2012 High School Football Preview: Usual teams and players lead the way
This high school football season, there's star power at the top of the ticket.
Among top teams, Dwyer and American Heritage are rock-solid state-title contenders. Anyone who's paying attention knows about star running backs Kelvin Taylor and Greg Bryant.
But this year's race is much deeper than just those marquee names. From the cadre of BCS-caliber recruits on the PBgametime Big Board to the gauntlet of playoff-ready teams in The Post's preseason top 25, the area is stocked with talent -- and with it, some highly intriguing questions.
Who will emerge from Palm Beach County's pair of powerful Class 8A districts? In 7A, can fast-rising Royal Palm Beach fend off Atlantic, and then hang with Dwyer? Who will win those Week 1 rivalry games between some of the area's biggest and baddest teams?
Come November, does Seminole Ridge have enough to make its first trip to state? Does Glades Central have enough to return there? Can Palm Beach Central earn its first playoff win? Can Glades Day earn another state title?
Take a look at how we see the districts playing out, then settle back and watch it all unfold.
Size plays in Centennial's favor, with massive two-way linemen Jay-nard Bostwick, a highly sought-after college prospect, and Western Kentucky commit Justin Martinez, while tradition and depth gives Vero Beach its annual edge over district rivals. Treasure Coast, plagued by inconsistency a year ago, will need its speedy defense to keep district games close. But this district, in true Florida fashion, may be too close to call. The three district games last fall were decided by a combined 20 points.
Once again, Seminole Ridge enters the season considered the class of the district, though Gardens stunned the Hawks in the regional semifinals last fall. Ridge's defense is loaded, with defensive linemen Kyle Shortridge and Jason Shepherd, linebacker Rayfield Dixon and defensive backs Mike Almonte, Omar Pierre-Louis and Silas Spearman, all Division I prospects. Scoring points will be the Hawks' main challenge, though Elie Turene and Spearman provide playmaking ability at wing back.
Gardens should transition more toward a passing team, with returning quarterback JP Caruso throwing to speedy senior Frank Brown and junior tight end Caleb Perez. Jupiter and Wellington, both with new coaches and tons of new players, will need to prove their toughness before competing in such a top-heavy district.
No team looks bigger, faster and stronger than Palm Beach Central this fall, with the Broncos' skill players matching the talent of their offensive line. But questions at quarterback and in some spots on defense leave the door open for Park Vista to claim its second district title in a row. The Cobras return dual-threat quarterback Qwad Martin and a host of athletes who helped Vista go undefeated in the regular season.
Don't sleep on Boca Raton, with experienced quarterback Kevin Anderson throwing to blazing-fast receivers Ced Bryant and Tard McCoy. John I. Leonard has the athleticism to compete, but will need to find ways to offset the size of its district rivals.
Fort Pierce Central appears to be a state-title contender, even with its disappointing spring game performance at Dwyer. The Cobras have plenty of speed at the skill positions, so filling the holes at quarterback and on the offensive line will be the main focus of second-year coach Josh Shaffer.
Port St. Lucie and Martin County will battle out the second spot in the district. Quarterback D.J. Juste gives Port St. Lucie the elusive playmaker that Martin County lacks with the graduation of Justin Simmons and Treyvon Johnson.
Another year, another state-title-aspiring Dwyer team emerges from Palm Beach Gardens. The Panthers are loaded at every defensive position. On offense, the Panthers could use a two-quarterback system, which worked just fine in its 43-26 spring win over Fort Pierce Central. Receivers Johnnie Dixon, Ezra Saffold and Clint Stephens will make the quarterback situation appear less important.
Meanwhile the second playoff spot should come from Royal Palm Beach or Atlantic, two supremely talented teams. The edge goes to Royal Palm Beach, which claimed a playoff spot last fall with a sturdy defense and quality coaching. The Wildcats appear even better than last year's group.
West Boca Raton has a two-headed monster at running back in Eugene Bethea and David Tanis, while Lake Worth has size on the lines and a good receiving corps. Santaluces, as always, has some athletes, and Spanish River requires a wait-and-see approach under new coach Rod Payne.
Unpredictable is probably the best word to describe this group, especially with new coaches Kevin Fleury (Olympic Heights) and Willie Snead (Palm Beach Lakes), who give the district instant coaching credibility. Lakes, known for producing stables of athletic players, could become a high-scoring squad or a disappointing one. Under Fleury, Heights will no doubt experience a progression to a more disciplined approach, but turning around a program like that takes time.
Forest Hill has good speed in receivers Shaborn Marshall and Kerolin Francois, but needs help on the lines. Up north, South Fork has the most experience returning, while Sebastian River and Okeechobee are both talking up big off-seasons.
There's Glades Central and then everybody else. The Raiders may take a step back from what many considered their most talented senior class in recent years, but Will Likely, Aaron Baker, T.J. Abrams, Antwan Washington and a bevy of other talented-but-unproven players will carry Roosevelt Blackmon's group.
Boynton Beach has confidence in second-year starting quarterback Jake Lutzen, while Suncoast is built around massive defensive tackle Ke'Tyrus Marks. Both Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce Westwood are rebuilding.
Forever-strong Coconut Creek-North Broward Prep is the favorite in this three-team grouping, but young athletes like junior Shawun Lurry give Inlet Grove hope for another playoff appearance. Pembroke Pines-Somerset Academy is the third wheel.
National media outlets frequently rank American Heritage among the top high school teams in the nation, so there's no surprise the Stallions are expected to cruise to a District 7-3A title again. BCS-bound running back Greg Bryant has help in shifty quarterback Marcus Davis, H-back Tyler Provo and another big offensive line.
Cardinal Newman might be a little faster than last year's group, which won nine games, but a thin offensive line and a new quarterback make it tough to imagine the Crusaders overtaking Heritage. King's Academy will certainly threaten Newman for the third playoff spot, with new coach Heath Nivens installing the tough-to-study wing-T offense. Pahokee isn't close to being what it was, but the Blue Devils are starting to take the form of those old teams, with tons of young talent rapidly gaining experience.
Don't worry, district coaches: It's the last season of the Kelvin Taylor Show at Glades Day. But the finale is expected to be in Orlando, where Taylor's already led the Gators to two state titles in his four-year career.
Look out for Village Academy, with quarterback Larry Brihm and running back Erich Maine primed to give the young program its first playoff spot. Jupiter Christian's numbers are way down, and the Eagles will struggle to compete at the high level they're used to.
SOUTHEASTERN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE NORTH (Independent)
With Charlie Nicklaus and Jon Pavlov still there, Benjamin has the horses to push John Carroll and Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest for the inaugural SFC North title. Pope John Paul II returns 19 starters, which should help the Eagles surpass their one-win total from 2011, while St. Andrew's and its new coaching staff will need time to adjust to its turned-over roster.