Posted: 11:53 am Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Spring Football Tour: Despite losing offensive stars, Boca Raton shoots for repeat district title 

By Jason Lieser

What was a weakness for Boca Raton now might be a strength.

The Bobcats went 9-3 last season, thanks largely to an explosive, multi-faceted offense, but their defense struggled against top-tier opponents.

This spring, with most of his defense returning, Boca Raton coach Keith Byars cites the defense as a big reason his team hopes to repeat as District 8-6A champions.

Byars

Byars

“On paper, the defense should be the team strength,” he said. “The offense has got to play catch-up.”

In order to catch up, the offense must replace its top passer (Eddie Sullivan: 2,227 yards, 21 touchdowns), top receiver (Terrell Williams: 677 yards, 8 touchdowns) and top rusher (Jerome Bradley: 509 yards, 7 touchdowns) from last season.

The first issue is finding a quarterback. Boca Raton is beginning “Life after Eddie,” as assistant coach Eric Davis said. In addition to his gaudy passing statistics, Sullivan also was a deadly runner who rushed for four touchdowns.

The two quarterback candidates are Brett Benes, who will be a junior, and Kevin Anderson, a sophomore. Benes was Sullivan’s back-up last year, but only threw three passes. Anderson started on the junior varsity team.

“Dead even right now,” Byars said. “They’ve both got different strengths and weaknesses. They can both throw the ball.”

Depth chart: Defensive line and secondary seem solid, but this team is looking for linebackers and wide receivers. Wide receiver is going to be a competitive battle. The staff is looking for four starting-caliber receivers and senior Cameron Lewis (20 catches, 326 yards, 7 touchdowns in ’09) is the only one to lock up a spot.

Lewis

Lewis

“My depth chart that I have right now is written in pencil, but you can ink in Cameron Lewis,” Byars said. “He is the only one in ink — but hey, that’s why they’ve got white-out. He can be out, too.”

Barring a major problem, Lewis should maintain his spot and be the team’s top receiver this fall. Seven other players are vying for the other three receiver starting jobs.

Mini-Byars could be the solution at running back. Byars said his son, Keith Byars Jr., has had a good spring and he appears to be leading candidate at running back. Byars Jr. (5-10, 190) will be a junior this fall. He had just five rushing attempts last year. Boca Raton likes to spread the carries, though, so other backs will share the load.

What are those black stickers on the players’ foreheads? Great question. Glad you asked. If you visit Boca Raton’s practices, you will notice that players have small black rectangles stuck to their heads. The team has partnered with researchers to monitor brain temperature activity throughout the spring. The results could lead to changes in the team’s practice structure and hydration frequency.

Boca Raton is returning the area’s top kicker in David Bicknell.

Bicknell

Bicknell

That’s Byars’ opinion and I agree. Bicknell (6-2, 180, No. 30 on The Big Board) hit 13 field goals last season, including five in one game, and was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. Few schools can trust their kicker as much as Boca Raton can. Having the opportunity to kick long field goals gives the Bobcats a substantial advantage as they rebuild their offense. Where some teams might have to go for it on 4th down at the opponent’s 20- to 30-yard line, Boca Raton can send out Bicknell and likely get points out of it.

Byars has bold expectations. Boca Raton emerged as champions in District 8-6A, the area’s strongest district last season. The Bobcats and Seminole Ridge made the playoffs, while Park Vista and Atlantic — pre-season top-10 teams — fell short. Palm Beach Central also existed. Those top four teams should be good in 2010, too, but Byars thinks his team can win 8-6A again.

“We’re still district champs until somebody says we’re not,” he said. “We had five starters returning last year and we won it. We have more guys coming back this year and we’re still expecting to win. I like my chances, on paper, against Atlantic, Park Vista, Seminole Ridge and Palm Beach Central.”