Highlights from the 2018 season for Manatee County football teams
Most teams would take a drastic step back after losing the number of four- and five-star recruits that IMG Academy did in the offseason.
Of course, the Ascenders aren’t like most teams.
IMG reloaded with multiple elite recruits, a group led by wide receivers Jermaine Burton (LSU commit) and Michael Redding III (Miami), defensive backs Elias Ricks (LSU) and Lejond Cavazos (Ohio State), and defensive linemen Demonte Capehart (Clemson) and Warren Brinson (Georgia).
Other Ascenders to watch include linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote (USC), offensive lineman Greg Crippen (Notre Dame) and J.C. Latham (multiple scholarship offers).
“When you lose guys that have been here a long time, like Trey (Sanders), Evan (Neal) and Noah (Cain), Nolan (Smith), you have to find out who your new leaders are going to be,” Ascenders head coach Kevin Wright. “It’s probably the most underrated team we’ve had, because they’re a bunch of young guys for the most part.”
The Ascenders weren’t the only private school in the area to experience much change.
Bradenton Christian hired Greg Williford as its head coach, his first holding such a role, and he brought in a first-time offensive coordinator and first-time defensive coordinator.
Cardinal Mooney, Saint Stephens and Out-of-Door Academy, however, will largely look the same after putting together excellent seasons last fall, giving them hope for more success in 2019.
Cardinal Mooney brings back senior quarterback Ryan Bolduc, who threw for more than 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in five games last season, as well as several talented linemen.
Saint Stephen’s will be centered around junior running back D.J. Clark, senior linebacker Cam Vining and senior offensive lineman Dylan Davis.
Out-of-Door returns several key pieces of its offense, including quarterback Tyler Beasley, running back Colin Castro and wide receiver Nolan Lewellen.
Coach: Greg Williford
2018 record: 3-6
Players to watch: Senior QB/DB Zach Seagreaves, who passed for nearly 1,500 yards in each of the past two seasons and one of three seniors on the team. … Senior WR/LB Joey Bivona caught 26 passes for 563 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. … Senior RB/DB Jordan Miller rushed for 492 yards and five touchdowns last year.
Need to know: The Panthers’ coaching staff will be taking on new roles this season. Williford, who has been an assistant coach at Saint Stephens, Braden River and Bayshore, is a first-time head coach, and his offensive and defensive coordinator are in their roles for the first times in their careers. … The Panthers will switch to a spread power offense and a 4-2 defense.
Aug. 23 at Largo Indian Rocks Christian, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 Open
Sept. 6 vs. Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Tampa Cambridge Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 Open
Oct. 18 vs. Fort Myers Canterbury, 7 p.m.
Coach: Paul Maechtle
2018 record: 8-3
Players to watch: Senior QB Ryan Bolduc, who led the Cougars to a 5-0 record last year before suffering a season-ending right knee injury. … Junior RB Dylan Turner, who transferred from Braden River. … Senior DB Ty Deener, a major contributor in the Cougars’ secondary last season. … Senior WR Meko Mayes, a captain who figures to be Bolduc’s biggest target.
Need to know: Bolduc is 100 percent healthy following his surgery toward the end of last season. … Turner received praise during the preseason as he prepares to replace Tray Hall, who transferred to Sarasota Riverview. … The Cougars’ offensive line figures to be a strength. The unit will be led by seniors Nate Marshall and Michael Bright and junior Gabe Hahn. … Freshman CB Jaquavious Washington is expected to contribute a lot this season. He ran an 11.9 100-meter dash and 23.9 200-meter dash as an eighth-grader and could be the team’s fastest player.
Aug. 23 at Booker, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. Tampa Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 vs. Tampa Berkeley Prep, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Fort Myers Riverdale, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Lakeland Victory Christian Academy, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Clearwater Calvary Christian, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Fort Myers Bishop Verot, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Clearwater Central Catholic, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 Open
Oct. 25 vs. Lakeland Christian, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
Coach: Kevin Wright
2018 record: 7-1
Players to watch: Senior DB Elias Ricks, a five-star recruit committed to LSU. … Senior DL Demonte Capehart, a five-star recruit committed to Clemson, had 40 tackles and seven sacks last fall. … Senior WR Jermaine Burton, a four-star recruit committed to LSU. … Senior WR Michael Redding III, a four-star recruit committed to Miami. … Senior DB Lejond Cavazos, a four-star recruit committed to Ohio State. … Senior DL Warren Brinson, a four-star recruit committed to Georgia. … Junior LB Ma’a Gaoteote, a four-star recruit with multiple Power 5 offers. … Junior DL J.C. Latham, a four-star recruit with multiple Power 5 offers. … Junior OL Greg Crippen, a four-star recruit committed to Notre Dame.
Need to know: IMG has 12 players committed to Power 5 programs and figures to add several more to that list soon … MaxPreps has the Ascenders ranked No. 13 in the nation in its preseason poll. Further, MaxPreps ranks IMG’s schedule as the third-toughest in the country. ... In addition to the IMG team that plays a national schedule, a second team will play a state schedule, though none of the opponents are from Manatee or Sarasota counties. The lone opponent from the Tampa Bay area is Tampa Berkeley Prep.
2019 National team schedule:
Aug. 23 at Venice, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 vs. Miami Norland, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 vs. Miami Northwestern, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 at St. Joseph’s Preparatory (Pa.), 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at St. John’s College (Washington, D.C.), 2 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Miami Booker T. Washington, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Clarkson Football North (Canada), 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Life Christian Academy (Md.), 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 at St. Frances Academy (Md.), 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 Open
Nov. 1 at Hoover (Ala.), 7 p.m.
2019 Varsity team schedule:
Aug. 24 vs. Grant Career & Technical, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 at Fort Pierce John Carroll Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Naples St. John Neumann Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Cape Coral Oasis, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Tampa Berkeley Prep, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 Open
Oct. 5 vs. Orlando West Oaks Academy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Orlando Christian Prep, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 vs. Oviedo Master’s Academy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. Lake Placid, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Satellite Beach Satellite, 7 p.m.
Coach: Chris Kempton
2018 record: 6-4
Players to watch: Senior RB/DB Colin Castro, who rushed for 1,038 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018. … Junior QB Tyler Beasley, who started all 10 games last season. … Senior WR/DB Nolan Lewellen, who had seven interceptions last year. … Senior RB/LB Jared Falhive, an important two-way player for the Thunder. … WR/LB Tanner Fairchild, who led the Thunder in tackles for loss and sacks in 2018. … OL/DL Tomas Giacinti, a three-year starter on defense.
Need to know: Coming off back-to-back playoff appearances, the Thunder return eight starters on defense and seven on offense. … Senior OL/DL J.J. Easto is returning for his senior year at Out-of-Door Academy after playing two years out of state. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder earned praise from Kempton for his physicality and motor.
Aug. 23 vs. Fort Myers Canterbury, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 at Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Seminole Osceola, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Bradenton Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. Largo Indian Rocks Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 at St. Petersburg Northside Christian, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 vs. Tampa Carrollwood Day, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 Open
Coach: Tod Creneti
2018 record: 10-2
Players to watch: Junior RB D.J. Clark, who rushed for 1,608 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. … Senior LB Cam Vining, who had 61 tackles and 13 tackles for a loss last season and committed to Army West Point. … Senior OL/DL Dylan Davis, who had 41 tackles and 20 tackles for loss and holds multiple scholarship offers. … Junior LB Calvin Sauerbeck, who had 66 tackles and nine tackles for a loss last season.
Need to know: Quarterback Xavier Williams transferred to Palmetto after throwing for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns last season. … The Falcons have a difficult start to the season with Admiral Farragut, Tampa Cambridge Christian and St. Petersburg Catholic in the first three weeks. ... Rivalry games against Out-of-Door Academy (Sept. 27) and Bradenton Christian (Oct. 4) are scheduled for back-to-back weeks.
Aug. 23 vs. St. Petersburg Admiral Farragut, 7 p.m.
Aug. 30 at Tampa Cambridge Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Englewood Lemon Bay, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 vs. St. Petersburg Northside Christian, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 vs. Out-of-Door Academy, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 vs. Bradenton Christian, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 at Spring Hill Bishop McLaughlin, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18: Open