PALM BAY – Heritage was dominant for most of 2013. It blistered most of its regular-season opposition en route to a 10-0 start and won two playoff games before falling to eventual state champion Miami Central in its Class 6A regional final.
But new Heritage head coach Mark Ainsley isn’t worrying about that, instead taking a week-by-week approach with his young team rather than looking at the big picture.
“If we just can take care of ourselves and do the things that we need to get better every week, then when the chips fall, we’ll see what’s going on at Thanksgiving time as far as record,” said Ainsley.
It would be improbable to ask the Panthers to replicate that level of success in 2014, although Wednesday’s poll of Florida sportswriters ranked them ninth in Class 6A. They’re without many who helped them to last year’s 12-0 start, including eight defensive starters and quarterback Clinton Moxam. Although there are just eight returning letterman from last year’s team, there’s still a lot of talent.
Offensively, the Panthers will likely be led by Josh Gaines, who scored 10 rushing touchdowns while averaging nine yards a carry in the 2013 regular season.
“He’s coming off a 1,000-yard season last year, and so he’ll be a big part of the offense,” Ainsley said. “We’ve got some things for him. We’re looking for him to have a stellar junior year, and he had a really good off-season.”
Ainsley mentioned junior receiver David Ribot as someone who also is poised for a big season.
Defensively, Ainsley and defensive coordinator Russ Rothar aren’t looking to use anything too exotic schematically given how many new starters the team has.
“Not going to change too much, we’re just working on being fundamentally sound,” said Ainsley. “Right now, it’s about getting lined up, recognizing the formation and tackling the guy with the ball.”
A number of players will be counted on to step up.
“You’ve got to take responsibility. Everybody’s a leader on the team,” said linebacker Devonte Bartley.
Heritage remains a contender to win Class 6A, District 14, along with cross-town rival Bayside, which also made the postseason a year ago. Their October 31st matchup could be for the district title.
In the meantime, Heritage looks to get some of its inexperienced starters settled in.
Meet the Players
Devonte Bartley, Jr., DB
Best summer movie: “Not really any. I work hard every summer.”
Favorite pro spots team: Baltimore Ravens.
Teammate he’d most like to trade places with: “I’d switch with Cottrell, because we could play linebacker. He could play my position; I could play his.”
Favorite musical artist: Rich Homie Quan
FLORIDA TODAY takes a look at each football team around the county, profiling a different one each day. Sunday: Merritt Island.
2014 Panthers Schedule
Friday Eustis 7
Sept. 5 Palm Bay 7
Sept. 12 at Rockledge 7:30
Sept. 19 at Jensen Beach 7
Sept. 26 at Okeechobee 7
Oct. 3 Port St. Lucie 7
Oct. 10 Ft. Pierce Westwood 7
Oct. 24 South Fork 7
Oct. 31 at Bayside 7
Nov. 7 at Delray Am. Heritage 7