Strawberry Crest knew things had to be different this year in its pass-heavy offense.
Gone was Karel Hamilton, now at Samford University, who caught 36% of quarterback Tristan Hyde’s passes and accounted for nearly half of the team’s total receiving yards.
Tristan’s brother, Josh, was second on the team, with 372 yards, compared to Hamilton’s 948. Josh also hauled in five touchdowns, half of what Hamilton contributed.
Coaches are looking at Josh Hyde, now a senior, as one of the Chargers’ top guys and, along with junior Clay Cullins, the pair are leading the Chargers in all of the major receiving categories.
This may come as a surprise to some, because many expected senior Alex Carswell to carry the load left by Hamilton. Carswell has numerous Division I offers, but most are for defense.
“There was a little bit of question marks entering the season,” said head coach John Kelly. “Josh had good numbers for us last year and was a proven commodity in our eyes, but with Clay and Josh, we’ve had the freedom of putting Alex Carswell on the defensive side, almost primarily.”
So far this season, Hyde and Cullins have combined for 398 yards and five touchdowns this season, entering Friday’s match up against Freedom.
Josh Hyde has been with Strawberry Crest through the good, the bad and the ugly, including the 2011 1-9 season.
“It was a terrible season, but we stuck together,” he said.
Hyde went from only having five catches in 2011 to 34 last fall. He has 18 catches right now, so he’s already on pace to eclipse his 2012 mark.
It also helps that one of the people doing the targeting was Josh’s little brother, Tristan.
“When I run my routes, I kind of have an idea of where that ball is going to be,” Josh Hyde said. “He knows what I can catch and what I can’t catch. Sometimes, I’ll even run a route that I’m not supposed to, but we just have that chemistry, where he knows what I’m going to do, and he’ll put the ball where it needs to be.”
Josh added that the only “special treatment” between the two on the field is holding each other to a higher standard.
“When he makes a mistake, I might get on to him more than I would another quarterback,” Josh Hyde said. “I just want to look out for him and make sure he does his best and makes the best decisions for the team.”
Kelly said having brothers at the quarterback and receiver positions is a benefit, but it’s the way they practice and play that make them so valuable to the team.
“The brother dynamic, you can’t replace that, but beyond that, Josh just brings impeccable work ethic and has become almost the poster child for this program,” Kelly said.
Cullins played varsity last season but saw limited playing time. He finished his sophomore season with just two catches for nine yards.
Already this year, Cullins has nine catches for 153 and one touchdown.
“It was just a great learning experience above everything else, learning from Karel especially, and Josh and Alex, too,” Cullins said of last year. “It was very important for me maturing as a person and especially as a football player.
“I just wanted to follow in their steps,” he said.
The receiving threat Cullins has provided to the Chargers has been a welcome addition.
“We knew he had potential and talent, but with Karel and Josh and some other guys we had last year, he just had to wait his turn,” Kelly said. “So far this year, he’s stepped up big for us as a junior and has seized his opportunity.”
Also stepping up for the Chargers is junior quarterback Austin Carswell, who is filling in for an injured Tristan Hyde, who went down with a knee injury in the game against Leon. Carswell responded with a big game the following week. The junior threw for 238 yards and six touchdowns in last week’s 46-0 blowout of Brandon High School.
THE BIG PICTURE
It’s common in high school football for coaches to use their most talented players in a variety of positions to help the team win, regardless if those players will play those positions at the next level.
Kelly doesn’t agree with this philosophy.
“We’re always going to do what’s best for our players, and that means what they’re going to be beyond here at Strawberry Crest,” Kelly said.
Carswell is the best example of this. In his first year playing varsity last fall, Carswell primarily played offense, as a receiving option outside of Hamilton. But this offseason, Carswell has drawn the attention of many colleges, including South Florida, Cincinnati and Memphis. Most college scouts see Carswell playing outside linebacker in college.
This year, Kelly has used Carswell primarily at linebacker and defensive end, giving him playing time at those positions and also bolstering a Chargers defense that lost several playmakers.
“We want to help our kids develop for the long term and not just be selfish in the short term while they’re here,” Kelly said.
According to Kelly, Carswell has been playing about 90% on the defensive side of the ball, playing on offense only in situational settings.
If Kelly and the Chargers continue to get the offensive output of Hyde and Cullins, that ratio likely won’t change.
OTHER AREA ACTION
Plant City at Bloomingdale
Last Week: Plant City held on to beat Durant 14-13, while Bloomingdale lost a shootout with Plant 50-40.
Notes: A late goal-line stand, followed by defensive end Sedrick King’s interception with 59 seconds left, helped the Raiders cling to victory for another James L. Redman Cup. It wasn’t a pretty win, but a 3-0 record looks the same no matter how it happened. Bloomingdale went to Plant and hung a 14-0 lead on the Panthers to kick things off, before the Panthers settled down and turned it into a barn-burner.
Durant at Gaither
Last Week: Durant fell to to Plant City 14-13, while Gaither shut out Freedom 17-0.
Notes: The Cougars came so close to their first win, but one mistake cost them dearly. Gaither remains undefeated on the road, after shutting out Freedom, and now, the Cowboys travel to Durant. But will the good Gaither show up, or will the Cougars get the Cowboys who lost their previous two games by a combined 64 points?