami Palmetto

3. Coral Reef

4. Southwest Miami

A previous version of this preview had the wrong school for Aydin Henningham and has now been corrected.