Land O’ Lakes off to hot start behind Kyle Horvath
LAND O’ LAKES — The last time the Land O’ Lakes Gators football team was off to such a hot start, the last name of their quarterback was probably Weatherford.
 
Stephen Weatherford, to be exact.
 
That was back in the 2009 season when the club went 9-2, losing in the postseason to Tampa Jefferson, 43-22. The following year’s team ended up having to forfeit every game due to ineligible players. Many might not remember, though, how high the bar of excellence once stood.
 
Under the direction of the late John Benedetto, the Land O’ Lakes football program was once an annual playoff team and district championship squad. Yes, it might’ve been a while ago since that last happened, but one person still remembers the good old days. That’s current head coach Trac Baughn, who tweeted out a photo of Benedetto in an ode to the former Gators’ lead man.
 
Many don’t remember that under Benedetto’s watch, the Gators won 12 district championships between 1987 and 2008 and went to the postseason four other times as a district runner-up. Since 2008, however, the program has been mired in a playoff drought (outside of last season when everybody made the postseason.) Land O’ Lakes then went independent this fall instead of playing in a Class 7A district.
 
Baughn felt the program needed to take a step back from district play and rebuild. That plan has gone according to the blueprint and then some. The Gators have reeled off several wins and developed some solid, core pieces for the future. Much of it starts at the crucial quarterback position, and the Gators rely on the right arm of sophomore Kyle Horvath.
 
Horvath has been more than efficient this 2021 campaign, which has seen the sophomore put up huge numbers. The first-year starter has completed 56 of 93 for 1,261 yards, 18 touchdowns and an astounding zero interceptions. Those numbers are the best in Pasco County and Horvath’s top target has been junior wide receiver Kenen Ayala, who has 20 catches for 722 yards and 11 touchdowns.
 
The latest quarterback-wide receiver tandem is next in line of the great duos that have come through the Land O’ Lakes program. Drew Weatherford to Logan Payne, Joe Weatherford to Develin Robinson, Stephen Weatherford to Alex Robinson, James Pensyl to Liam Heaney. Now there’s Horvath to Ayala.
 
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.