It would surprise few to see them tangle again this postseason.
“They’re doing a good job over there and they’re going to be tough again this year with all they have coming back,” Osceola coach Eric Pinellas said.
Despite graduating big-time college prospects, the Kowboys, who proved a formidable challenge to state champion Lakeland in the state semi, are also back to business as usual.
“The team we have this year has the same potential as the one we had last year. The cupboard is not bare,” Pinellas said. “Last year’s team had the big-name stars on it. This year’s team is more like your lunch-pail type that comes out and works hard every day.”
Osceola returns 10 starters, including explosive junior running back Taevion Swint, who has spent the preseason recovering from a knee injury.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so we’ll be right back in the same place we were last year,” said Swint, who rushed for 1,666 yards and 20 TDs.
Sophomore Jeffrey Sinophat and juniors Elijah Melendez and Eli Hickson, an Orlando Christian Prep transfer, will carry the load in Swint’s absence behind an offensive line returning varsity experience.
Osceola’s talented linebacker group is made up of Melendez, junior leading tackler Robert Lee (82 tackles) and athletic senior Jalon Bell (56 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries).
The Kowboys have not lost to a county opponent since 2010. They are again the favorites to win District 10 over Celebration, St. Cloud and Tohopekaliga.
St. Cloud should continue to ascend with lots of depth among its 15 returning starters, the majority of which are juniors with substantial experience the past two seasons.
Quarterback Logan King (1,922 yards, 18 TDs, 7 INTs), running back/defensive back Terrence “TJ” Griffin (496 yards, 9 TDs) and linebacker Landon Millman (37 tackles, 5 sacks, INT) are among that class.
Senior wide receiver Owen Conner caught 43 passes for 865 yards and 6 TDs.
The Bulldogs will play home games at Austin-Tindall Sports Complex in Kissimmee while new field turf is being installed at the school stadium.
Tohopekaliga returns six starters on each side of the ball.
Sophomore quarterback Sabby Meassick (3,044 yards, 38 TDs, 17 INTs), senior running back Churandy Duval (1,291 all-purpose yards, 10 TDs) and wideout Julian Nasco (873 yards, 12 TDs) combined to produce massive numbers last fall.
Gateway transfer Delvin Pryor will play receiver and defensive back. Freedom transfer Brad Vera tallied 65 tackles and 6 sacks last fall at linebacker.
Celebration fields a young team that includes Lucas Morton-Carlson (OLB/RB), Landen Yaw (QB) and Gavin Konopka (C/LB).
Harmony promoted assistant coach Nick Lippert and made in-house coordinator changes on both sides of the ball.
Lippert expects to see “versatility, physicality and overall chemistry.”
The Longhorns return 10 starters to a team that qualified for the playoffs as an eight seed after defeating Viera and dropping other District 11 games vs. Melbourne and Palm Bay Heritage.
Senior defensive back Alex Nash (37 tackles, INT) and athlete Connor Flaherty (33 tackles, INT, FF, FR) lead the defense.
Senior Jeremy Hilliard is in line for the bulk of carries at running back behind an offensive line that includes junior Ryan Capranica.
Whether coaching at Apopka, in Georgia, or most recently Alabama, second-year DeLand coach Rick Darlington has been here before.
“Anytime you’re in the first year of a program there’s going to be growing pains. On the field, off the field, the first year is always a struggle,” Darlington said. “It takes three years to build a culture of accountability, and we’re better now than we were last year.”
Competing at a high level in the playoffs has the Bulldogs hungry for more. Enough talent returns to make DeLand the team to beat in District 9 as New Smyrna Beach, Port Orange Spruce Creek and Orange City University try to keep pace.
While the offensive line needs time to gel, seniors TJ Moore (2,198 total yards) at quarterback, do-it-all athlete Javon Ross, and Darlington’s youngest son, Wyatt Darlington, have the skills to keep that unit afloat.
Intimidating defensive end MJ Smokes (46 tackles) and linebacker Dante Mascio (48 tackles) are leaders on the other side of the ball.
“I want to be known as playing really good defense,” Darlington said. “We’ll find a way to hopefully manufacture points, but our defense really needs to be our strength.”
University returns 11 starters to a team led by new head coach Justin Roberts, who spent the past nine years with the program as an assistant.
“We have a great group who has stayed together and responded well to the changes,” Roberts said.
Junior wide receiver/defensive back Jermane Hayes will be heavily relied upon, as will Deltona transfer Isaiah Baker (WR). Malachi Walters returns at quarterback after going 3-1 as a sophomore before a season-ending injury.
Leading senior tackler Carlito Betancourt (105 tackles) returns at linebacker. Senior lineman Nate Thomas (63 tackles) is a valuable defender against the run.
4S District 9
Coach: Rick Darlington (2nd year, 6-5; 240-92 career, 27 seasons).
2022: 6-5, 4S regional quarterfinals.
Coach: Justin Roberts (1st year).
2022: 3-7, missed 4S playoffs.
4S District 10
Coach: Jeremy Palmer (2nd year, 1-9).
2022: 1-9, missed 4S playoffs.
Coach: Eric Pinellas (3rd year, 19-7).
2022: 10-4, 4S state semifinals.
St. Cloud Bulldogs
Coach: Mike Short (3rd year, 9-6; 15-30 career, 5 seasons).
2022: 7-3*, missed 4S playoffs.
(* includes forfeit win vs. Central Florida Christian)
Coach: Anthony Paradiso (2nd year, 6-4; 88-67 career, 14 seasons).
2022: 6-4, missed 4S playoffs.
4S District 11
Coach: Nick Lippert (1st year).
2022: 6-5, 4S regional quarterfinals.