* Teams: Barron Collier, Estero, Gulf Coast, Naples, Palmetto Ridge
* Outlook: Naples (12-1) has won three consecutive district championships and is favored to capture a fourth, even in a reconfigured alignment. The Golden Eagles haven’t lost to any of their four new district foes since 1998, when in coach Bill Kramer’s first season, his team’s 3-7 mark included setbacks to Barron Collier and Estero. Since then, the Golden Eagles are 43-0 against the quartet. Naples junior quarterback Michael Walker provided an answer to the team’s biggest question mark with a standout performance in a 34-17 preseason win over Hialeah. Barron Collier (6-5) will continue to be formidable defensively, but a move to a more pass-heavy offensive attack could take some time to gel. Still, the Cougars should win what figures to be a fierce battle for the runner-up slot.
* Dark horse: Gulf Coast (2-8): The Sharks have a senior-laden defense that could propel them past .500.
* Long shots: Estero (8-3), Palmetto Ridge (1-9)
* Predicted order of finish: 1. Naples, 2. Barron Collier, 3. Gulf Coast, 4. Palmetto Ridge, 5. Estero
2012 record: 6-5Coach: Dan PallantePlayers to watch: Nick Crouch (Jr., OG/DT), Paul Johnson, (Sr., QB), Brady Pallante (Sr., OL/DL), Derren Pass (Jr., RB), Jonallen Velasquez (Jr., LB)Outlook: The Cougars lost nearly half the team’s roster to graduation. The team has installed a more pass-heavy offense and has a first-time varsity quarterback in Johnson, a three-time state champion tennis player at the school. Pass is a playmaker out of the backfield and Pallante, a Michigan commit, leads an above-average offensive line. Barron Collier lacks overall speed and will try to manhandle teams. Defensively, Velasquez leads a steady defense, but it’s a unit that will struggle to run with athletic offenses.
2012 record: 8-3Coach: Mark JacksonPlayers to watch: Josh Brickley (Sr., DE), Evan Campbell (Sr., WR), Jason Correll (Jr., WR), Sammy Katona (Sr., DB), Cody Long (Jr., QB), Nick Nataro (Sr., TE), Wes Pruitt (Sr., WR) Outlook: Jackson, a former assistant at Golden Gate, becomes the sixth coach in the program’s history. Last season, the Wildcats returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2001 but may be hard-pressed to return after losing a ton of offensive talent, including their top quarterback, running back and wide receiver to graduation. Jackson will turn to the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Long to run his up-tempo pistol offense. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Nataro, an Arizona commit, is a big-time target in the passing game and may also see time at defensive end.
2012 record: 2-8Coach: Pete FominayaPlayers to watch: Jonathan Cosme (Jr., WR), Noah Cuccuini (Sr., LB), Josh Custer (Sr., DB), Johnny Griffith (Sr., WR), Jeff Leonia (Sr., LB), Gage Rion (Jr., RB), Mike Scott (Sr., LB), Will Sheriffs (So., QB), Geoff Stearns (Sr., DL) The Word: The Sharks’ struggles last season rested mostly on a toothless offense that averaged just 10 points per game. Look for a run-heavy attack that should be marginally improved thanks to an upgraded offensive front. Defensively, Gulf Coast will be solid, led by a strong corps of linebackers. The unit will need to force turnovers to give its offense a short field. Sharing a district with Naples and Barron Collier means the state playoffs are an unlikely goal but a third place finish would be a successful season.
2012 record: 12-1Coach: Bill KramerPlayers to watch: Tyler Byrd (So., WR/DB), Brian Donnelly (Sr., LB), Carlin Fils-Aime (So., RB), Jorge Friedrich (Sr., OL), Michael Hayes (Sr., TE), Trevor Hobbs (Sr., DL), Max Joseph (Jr., RB), Sammy Lubin (Sr., DB), Garrett Zech (Jr., QB/WR) The Word: This will be one of the youngest rosters in Kramer’s 16 seasons at the school. Friedrich is the lone starting offensive lineman back from a unit that paved the way for a 2,000-yard rushing campaign by Manny Morgan. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Joseph, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry in spot duty, gets the keys to Naples’ veer offense. Zech, who is recovering from a broken jaw, is slated to eventually replace Kilton Anderson, who transferred to quarterback factory Seattle Skyline. Junior Michael Walker will handle the starting duties until Zech is ready. Donnelly and Lubin lead a steady defense that perennially ranks among the area’s best. While a deep state playoff run looks unlikely, it’s dangerous to underestimate a program with the Golden Eagles’ pedigree.
2012 record: 1-9Coach: Ryan MitchellPlayers to watch: Theo Curto (Jr., DB), Tyler Fillios (Jr., DL), Andy Garcia (Sr., QB), Ron Johnson (Jr., RB), Marcus Smith (Jr., RB/WR), Archnell Souvenir (Sr., OL/DL)The Word: The Bears return 13 starters from last season, led by the 6-foot, 215-pound Johnson, one of the area’s best junior backs. The Bears’ success in 2013 will depend upon improving a defensive unit that allowed 35.2 points per game last season. Curto (123 tackles, 3 interceptions) keys a talented secondary but Palmetto Ridge needs to limit opponents’ running games, something that didn’t happen enough in 2012.