Cue the annual rotation at Merritt Island: something more than 20 seniors graduate, most of them key contributors to another district championship football team. Then another large group of 12th-graders moves into those spots, almost seamlessly.
Well, the first half has repeated itself. A senior-heavy Mustangs team won the District 14-5A title and eventually walked across the graduation stage.
The question this year is whether replacing them will be so automatic. Losses came at several of football’s most crucial positions and perhaps in ways unseen in recent memory on the island.
Offensive captain and center Bailey Herring along with defensive captain Peter Demorat, a defensive end with 10.5 sacks in 2015, are both gone. Both were three-year starters.
There is also a hole to be filled at running back, and — this is where it gets unusual for Merritt Island — every starting linebacker position.
In a program built on defense, that’s a concern.
“We’ve always had one back,” head coach Jeff McLean said Monday of his linebacking corps. “Someone’s got to step up. We’ve moved some people around, but we haven’t had a chance to get some consistency, consistency from a lot of kids that need some consistency.”
That’s consistency in practicing as a group. A handful of injuries have prevented it, but there is promise to be found.
Noah Valletutti, a starter at offensive tackle last year, will add duties at linebacker. Andrew Beardall, like Valletutti a younger brother to a previous Mustangs standout, could be another future star at linebacker.
And there are areas with stability. Depite the graduation of Herring, the other four offensive linemen returned. Three of four defensive linemen returned, too, and so did starting quarterback Jimmy Batch, who has been both a threat to run or throw.
He’ll have big targets in 6-foot-4 duo Jake Martin at receiver and Connor Allen at tight end. Deben Peterson, the county’s returning leader in regular season receptions with 41, returned. Mason Denaburg, one of Brevard County’s more reliable kickers, joined him, as did three of four in the secondary.
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or email@example.com. Follow facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum and @Brian_McCallum on Twitter.
2016 Mustangs Schedule
Aug. 26 Merritt Island at Heritage, 7
Sept. 2 Merritt Island at Lake Wales, 7:30
Sept. 9 Viera at Merritt Island, 7
Sept. 16 Space Coast at Merritt Island, 7
Sept. 23 Port St. Lucie at Merritt Island, 7
Sept. 30 Merritt Island at Satellite, 7
Oct. 14 Titusville at Merritt Island, 7
Oct. 21 Merritt Island at Palm Bay, 7
Oct. 28 Merritt Island at Rockledge, 7
Nov. 4 Merritt Island at Seminole, 7