NEEDS A BIG SEASON FROM: JOHNNIE LANG, JR., RB
Anchored by a new quarterback and a new line and run by a new coordinator, Manatee's offense is not expected to look much like last year's unit.
Enter Johnnie Lang.
The junior running back will take over the starting duties and take some pressure off quarterback Sloan Drummonds and a line that graduated all of its starters. Primarily a backup the last two years behind Trevon Walters, Lang performed well when called upon and needed just 84 carries to chug for 781 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
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This fall, however, expect Lang to get plenty more touches.
"A good running back makes up for a lot of deficiencies in an offensive line," first-year head coach John Booth said, "and we're expecting him to kind of carry that load."
Octavious James, another junior who scored three touchdowns and ran for 203 on 15 carries last year, will get some chances, too, and Booth expects Drummonds to contribute to Manatee's ground game.
But most of it will flow through Lang, who already has a scholarship offer from Kentucky.
"There's no question that Johnnie is going to be the workhorse for us, and we're going to rely on him to make some plays," said Booth, whose twin brother, James, will serve as the offensive coordinator. "Not only in the run game, but in the passing game and screen game as well."
John Booth was coaching at Valrico Bloomingdale last fall and spring but was impressed when he caught a glimpse of Lang's film and his play this summer.
"He's just got great feet," the head coach said. "Very surprising with his hands, just throwing some 7-on-7 in the summer, great hands, which is encouraging. Now we can use him a lot in that pass game. But great feet, great vision and great accleration. He gets up and goes in a hurry."
IMPACT NEWCOMER: A.J. COLAGIOVANNI, SOPH., QB
A junior varsity player last year, Colagiovanni beat out senior Sloan Drummonds for the starting job and played well during Friday's Kickoff Classic against Tarpon Springs East Lake. There is some talent around him, so Colagiovanni won't be expected to win games on his own. But coach John Booth is excited about the sophomore's potential.
DEEP AT: WIDE RECEIVER
Senior Kelvin McKnight returns after nabbing a team-high 41 catches, while the arrival of Drummonds allows Kavious Price, Manatee's quarterback in the spring, to return to his natural spot in slot. The sure-handed Lang (10 catches) gives Drummonds another speedy target. Booth said the Canes are deep enough to rotate enough guys in the game to keep his starters fresh.
THIN AT: LINEBACKER
Nashon Smith had 64 tackles and was impressive in the spring, but there is little experience behind him. Consequently, Manatee will use a 4-2-5 defense to put its best players out in coverage, such as safety/linebacker Antonio Henderson, who had 60 tackles, including 13 for loss, last season.
HERALD'S FORECAST: 8-2, PLAYOFF BERTH
Manatee lost 12 scholarship players from last year's team and is starting fresh with a new coach. But the Canes don't play a district game until Oct. 3, which should give the offense time go gel and help send them back to the postseason for a sixth straight year.
John Booth, 1st season at Manatee; 16-34 in five seasons at Valrico Bloomingdale
BY THE NUMBERS:
7: Consecutive seasons in which Manatee hasn't lost to a Manatee County team. Southeast beat the Canes during Week 1 in 2006.
9.3: Yards running back Johnnie Lang averaged on 84 carries last year.
5: Straight seasons the Hurricanes have reached at least the second round of the playoffs.
29 at Ware County (Ga.)
5 SANFORD SEMINOLE
26 at Southeast
2 at Riverview*
17 ST. PETERSBURG*
31 at Palm Harbor Univ.*
7 at Venice
Games start at 7:30 p.m., except # (6 p.m.)
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS
*--Class 8A-7A game
11-1, 3-0 8A-7
at Gilman (Md.) W, 44-14
VENICE W, 35-14
FRIENDSHIP COLL. ACA. W, 23-13
at Sarasota W, 66-7
SOUTHEAST W, 62-0
RIVERVIEW W, 47-0
at Palmetto W, 35-14
at St. Petersburg W, 51-13
FORT LAUDERDALE U. SCHOOL W, 28-24
PALM HARBOR U. W, 48-14
VERO BEACH W, 34-28
at Fort Pierce Central L, 15-17