DISTRICT 1-5A: The four Bay County schools were unable to advance out of a strong district that featured West Florida and Pensacola Catholic each winning a first-round regional matchup to meet in a confrontation won by Catholic. The Crusaders were edged 9-7 by Clay in the region title game.
All of the schools to the west will be replacing a starting quarterback this season, two of them all-state selections Joey Baker of West Florida and Cody Henry of Catholic. However, the Jaguars and Crusaders remain the standard until one of the locals can break through and claim a playoff spot.
It would appear that Bay and Mosley have the best opportunity of the county representatives to do so in 2014, with Arnold a dark horse at least in the beginning.
The district: Arnold, Bay, Gulf Breeze, Mosley, Pensacola Catholic, Rutherford, West Florida.
DISTRICT 1-4A: Marianna has had a difficult time in recent years advancing out of this district and won’t be favored to do so this season. In 2013, East Gadsden County and Florida High represented the strength of the four-school district, each winning a regional opener.
Florida High survived their region semifinal collision before losing in the region championship. Those schools appear to reload each season, and will be the ones to beat, at least in the early going.
The district: East Gadsden, Florida High, Marianna, Walton.
DISTRICT 2-1A: Vernon won a district championship in Bobby Johns first year at the school and should be the team to beat once October arrives. Cottondale was the biggest surprise in 2013, however, advancing from its runner-up role to a state semifinal against Blountstown in Mike Melvin’s final season.
Thus far, some coaches are keeping an eye on Sneads, where former Arnold assistant Bill Thomas has made marked improvements entering his second season. Graceville hasn’t fallen off the radar, but Wewahitchka appears to be rebuilding under first-year head coach Loren Tillman.
The district:Cottondale, Graceville, Sneads, Vernon, Wewahitchka.
DISTRICT 3-1A: Blountstown suffered some key losses to graduation and departures. The Tigers, however, have a bruising tradition and have the manpower to once again rule a district that doesn’t overmatch them in any sense. A return to the state championship game, though, might seem a daunting task.
South Walton unveiled a passing attack that earned the Seahawks a playoff berth in 2013 and returns record-setting quarterback Johnathan Ortner. They could fight Chipley for one or both of the playoff roles, unless the rebuilding process at Holmes County is ahead of schedule or Lyle Messer can work some magic in his first season at Bozeman.
The district: Blountstown, Bozeman, Chipley, Holmes County, South Walton.
DISTRICT 4-1A: Port St. Joe and Liberty County are the lopsided choices to again advance as John Palmer has inherited a strong program in his return to the Tiger Sharks, who he guided to a state title in 2005. Liberty County and veteran coach Grant Grantham will be difficult to unseat, but Joey Striplin made incredible strides at West Gadsden in his first season. Franklin County is attempting to build a foundation for the future under Aaron York and will be dominated by underclassmen this year.
The district: FranklinCounty, Liberty County, Port St. Joe, West Gadsden.