During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.
This week’s team: Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.).
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 10. The Hurricanes, with five state titles in three decades under coach Joe Kinnan, should enter the season as one of the top two or three ranked Florida teams in the FAB 50. The team’s schedule, which is a major factor in FAB 50 positioning, includes a rematch in Week 3 against defending FAB 50 champion Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), which enters the season on a 46-game win streak. That includes a 22-16 win over Manatee last year in a game the Hurricanes led 10-9 midway in the fourth-quarter.
Team Strengths: Eleven starters, including six all-state honorees, return for a veteran team that was unbeaten the last two regular seasons versus in-state foes. The quarterback during this dominant in-state run returns in Cord Sandberg (6-2, 190), a first team all-stater and Florida Mr. Football finalist who passed for 2,185 yards and 19 scores and rushed for 814 yards and 10 touchdowns. Anthony Lauro will take over the primary rushing duties after leading the team with 51 receptions and running for 650 yards and eight touchdowns, mostly on reverses, in 2011. The offensive line should be anchored by all-state choice Thor Miller (6-2, 255). All four defensive linemen will be back, including three all-staters -- sophomore Derek Calloway (6-1, 305) and juniors Blake Keller and Marquis Dawsey. The three combined for 35 sacks in 2011.
Another Florida team to watch: Booker T. Washington (Miami) was bumped from the FAB 50 when the 12-2 record Tornadoes bowed to The Bolles School (Jacksonville, Fla.) 33-25 in the Class 4A state finals. Bolles finished No. 46 in the FAB 50. Washington welcomes back five players that all earned all-state recognition in 2011. That list includes rising junior quarterback Treon Harris, running back D'von Ballard, offensive lineman Denver Kirkland, and defensive linemen Matthew Thomas and rising junior Chad Thomas.