Need a big season from: Offensive line
The offensive firepower head coach Chris Weinke can put on the field this season isn't going to be worth much if the offensive line doesn't perform adequately. Players such as quarterback Michael O'Connor, who is heading to Penn State, and University of Alabama-bound running back Bo Scarbrough will need help from the trenches to perform at optimum levels.
"That's where it starts," Weinke said. "I think the game is won and lost at the line of scrimmage. And I think when we speak more specifically on the offensive side, I mean I feel very comfortable with the weapons that we have at the skill positions, but none of that matters if you can't get it done up front. So the challenge right now with a first-year program and a group of young men up front that have never played together, is simply the communication and getting comfortable with each other. But I think if you look at their physical attributes and their mental capacity, I think we've got a group of young men that understand what we're trying to get accomplished."
Two linemen -- senior Donnie Foster, of Savannah, Ga., and Tampa native Tyree St. Louis -- are receiving interest from Bowl Championship Series schools such as Auburn and Tennessee. Foster stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 320 pounds, while St. Louis is 6-5 and 295 pounds.
Those big frames mixed with quick, agile footwork are what Weinke needs to fuel an offensive explosion this fall.
"As long as we give them time, they are going to torch most defenses," Foster said. "We just need to continue to work hard up front and pick up everything."
Impact newcomer: Bo Scarbrough, sr., running back
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound tailback is a self-described downhill runner, and he's looking to do anything he can to help IMG have a successful maiden voyage in Florida high school football. Coming from a prep hotbed in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Scarbrough won't have trouble adapting to Florida speed. In fact, he's a University of Alabama commit and one of the top recruits in the country.
"I'm just here to help the team," Scarbrough said.
Scarbrough only played six games last season as he was slowed by injury. He's had injuries in all three of his high school seasons, yet has remained a prized prospect heading into his senior campaign. If he remains healthy, opposing defenses will have more than they can handle to slow him down.
Deep at: Running backs
This unit isn't just about the five-star Scarbrough, although he's quite a weapon in the backfield. Helping to shoulder some of the load are Mike Daniel and Jack Wegher. Those three form a triple threat, or what Weinke called "the three-headed horseman."
No matter what it's called, there's no denying what the three racked up last season at separate high schools: 2,331 rushing yards and a combined average of 5.56 yards a carry.
Thin at: Lines
Both offensive and defensive lines are thin for IMG as the Ascenders break camp. Sure, there are linemen doing protection duty for quarterback Michael O'Connor that are getting looks from BCS schools, but the unit, as well as the one on the defensive side of the ball, only go one deep. That means the program is one injury away from a headache up front.
Herald's forecast: 8-2
While it's a question mark as to what will happen when IMG Academy finally takes the field, what isn't a mystery is the talent the team possesses or the ridiculous strength of its schedule. The Ascenders boast top-level athletes at a variety of skill positions and in the trenches, but they face eight programs that made the playoffs last season, including a Class 6A state semifinalist in Naples. Two of those playoff teams come from the largest classification in the state, Class 8A, while the majority are from Class 3A. A solid winning season is the first step in building a dynamic program. As an FHSAA independent, IMG is not eligible for the playoffs.
Chris Weinke, first season
By the numbers:
1,688 - Estimated number of miles round trip the Ascenders must travel for away games this season
21 - Number of different states (16) and foreign countries (five) from which IMG players hail
8 - Playoff teams from last season on the IMG schedule
Aug. 30 at Orlando Olympia
Sept. 6 NORTH MIAMI BEACH
Sept. 13 WEST PALM BEACH CARDINAL NEWMAN
Sept. 20 at Ocala Trinity Catholic
Sept. 27 ORLANDO FIRST ACADEMY
Oct. 4 at Miami Monsignor Pace
Oct. 11 LAKE MINNEOLA
Oct. 18 at Jacksonville Trinity Christian
Oct. 31 CLEARWATER CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Nov. 8 at Naples
All games start at 7:30 p.m
GAme to watch: Aug. 30 at Orlando Olympia
Usually the first regular season game isn't key, but IMG is a brand-new program. Head coach Chris Weinke will see precisely what he has this fall as the Ascenders open the year on the road. Winning would give the new team momentum. The game also is against a Class 8A school, so a victory would enables IMG to show it can compete with the biggest schools in the state.
2012 record: 0-0
This is IMG Academy's first season as a varsity football program.