LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Last season, a young Lakewood Ranch football team short on experience, but loaded with grit, took its fans on a roller-coaster ride.
The Mustangs won three games by seven points or fewer and took Southeast to the wire before losing by five. They won five of their first seven with a lot of fourth-quarter heroics until the bubble burst and they dropped three straight to end the season.
With so many returning players who saw significant time in 2012, the emphasis this spring has been on consistency and shoring up the offensive line, which is the only inexperienced unit.
Shawn Trent says his defense has the potential to the best he has ever had as he enters his ninth season as head coach. His offense isn't too bad either, with eight returnees who started at one time or another last year.
Lakewood Ranch has all its skill players back, including hybrid Wyatt McLeod (6-foot-2, 240), who is likely to be found at any position, including running back, H back, tight end, fullback, receiver and even quarterback.
Last year, McLeod often provided a spark, making big plays from various positions. He gets his versatility from a football family that includes his dad, Johnny, and grandfather, Bill, who played receiver and running back, respectively, at Arcadia DeSoto.
"I guess you can call me a hybrid. I love to run the ball, but tight end is the best position for me. You get to block and run and catch the ball," McLeod said. "This spring, we are working on our offensive line because they are so young. It's an area we need to grow at. Our skill guys have looked good."
Offensive line always has been a priority for this program, and there is a spirited battle going on this spring to fill three spots (two guard positions and center) among eight candidates.
Still, the offensive line has a good base with tackles Gave Overmeyer, who started every game as a freshman last year, and rising senior Andrew Hoskinson. Rising sophomore Alex Gold appears to have won the center job.
"The most competition this spring has been at the offensive line," Trent said. "We've had a hodgepodge there with injuries and those types of things. We are trying to figure out who is going to be our starting guards from about eight guys. We could have four sophomores starting on the offensive line, and for the teams we have to play that is generally not a good thing."
A good thing is there will be an experienced quarterback and running backs operating behind that line.
Chris Pearcey, the Mustangs' leading rusher last season, is good at running between the tackles, and his backup, A'shawn Angel, provides a nice change of pace with his outside speed.
"We are more mature and older. The strength of this team is our defense, especially the front four," Trent said. "Though we have most of our skill kids back on offense, they are going to be juniors for the most part, except for Pearcey. So we have experience, but we are still going to be young on offense."
The defensive line has experience with Caleb Loppe, Mason Hobbs, Andrew Shackelford and Tyler White, who is moving from linebacker to the front four.
A big loss is Luke Sears at linebacker, but move-in Max VonDerHofen, a rising junior, should fill in there with Ty McLeod, who is switching from center.
The secondary looks solid with cornerback Craig Baine and defensive backs Brandon Luckett and Wanley Desir, who should see action at strong safety/outside linebacker.