HERALD'S FORECAST: 9-1, playoff berth
Manatee has never won consecutive state titles, but this year's team has the pieces in place to make history. There are some question marks on defense, but the stacked defensive line and prolific offense should help plaster over some early cracks. The Hurricanes are the best team in their district and, barring any injuries, could find themselves back in Orlando in December to defend their title.
NEEDS A BIG SEASON FROM: Defensive line
No Manatee player left more of an indelible mark during last year's Class 7A state title game than the Hurricanes' big men, who teamed for five sacks and split the game's most valuable player award.
But anyone who followed the Canes last season knows the line is far from a one-hit wonder.
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Marquis Dawsey, Blake Keller and Derrick Calloway spent the fall dominating offensive linemen and quarterbacks, and once DeAngelo Dawes was deemed too old to play midway through the year, sophomore Demarcus Christmas made a seamless slide into Dawes' spot.
And Manatee needs another banner year from their big men to make back-to-back trips to the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Gone are linebacker Darius White and defensive back Clinton Heaven, a pair of four-year starters who teamed for 161 tackles last year. And linebacker and three-year starter Hershel Caywood (104 tackles, four sacks) graduated, too.
That means Dawsey (now a fourth-year starter), Keller, Calloway and Christmas will be the most experienced unit on a Manatee defense that also lost defensive backs Rhoshaun Goff and Jalen Holmes.
The crew was key last year. Ends Dawsey and Keller (a UCF commit) shared the team lead with 14 sacks, while tackles Calloway (eight) and Christmas (two) teamed for 10. The unit had five sacks in the state final, and Rivals deemed Manatee's line the nation's best heading into this fall.
No longer a secert, Manatee's defensive line has become the team's most experienced-laden, celebrated unit. And as the Hurricanes begin a year as a defending state champions for the first time since 1993, the line has become the team's most integral part, too.
IMPACT NEWCOMER -- Trevon Walters, junior, running back
The Alabama native moved to Bradenton toward the end of his freshman year and will move into Manatee's backfield after Leon Allen graduated.
It won't be easy replacing Allen, who ran for 868 yards last year and was one of the Hurricanes' best blockers. But coaches like what they have seen from Walters, who has added about 10 pounds to his frame and weighs around 185. Kinnan said Walters isn't just one of the fastest players on the team, but he has the best standing long jump, which measures a player's explosiveness. And Walters has been working on his blocking, an attribute nearly every Manatee player needs on offense. He has been slowed by a hip injury but is expected back for the regular-season opener.
DEEP AT -- OFFENSE
Cord Sandberg, voted the Class 7A Player of the Year in 2011, is back under center, and he will have running back/wide receiver Anthony Lauro and receiver Ja Juan Pollock at his disposal, and offensive linemen such as Kyle Mauk (220 pounds), Thor Miller (260), Michael Galati (260) and Jake Stickler (250) giving him plenty of protection. Manatee crossed the 40-point mark seven times last season and has the tools to do so again.
THIN AT -- LINEBACKER
The experienced and prolific tandem of Hershel Caywood (Brown) and Darius White (Iowa State) are making tackles in college now, so the Hurricanes will look to fill their spots with an inexperienced group coaches have spent the spring and summer trying to piece together. The good news is the Canes' rugged defensive line should take some of the pressure off this new-look unit.
Sept. 2 MIRAMAR^
Sept. 7 at Riverview
Sept. 14 MIAMI CENTRAL
Sept. 28 at Southeast
Oct. 5 at Braden River*
Oct. 12 WESTON CYPRESS BAY
Oct. 19 at Venice*
Oct. 26 PALMETTO
Nov. 2 SARASOTA*
Nov. 9 LAKEWOOD RANCH
All games start at 7:30 p.m. except ^ (2 p.m.)
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
*-Class 7A-District 10 game
THE MAIN EVENT
Oct. 19 at Venice -- Bigger than games against nationally-ranked Miami Central and Class 8A runner-up Miramar? Yep. Winning the district will be key for a Manatee team looking to get back to the state title game. And once again, Class 7A-District 10 will come down to either the Hurricanes or the Indians.
13-2, Class 7A state champions
at Our Lady of Good Counsel (Md.) L, 24-17 (2OT)
RIVERVIEW W, 48-6
DON BOSCO PREP (N.J.) L, 22-16
SOUTHEAST W, 48-6
BRADEN RIVER W, 63-0
WESTON CYPRESS BAY W, 21-0
VENICE W, 52-19
at Palmetto W, 29-26
at Sarasota W, 52-14
at Lakewood Ranch W, 38-7
CLASS 7A-REGION 3 PLAYOFFS
LARGO PINELLAS PARK W, 55-2
VENICE W, 34-21
FORT PIERCE CENTRAL W, 13-10
CLASS 7A STATE SEMIFINAL
PALM BEACH GARDEN DWYER W, 19-14
CLASS 7A STATE FINAL
Jacksonville First Coast W, 40-0
1 -- Where MaxPreps ranked the Hurricanes in its national top-25 preaseason poll
10 -- Consecutive scoreless quarters strung together by the defense last season between weeks 3 and 5
5 -- State titles for the Hurricanes, tied for fourth-most in the state with Monticello Jefferson County
IN THE CORNER
Joe Kinnan, 28th season, 266-70
GET IN THE RING WITH: Brodrick Yancy, wide receiver
The toughest player on my team (other than me) is: Taren Cotton
My favorite sports move is: "Coach Carter"
The best trash-talk line I've heard on the football field is: "Lay down or get hit"
My favorite college football team is: Miami
You're a first-round NFL draft pick. What's the first thing you buy with your signing bonus? A house and a car.