By: Wells Dusenbury
Over the past few years, Palm Beach Gardens has been know for its dominant running game with standouts Roshard Burney and Alex Clark tearing through opposing defenses. With the graduation of the Gators' two headed-monster though, Gardens might be relying on their aerial attack in 2012.
While Burney and Clark ran for nearly 3,000 yards last year, quarterback J.P. Caruso and wide receiver Frank Brown quietly established themselves as one of the area's best quarterback/receiver tandems. The duo hooked up for 12 touchdowns last year and could be set for an even bigger 2012, with the offensive load shifting more toward them.
The Gators will look to follow-up on last year's breakthrough season that saw Palm Beach Gardens make it to the Regional Finals for the first time since 2006.
While the Gators return 16 starters from last year's squad, they do have to replace some key pieces. In addition to Burney and Clark, star offensive tackle Avery Young is off to Auburn, leaving a void on Gardens' offensive line.
The task of finding those replacements will be up to longtime assistant Rob Freeman, who steps into the head coaching job following the departure of former Gators' coach Chris Davis.
Record in 2011: 9-3
Playoff result: Lost to Miramar 35-7 in 8A Regional Finals
Head coach: Rob Freeman (1st year)
Returning starters: 16
Frank Brown- WR (Sr.) Deep-threat receiver who will be one of the area's best in 2012.
J.P. Caruso- QB (Jr.) Emerged as a legitimate passing threat throughout the course of the season, highlighted by his 3 touchdown performance in Gardens' Regional Quarterfinal win versus Park Vista.
Nick Hoffman- OL (Sr.) Anchors an offensive line that returns four starters from last year.
Da'Kwon De Polo- DE (Sr.) Explosive off the edge for the Gators.
Biggest spring concern: Finding the diamonds in the rough
Freeman says at this point he knows what he's getting out of his returning players, but it's finding out who the younger players are that can contribute in the fall. The Gators have had over 100 players out at spring practice and Freeman plans on playing all of them in the spring game to see how they fare when they get underneath the pressure of a game situation.
Player to watch out for: Jermaine Carn
Last year, Carn spent the bulk of his time opening up holes at the fullback position. This year, he'll get the chance to run through the holes. Carn, who started at fullback, was used primarily as a blocker and pass catcher in 2011, but Freeman currently has him slotted as the team's feature back for the upcoming year. With Burney and Clark gone and four offensive linemen returning, Carn could be in for a big 2012.
In their words:
"It's been a while since we'd been in it, so I think it's certainly brought back some excitement to our school. With that being said, we were still the district runner-ups and we still haven't won anything yet, if you will. So there's some goals left to achieve." -Rob Freeman on keeping up last year's momentum.
When Chris Davis resigned as the Gators' head coach, Palm Beach Gardens not only lost one of the top play-callers in the area, but also one of the area's most avid Twitter users. Davis was known for going back-and-forth with players and coaches on twitter, and while Freeman isn't currently on Twitter, he hasn't ruled it out yet.
"I'm a little bit more of an older generation," said Freeman. "I don't know too much about that, but I'm willing to learn."
While Palm Beach Gardens loses some high-profile, talented players, the Gators return the bulk of last year's team that made the 8A Regional Finals. Caruso and Brown should be one of the top QB-WR tandems in the area and give the Gators a lethal passing attack that should allow Carn to ease into his new role.
Having been a long-time assistant with Gardens, Freeman keeps consistency within the program and should keep the momentum that Davis built last year going in 2012.
Spring Game: Royal Palm Beach (5/24)
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