New players, new opponents, new classifications: It should all make for an interesting 2013 prep football season.
There are plenty of juicy storylines to chew on this year, but in the interest of time and space, I have narrowed it down to five.
1. Life without Cord
How do you replace a super-accurate passer who in three seasons went to three state final fours and lost just one game at home?
There is no doubt Manatee will miss Cord Sandberg, who is now a professional baseball player trying to make his way up through the Philadelphia Phillies organization. But such is life in high school football: Players come and they go, then someone else has to fill the void.
Josh Meyer looked good in the spring game and Kickoff Classic, and no one is asking him to be Cord Sandberg. With a great offensive line, a potent running game and solid receivers, no one is asking Meyer to do it alone, either, just as Sandberg didn't win 39 games and a state title on his own.
Will it be enough to carry Manatee to a fourth straight state semifinal? Check back in about three months.
2. Run, run, run
Manatee's Trevon Walters, Palmetto's Josh Hicks and Southeast's Courtney Allen are three tremendous backs who are separated by just a handful of miles. Walters (Missouri) and Hicks (Rutgers) already have made Division I commitments, and Allen could join them any time.
The battle for the public-school rushing title should
be a good one, and while Walters may be the favorite thanks in part to Manatee's athletic and experienced offensive line, Allen and Hicks shouldn't go anywhere anytime soon.
And all three teams play each other, meaning we'll get to see these guys go at it face to face.
3. High stakes out east
Braden River and Lakewood Ranch's gridiron rivalry will get a jolt this season as both teams are in Class 7A-District 10, the first time they have shared a district during football season.
The Pirates are still reeling a bit from last year's 1-9 campaign, and Lakewood Ranch has been the more competitive of the two as of late. But that shouldn't make their Sept. 20 matchup any less intriguing.
4. A new era at Bayshore
Elijah Freeman, a Bayshore alum and longtime Palmetto assistant, has been charged with breathing life into a team looking for its first playoff berth since 2005 and its first winning season since '03.
No one is asking Freeman to deliver a state championship this season. Right now, that shouldn't be a priority. Instead, he needs to get more bodies inside jerseys, which could produce a better product on the field, more fans in the bleachers and more interest in the Bruins.
Small steps. But the first one should be reigniting interest in Bayshore football, and that is Freeman's top mission this fall.
5. New districts
This marks the beginning of the new two-year realignment, which makes for some intriguing scenarios (Manatee vs. Palm Harbor University; Cardinal Mooney, Out-of-Door Academy and Fort Myers Bishop Verot fighting for two playoffs spot) and at the very least, will keep things interesting.
John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2097. Follow him on Twitter at@JohnLembo1878.