TRINITY – If you woke up in Pasco County Tuesday morning, you probably felt the wind chills and temperatures somewhere around 53 degrees.
These kinds of weather conditions usually are saved for winter sports like soccer, basketball and wrestling. Over at Mustang Stadium off Little Road, however, there's still football practice taking place not too long after the final bell rings. That's J.W. Mitchell's football team taking the field for daily practices, something the Mustangs have never suited up for in the month of December.
It's actually something a Pasco County team hasn't done since the 2011 Pasco Pirates' club that reached the Class 5A state semifinals (eventually falling 41-38 in double overtime to Crawfordville Wakulla). All that history begs the question where this specific Mitchell team ranks amongst the county's best teams of all-time.
If you're talking about in recent memory, only River Ridge's 2016 team reached the region final and the Royal Knights fell 39-17 to Green Cove Springs Clay. Many would say that was an overachieving team under Ryan Benjamin, but River Ridge accomplished a lot getting to the third round. Losses to Mitchell and Sunlake during the regular season were close, but River Ridge's spread offense was tough to handle for most.
Take a dive at the last decade and you can start to throw in the 2011 and 2012 Pasco Pirates' teams that made runs to the state semifinals and region final, respectively. The 2011 Pirates nearly ran the table and if not for an infamous penalty in the first overtime versus Crawfordville Wakulla, Pasco would've been in the Class 5A state championship against Miami Norland. The 2012 Pasco team is about as equally talented as the year before, for the exception at the quarterback position, it was a week-by-week decision.
Both Pasco teams were ultra talented and featured players like Janarion Grant, Joey Ivie, Nate Craig-Myers, Jacob Guy and David Emmanuel. Two of the five aforementioned players ended up playing in the NFL at one point or another and Craig-Myers is currently at Colorado State playing wide receiver. Nonetheless, those two Pasco teams were loaded at the skill positions groups and up front, guided by Tom McHugh, they were nearly untouchable in Pasco County.
Other teams that come to mind when thinking of all-timers for Pasco County prep football are the 2008 Pasco and Gulf teams, with the former reaching the state semifinal (losing 28-14 to Tallahassee Godby) and the latter being possibly a Madison Burr injury away from possibly making a deep playoff run themselves.
The 2005 Hudson team coached by Mark Nash was another club that made a magical run, somewhat similar to River Ridge's 11 years later, and close wins over Orlando Bishop Moore and Williston in the opening rounds became program firsts. Those from the Hudson-area can still list off the names of key players like Vince Ferlita, Kyle Hatcher, Royce Simonds, Robert Allen and Allen Wynn, all instrumental to the Cobras' run in '05. The Cobras ended up being out-athleted when they came up against Citra North Marion in the Class 3A region final.
Land O' Lakes teams led by the right-arm of Drew Weatherford and the late, great Coach John Benedetto in 2002 and 2003 were talented squads that nearly made appearances in the state semifinals. Both teams had memorable players on them as well, from Weatherford to wide receiver Logan Payne to fullback/linebacker Scott Mays to tight end Caz Piurowski, those Gators' squads had talent to compete.
The list goes on with of course the county's only state championship winning team, the 1992 Pasco Pirates, and the 1983 Pasco club that reached the region final as well. Where does this current Mitchell Mustangs' team rank up with the best of all-time in Pasco County high school football lore?
They have to be a shoe in at this point as a top 10, but can solidify themselves as top five with a win over Orlando Edgewater on Friday night. Joe Pinkos' statewide picks has the Eagles favored by 17 over the Mustangs. The same poll had Apopka Wekiva winning by 10 last week. Only time will tell if this Mustangs' group will join the rarified air that only Pasco High School has ever been to: state semifinal round.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.