Posted: 6:31 pm Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
By Jeff Greer
We’re about to start one of the most intriguing football seasons that we’ve had in Palm Beach County in recent memory.
There’s a clear No. 1 in Dwyer, which has a real shot at a state title, but so does American Heritage and possibly even some other schools in the area. Pahokee may be back to its winning ways, and Glades Central has one of the state’s most daunting schedules. The group of Class 8A teams in Palm Beach looks as tough as ever, and there may have a state semifinalist in the bunch.
Let’s figure out the best and worst possible ways the 2013 season could unfold for each of Palm Beach County’s teams. And remember, these are all purely hypothetical situations.
One of the area’s top teams enters the 2013 season with a sense of intrigue. There’s no doubting the up-and-coming talent at Heritage, and the coaching staff does a good job preparing its team. The Stallions have state-title aspirations and state-title potential.
Best case: Greg Bryant? Who’s Greg Bryant? The Stallions show no sign of slowing down after the departure of 20 seniors from their nationally ranked 2012 team, cruising through District 7-3A and the 3A playoffs. Junior Des Cain becomes the newest Next Big Thing at Heritage and Devin Singletary steps in for Bryant as the next star running back.
Worst case: Youth serves nobody any good as the Stallions turn the ball over in bunches and can’t stop the speedsters from Cardinal Newman and Pahokee, missing out on the 3A playoffs all together. The big Heritage line shows its inexperience, and the cast of heralded linebackers struggles against passing attacks.
It’s hard to peg where the Eagles stand, just like their cross-town rival American Heritage. The difference? Coaching. Atlantic starts fresh with an almost entirely different staff, including first-time head coach TJ Jackson. Playing in the challenging District 13-7A doesn’t help.
Best case: Jackson backs up his “more coaching knowledge than any other coach in Palm Beach County” statement with a stunning repeat of Atlantic’s surprise 2012 district title, upsetting Dwyer and edging out Royal Palm Beach en route to a Class 7A region final appearance against St. Thomas Aquinas.
Worst case: The mass exodus of experienced playmakers combined with Jackson’s inexperience cause a hasty downward spiral to a losing season. Dwyer wins with a running clock, but the bad omens come a lot earlier, with a 40-point loss to Washington, D.C., power Friendship Collegiate in the kickoff classic, followed by another blowout against Heritage in the season opener.
A season removed from the inaugural Southeastern Football Conference title, the Bucs return most of their key players from last year’s run. In other words, they’re pretty excited about their 2013 prospects.
Best case: McKenna Johnston runs for another 1,000-plus yards and the O-line paves the way to another SFC championship. New QB George Donaldson takes no time to adjust to his starting role, and neither do the Bucs’ linebackers. Benjamin figures out a way to slow down John Carroll’s high-flying offense on the way to FAU Stadium.
Worst case: The quarterback play suffers and the linebackers don’t deliver. John Carroll lights up Benjamin in the SFC playoffs and sprints to a title, unseating the Bucs as the defending champs. Then, in a long anticipated but still surprising move, Ron Ream retires from coaching.
After winning a program-record six games last fall, Berean joins the newly formed Gulf Atlantic Conference. It’s hard to tell where the Bulldogs will go this year.
Best case: The mojo carries over from last fall and all those off-season workouts at Athletes Advantage pay off. Berean upends Oxbridge Academy in the new GAC and wins the conference title.
Worst case: The key graduations from last year’s team prove too big to overcome as Berean falls back to .500 and can’t get past emerging power Oxbridge.
With a new coach in Jeff Dellenbach, Boca football starts a rebuilding process after a three-season rollercoaster ride through two coaches and three disappointing falls. Dellenbach brings a winning track record with him, but it’ll be tough to get going in District 10-8A.
Best case: Linebacker Harrison Rodormer stands out as the most underrated defensive player in south county and running back Cecil Johnson breaks out. The duo leads Boca to a surprise playoff spot after shocking Park Vista and John I. Leonard.
Worst case: Dellenbach doesn’t quite have the talent he needs to win at Boca just yet. The Bobcats lose all but one district game, only beating perennial cellar dweller Spanish River.
BOCA RATON CHRISTIAN
Another team that had a big 2012, Boca Raton Christian won nine games with the arm of QB transfer AJ Puente. They start 2013 in a tough district with Glades Day, Jupiter Christian and Village Academy.
Best case: Nobody sees the Blazers coming in District 7-2A as they shock Village Academy and push Glades Day and Jupiter Christian on their way to a third-place finish.
Worst case: In one of the most challenging small-school districts in South Florida, Boca Raton Christian becomes the league doormat, losing each district game and regretting its move into district football.
Each year it seems like coach Rick Swain beats the drum for his Tigers. It’s OK — every team would love to have a coach as confident and excited as Swain — but at some point it starts to sound like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. This year’s bunch is loaded with young athletes, so this may finally be the year Swain’s excitement is actually matched by results.
Best case: Jam-packed with super-fast and shifty players like Darrian Josey, Kyron Brown, Kory Brown, Donte Sylencieux and Lamar Jackson, Boynton surprises its mostly Broward-based District 15-6A opponents and wins the league title. That’s about as far as Boynton can go the next two years, with Miami’s quartet of Carol City, Central, Norland and Northwestern all in the Tigers’ region.
Worst case: There’s no denying the emerging talent at Boynton, so the worst possible situation would likely involve some growing pains with young players. Boynton rolls past Suncoast but can’t seem to find a niche among the Broward teams and finishes in the bottom half of the district standings.
The fifth year at Newman for Steve Walsh has potential to be a big one. With Travis Rudolph in his final high school season, Walsh must feel some pressure to deliver a longer playoff run after three consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances.
Best case: Behind the better-than-most supporting cast of Erick Hardnett, Arrian Parham, Andrew Owers and a few others, Newman runs with Rudolph to a district title, beating out a young American Heritage team and not-used-to-winning Pahokee. Then, the Crusaders top Chaminade-Madonna and put the finishing touches on their District 7-3A run with a second win over American Heritage en route to the state semifinals.
Worst case: Undone by a lack of depth on the lines and inexperienced quarterback play, Newman can’t quite keep pace with American Heritage or Pahokee. Then, in a rivalry shocker, King’s Academy stuns Newman behind bowling-ball James Holland’s 200-yard performance.
It’s another year of high expectations for state power Dwyer. A roster loaded with top-line talent has some depth questions but looks fit for a district title and a playoff run.
Best case: After coasting through District 13-7A, Dwyer sets its sights on St. Thomas Aquinas, the nationally ranked power standing in the way of the Panthers’ return to state. Behind QB Daniel Parr’s breakout performance, Dwyer passes and runs through STA, winning a thriller. The sledding doesn’t get any easier, but Dwyer slips past Tarpon Springs-East Lake and Tallahassee-Lincoln for a state championship.
Worst case: Crippled by a stunning loss to district rival Royal Palm Beach, Dwyer finishes second in 13-7A and loses in disappointing fashion to Blanche Ely in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Falcons have won two games in two seasons, and 2013 doesn’t look much brighter.
Best case: With a new coach in Jude Blessington, the Hill finds a way to steal some wins against district foes like Olympic Heights and Lake Worth, finishing a better-than-expected fifth in a tough District 13-7A.
Worst case: Overwhelmed by the speed and quality of 13-7A, Forest Hill loses every district game and even loses to Inlet Grove in the season opener, finishing winless.
The definition of a good season in Belle Glade comes down to two factors: Did you win state? And did you beat Pahokee? Both of those questions this fall seem particularly unfair. Glades Central has its usual group of fantastic athletes and the coaching staff is entering its third year, but the schedule is treacherous and the path to the Class 4A state title is one that most 8A teams couldn’t handle. Plus, Pahokee may be the best its been in years.
Best case: New starting quarterback Giovanni Lugo finds his groove early and often, becoming the breakout star of a team with a quality offensive line and a nice group of receivers. Ronquavion Tarver and Jerry Jones emerge as big-time playmakers. Glades Central rocks the Florida high school football world with a 10-0 record against one of the state’s toughest schedules, including wins over American Heritage, Dwyer, Miami Northwestern and University. Then, in the playoffs, the Raiders get through national powerhouses Miami Washington and University. But the run doesn’t end there: Central roughs up long-time playoff nemesis Cocoa in the state semifinals and handles Jacksonville-Bolles in the state final in front of 7,000 raucous Central fans in Orlando.
Worst case: Completely undone by a ridiculous schedule, Glades Central loses more games than it wins, capping off one of the worst seasons in program history with a Muck Bowl loss to up-and-coming Pahokee. Then, despite making the playoffs, Central gets absolutely decimated by Miami Washington in the first round. Worst of all: The concession barbecue doesn’t even taste good throughout the season.
Perhaps the area’s most intriguing situation this fall, the Gators face a lot of unknowns as the 2013 season starts. They have a new head coach but much of the same staff that was under former head man Pete Walker, who left for Clewiston. They have a new offense without running back Kelvin Taylor, but production may be more spread out, which will keep more players happy.
Best case: Unfazed by all the offseason changes, Glades Day punishes District 7-2A in its usual fashion, bulldozing past Jupiter Christian, Village Academy and Boca Christian en route to a district crown. In the playoffs, the Gators surprise Dade Christian and Champagnat Catholic, reaching the state semis with good defense and efficient running.
Worst case: With the surprising departure of starting QB Josh Carr, nothing Glades Day planned for 2013 comes to fruition. The offense struggles and the defense can’t quite hold off a barrage of offense from Jupiter Christian and Village. Glades Day misses the playoffs for the first time in 20 seasons.
A program in distress after coach Jimmie Bell’s departure, IG will spend 2013 as an independent.
Best case: Transfers? What transfers? Despite losing stars like Shawun Lurry and J’Quan Napier, Inlet somehow finds a way to win two or three games.
Worst case: Without its regulars from a 2012 playoff squad, IG loses every game it plays, even to Forest Hill.
JOHN I. LEONARD
One of the area’s top non-playoff teams a year ago, Leonard returns enough good quality to make another charge at a playoff spot. As usual, the lines are the main concern for the Lancers, who are loaded at the skill positions.
Best case: Behind a virtuoso run of performances from junior quarterback Tavares Martin, Leonard shocks Park Vista and topples Boca, Santaluces and Spanish River to snap up a playoff spot behind Palm Beach Central. Leonard’s aerial attack shocks District 9-8A champ Seminole Ridge in the opening round of the playoffs.
Worst case: Because of thin lines and turnovers, Leonard botches its must-win games against Boca and Santaluces, beating only Spanish River in a tough District 10-8A. Blowouts against Palm Beach Central and Park Vista only exacerbate the anguish of a tumultuous season.
Talk about a tough position. Somehow coach Doug Uccelini must produce a better football team despite a huge lack of talent in his school’s area. The Warriors face another campaign similar to 2012, when they lost all but one game.
Best case: Armed with a solid defense, Jupiter beats Wellington again in 9-8A, securing a third-place finish in a top-heavy district. The Warriors grab a few other unexpected wins along the way toward .500.
Worst case: Facing a relatively challenging schedule, the Warriors lose every single game by double digits, even against Wellington. The coaching staff, put in a virtually impossible spot when it took over in 2012, gets replaced at season’s end.
It felt weird to see JCS struggle as much as it did in 2012. The Eagles finished 2-7 with a small roster. But this year’s team has a bit more talent and should look more like the Eagles teams fans are used to seeing.
Best case: Jordan Player crashes the party as the area’s top producing small-schools talent, helping JCS beat Glades Day and Village en route to a 7-2A title. In the playoffs, the Eagles fly past Miami’s best 2A teams and into the state semifinals.
Worst case: Thin on both experience and defense, JCS gets exposed in the only games that matter on their schedule, losing to Glades Day and Village and missing out on the postseason for the second consecutive year. Then, at season’s end, long-time head man Bill Powers decides to try his coaching prowess at a new school.
The forgotten member of District 7-3A, King’s has a chance to make some noise with talented seniors like Nate Cannon and James Holland.
Best case: Against all expectations, King’s hustles past Cardinal Newman on Oct. 4, setting up a major showdown with Pahokee on Nov. 1 for the second 7-3A playoff spot. Despite a hostile environment in the Glades, King’s pulls off a second upset and crashes the 3A postseason.
Worst case: Routed by all three district opponents, King’s loses its motivation for the rest of its games, suffering surprising defeats to Inlet Grove, Clewiston and Coral Springs Christian.
With new coach Jessie Hester at the helm, it’s unclear what to expect from the Trojans in 2013. We know two things: They have some athletes and they have a very challenging district.
Best case: The high-flying Trojans pass their way to third place in 13-7A, surprising Atlantic on Nov. 1 to finish the season on a high note.
Worst case: Over their heads in a huge district, Lake Worth drops every single district game in shocking fashion. The Forest Hill upset on Oct. 4 being the standout loss. At the season’s end, Glades Central parts ways with Roosevelt Blackmon and rehires Hester to return to his old job.
Last year provided an insight into how good Kevin Fleury and his staff can make this team, one of the more forgotten programs in Palm Beach County. But Heights is in rebuilding mode this fall, and the expectations are low.
Best case: The Lions run past the rebuilding label and into playoff contention with surprising wins over Lake Worth, West Boca and Lakes. They push Atlantic and Royal Palm Beach and just miss the playoffs.
Worst case: Can there really be a worst case when a team is rebuilding? Nobody thinks O-Heights will lose every game, not with Spanish River and Forest Hill both on the schedule, but losing those would probably be considered the worst-case scenario.
No longer a transitional program, Oxbridge starts 2013 with a full slate of games and a real chance to win the independent Gulf Atlantic Conference.
Best case: The best case seems the most likely case — a GAC title.
Worst case: An upstart Berean Christian, still confident from its 2012 run, surprises Oxbridge and wins the GAC. Oxbridge finishes with three wins.
One of the most pressure-filled situations in Florida, coach Blaze Thompson has a group of seniors primed for a breakout season. There’s a hunger for winning in Pahokee after three consecutive disappointing seasons.
Best case: The Blue Devils live up to all the “they’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaack” hype and win the District 7-3A title over American Heritage. The offensive and defensive lines hold up just enough to help Pahokee find its way back to state, where it celebrates a seventh state title alongside fellow state champs Glades Central and Glades Day in a repeat of 2006. But the Blue Devils only cheer on Central knowing they won the Muck Bowl, of course.
Worst case: Still markedly better than 2012, Pahokee still doesn’t have the mustard to push past Newman or Heritage for a playoff spot. Then, soaked in disappointment, Pahokee doesn’t show up for its district finale against King’s Academy or the Muck Bowl, losing in a rout at the hands of Glades Central.
PALM BEACH CENTRAL
Starting the season as the area’s most heralded 8A team, the Broncos have a big line (average size: 6-1, 253) and a good running game. Their defense will always be the biggest question mark, but they have high hopes for 2013.
Best case: The expectations are sky high at Central after the program’s first district title and playoff win. The team hits those marks and more with a state final four appearance, beating Palm Beach Gardens, Seminole Ridge and Cypress Bay along the way.
Worst case: Broken up by injuries and early-season struggles, Central’s season becomes as water-logged as last year’s and ends in a crushing first-round playoff loss at Seminole Ridge after missing out on a district title to Park Vista.
PALM BEACH GARDENS
A talented team in a lot of areas, Gardens has a great chance of returning to the playoffs. How far it goes in the postseason rests almost entirely on the arm of QB JP Caruso.
Best case: Caruso lives up to all the hype and throws for more than 2,000 yards, with receivers Mario Brown, Andrew Prince and AJ Shipman all breaking out. Running back Tommy Monday gets his 1,000 yards, too, and the talented linebacking corps is as crunching as broadcast. Gardens wins the 9-8A title and escapes the gauntlet of local 8A teams. In the regional final, the Gators vanquish Miramar, the team that blew them out in the 2011 playoffs, and reach the state semis.
Worst case: The passing game never quite clicks with a pieced-together offensive line struggling to find consistency. The defense is good but not great, and the Gators finish second in 9-8A. From there, a quick exit from the playoffs at the hands of Palm Beach Central or Park Vista.
PALM BEACH LAKES
One of the area’s dark horses for 2013, Lakes has a growing group of talented players. The program’s been a bit secretive of its plans, so it’s unclear how good or bad Lakes may actually be, but there’s usually talent. One thing’s for certain: The Rams have a chance to get to .500, which is far more than they could say last year, when they were 1-9.
Best case: The program growth continues under Willie Snead, who gets his team past West Boca, Lake Worth, O-Heights and Forest Hill, finishing fourth in the district.
Worst case: Lakes beats Jupiter, Suncoast and Forest Hill as expected, but everything else crumbles. The Rams finish 3-7 and seventh in 13-7A.
The coaching staff at Vista thinks this is one of the top teams its had in a while. The Cobras are loaded in the secondary and at offensive skill positions, but the lines are inexperienced and depth will be an issue. Vista’s expected to be a playoff team.
Best case: After beating Palm Beach Central to claim the 10-8A title, Vista starts the playoffs with a roar, beating Palm Beach Gardens and Central again. In the region final, Vista pushes Cypress Bay and makes its first state appearance.
Worst case: An injury-ravaged offensive line struggles to protect QB Qwad Martin, and the turnovers and stalled drives come regularly. Vista loses to Central in similar fashion to 2012 and slips up against Leonard, missing out on the playoffs all together. Then long-time coach Brian Dodds, a fixture in Palm Beach County football, follows the paths of Matt Dickmann and Chris Davis and leaves to coach in another state.
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Already behind the 8-ball with the injury to receiver Will Jeanlys, Pope still has enough talent to make a playoff push in the SFC. John Carroll and Benjamin are tough teams this fall, so DeQuan McGriff must have another big offensive year.
Best case: McGriff scampers for 1,500 yards and a boat load of touchdowns as Pope sneaks past Benjamin and reaches the playoffs.
Worst case: Hurt by Jeanlys’s injury, Pope can’t quite find its offensive explosion and struggles to score against the top teams in the SFC. The Eagles miss the playoffs and graduate their top offensive talent.
ROYAL PALM BEACH
This is a big year for the Wildcats, who have a ton of skill-position talent and a very good chance of returning to the playoffs. Sure, Dwyer looms large in 13-7A, but RPB is the second favorite in the league.
Best case: With its stable of athletes — Jimmy Moreland, Charles Perry, DeMarcus Holloway, Alon Sims and Zeke Edmonds — Royal Palm stuns Dwyer in early October and runs to the 13-7A title. The ceiling past that is probably the regional final.
Worst case: Disappointed by a poor performance against Dwyer, Royal Palm slumbers through a critical game at Atlantic and loses, putting them on the outside of the playoff picture. Then, a slew of coaching changes around the area sees coach Willie Bueno start a new gig at a different school, ending the Royal Palm rebirth.
Always an interesting team, the Chiefs have a chance to ruffle some feathers in their new district, 10-8A. They can certainly piece together a good passing game built around 6-foot-3 Miami commit Darrell Langham. Can they find the defense and consistency?
Best case: Cloaked by low expectations, Santaluces rolls past Wellington, Lake Worth, Jupiter, Boca, Leonard and River to win six games and finish third in 10-8A.
Worst case: Santaluces loses the games it’s expected to — Central, Leonard, Vista — but then slips up against Boca and finishes fifth in the district.
New coach, no problem. The coaching staff is mostly the same, as are many of the offensive players. But Ridge must find ways to replace the production of Silas Spearman, now at FIU, and a defense that had three FBS signees.
Best case: As EJ Elien bullies his way past Spearman’s 1,200-yard total last year, Ridge thumps Gardens and wins the 9-8A title. In the playoffs, the Hawks run past Park Vista and then Palm Beach Central, reaching a second consecutive regional final. They surprise Cypress Bay in a rematch of last year’s regional final and finally get to the state semis.
Worst case: The holes were bigger than everyone thought. The truck with the gajillion-decibel horn stops driving by each Friday home game. The fans start skipping games. Gardens wins 9-8A and Palm Beach Central thumps Ridge in the regional quarterfinals.
A program in dire straits after Rod Payne’s embarrassing tenure must find a way to put together a team this fall. It won’t be easy in 10-8A. But here’s the thing about River: Ray Berger had the Sharks win a few games in 2011. That seems to be the ceiling for the program, but River could get there with the right coaching hire. Bill Caesar has chance to prove he’s that guy.
Best case: Win a game. Only one — a Sept. 6 game at Olympic Heights — seems to be a possibility. River, to its credit, plays a challenging 2013 slate.
Worst case: Can it get much worse than last year? River has a good chance of going 0-10 this year, too, but the Sharks averaged 2.6 points a game last season, so anything better than that would be an improvement.
Disappointed by 2012, the Scots have some nice players back for the 2013 campaign. Jake Bargas is a legitimate BCS tight end and he’s only a junior. In a good SFC, it’ll be tough for St. Andrew’s to break through, but an improvement from two wins is within reach.
Best case: The Scots are expected to drop games to Pope John Paul II and Benjamin, but maybe they steal a few here and there to finish a respectable .500.
Worst case: Despite the talent of Bargas and QB Dylan Richman, St. Andrew’s size and speed issues catch up in the form of seven or eight losses.
Hurt by the transfer of receiver Jeremy Kennedy, the Chargers need Santigie Fornah and Jamari Bozeman to carry them. They only lost four starters from last year’s team, but they’re moving to a newer, tougher district.
Best case: Powered by back-to-back surprise performances in a close loss to Pahokee and a win over Lakes, Suncoast enters district play and upsets its way to a mid-league finish.
Worst case: Unable to find any consistency, Suncoast takes its lumps early and often, losing every game but one, edging out everyone but Inlet Grove.
The Tigers aren’t surprising anyone anymore. The teams in District 7-2A know Village has some talent and can make plenty of noise. Coach Don Hanna insists defensive end Kevin Bronson is the best defensive lineman in the county, and Tre’Quan Smith is certainly among the top receivers in South Florida. Now, what about the rest of the team?
Best case: Constantly in search of defense, Village finds some consistency and bops Jupiter Christian and Glades Day. The Tigers lock up a district title.
Worst case: Unable to stop anyone, Village loses a lot of 42-35 games en route to a third place 7-2A finish and a disappointing senior year for Bronson and Smith.
The second year of coach Tom Abel’s three-year plan is a big transition for the Wolverines. They’d like to improve on their 4-6 season last year, and they can start with a win over Jupiter and a third-place finish in 9-8A.
Best case: Despite losing key linebacker Thomas Oporto and kicker Nick Rubinowicz to American Heritage, Wellington’s defense finds some consistency. Welly crushes Jupiter and takes third in 9-8A, winning six games.
Worst case: The Oporto transfer guts a defense built around him, leaving Wellington to another Jupiter loss and a step back from the four-win 2012 season.
WEST BOCA RATON
Perhaps the county’s most unknown commodity, West Boca almost always puts out a competitive team, even if it doesn’t have the wins to match.
Best case: Capitalizing on the coaching change that put fresh face Junior Moran at the helm, the Bulls find some moxie early on and start 2-0 with wins over Spanish River and Wellington. Wins over Forest Hill, Lakes and O-Heights help West Boca finish 5-5.
Worst case: Even with a solid defensive unit, West Boca loses a lot of low-scoring games against teams it should beat, slumping to a 2-8 record and a disappointing 2013.