In 2008, Florida's Seminole County featured the state’s pre-eminent heavy hitters.
Sanford Seminole stormed to a Class 6A state championship behind a pair of multi-purpose offensive powerhouses — Andre Debose and Ray Ray Armstrong — and a defense that featured one of the country’s most-recruited defensive ends, Dyron Dye. The three stars, though, flickered out after graduation last spring, and Seminole fell quite a few slots in the expectations of most prep football fans.
Seminole, though, isn’t quite ready to throw in the towel.
Winning a state title — and in shocking last-second fashion — brings with it opportunities, and one of those is the attraction factor. Seminole gained a few players who found the benefits of playing for a reigning state champ.
Among the additions is Alex McGriff, who starred at Class 1B Deltona Trinity last season. He’ll likely match with senior running back Toby Durham to create a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Meanwhile, the defense features defensive back Tyrone Bouie and defensive lineman Thurman Byrd, a 6-foot-2, 285-pounder, and Charles Green (6-4, 220). All three are seniors.
While Seminole tries to remain on top, another team hopes to show it can claw its way up the same mountain. Last year, Oviedo quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 2,472 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Lions, though, finished 3-7, and that kept Bortles out of the spotlight.
University of Central Florida football recruiters, though, noticed the 6-4 wonder, and they convinced him to stay close to home and play for the Knights next season. Now all the senior needs to do is lead Wes Allen’s bunch to a big season. He'll receive some help from his favorite target, 6-2 senior receiver Trevor Berry.
It’s on the other side of the ball, though, where the Lions need to roar. Last season, the defense allowed 30 or more points in seven of 10 games and allowed 40 or more in four of the seven losses. In fact, Bortles probably owes his eye-popping 2008 numbers to the team’s constant need to play catch up.
One key to the Oviedo defense is senior Marcus Thomas (6-2, 255). Oviedo elected to take advantage of his athletic skills by moving Thomas from defensive end to linebacker over the summer.
Of course, some teams rely almost solely on defense, and that could be the case for another Seminole County school. Lake Howell features one of Central Florida’s hardest hitters, senior linebacker Christian Jones. The 6-3, 225-pound powerhouse is set to lead Lake Howell’s defense to big things in 2009.
The question is just how much frustration he’ll take out on opposing players. After all, Lake Howell’s offense scored just 53 points total in 10 games last season and finished 0-10. That leaves a big hurdle ahead, and it’s not clear that the team has the strength to leap over it.
Lake Brantley, meanwhile, is on the opposite side of the coin. Last year, the team coasted to a 7-4 mark behind the speed and power of running back Antonio Miles, who finished his senior year with 1,634 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. With Miles gone, Lake Brantley looks to turn to the senior leadership of quarterback Bryce Bergeron and a veteran defense led by lineman Jeff Dorcely, linebacker Jordan Rudd and end Danny Palmer.
George Clayton’s squad does not have much time to figure it out, either. The Braves host perennial power Apopka on Sept. 4 before traveling to play Bortles’ Lions on Sept. 11. Additional dates include Seminole and DeLand.
Winter Springs enters the season with a big hole to fill. Al-Terek McBurse scored at will last year to lift the Bears to a 7-3 mark, but he’ll be suiting up for Purdue University this fall. It will take some big feet to fill his shoes, and the Bears received a shocker this summer when new coach Jeff Wenstrom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinel.
The rest of the Seminole County teams seek significant improvement in the win column this fall. Lake Mary shows some promise. The Rams finished 4-6 last season and upset Daytona Beach Seabreeze 14-12 in a November game.
Lyman finished 3-7 in 2008. The team lost its last six games, which culminated in a 45-0 drubbing against Seminole. Hagerty also struggled through the 2008 season, finishing 3-7. Private schools Master’s Academy, Lake Mary Prep and Orangewood Christian also figure into the small-school picture this fall.