To preview the 2012 high school football season, The Tampa Tribune is counting down the top 10 teams in Hillsborough County. These preseason rankings were voted on by Tribune writer Bill Ward, high school sports editor Doug Jacobs and correspondents Mike Camunas, Jarrett Guthrie and Scott Purks. Today: No. 6 Gaither.
The Gaither High football team is poised to have a successful season and make a serious run in the playoffs. The Cowboys were 9-4 overall and 4-1 in Class 7A-District 7 and advanced to the Region finals last season.
"We have enough firepower to be District champs," Gaither coach Jason Stokes said. "I really feel we are able to go deep in the playoffs from what we saw of playoff teams last year. It will be a springboard into State if we get past the Regional final round."
Stokes' high expectations are fueled by the return of 14 starters from last season, including junior quarterback Alex McGough and senior running backs Shug Oyegunle, Vu Lee and Jamari Cord along with senior tight end Marquis Brown.
McGough passed for more than 600 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions while Oyegunle had more than 400 yards rushing and five TDs. Oyegunle also caught 12 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
"We already know the offense and defense this season," said Stokes, who is in his second year as Gaither coach. "We will have a multiple offense and odd and even fronts on defense. We have other weapons besides Shug and McGough. We know defenses will really focus on shutting those two down."
The defensive unit returns senior defensive end Earnest Suttle, senior linebacker Dominic Neglio and senior linebacker Logan Marshall. Junior defensive end Brad Smith, junior corner back Amani Oruwariye and junior safety D.J. King are back.
Marshall had a team-high 153 tackles and recovered three fumbles, Suttle had 80 stops while Smith and Oruwariye combined for 87 tackles. Oruwariye also had five interceptions last season.
"This year is very exciting," Suttle said. "We lost a lot of defense, but we gained a lot of good players. It's my duty to bring everything I can out of the defense."
Stokes feels his team will be successful if it can concentrate on improving over last season and not take anything for granted.
"We need to stay focused and keep our eyes on the prize and stay humble," he said. "We put a lot of work into the off-season and I expect a lot of success."
KICKOFF CLASSIC: Aug. 24 at Sickles
SEASON OPENER: Sept. 1 at Alonso
PREVIOUS TOP 10 TEAMS: 10. Durant; 9. Sickles; T7. Tampa Bay Tech; T7. Jefferson.