Those that bleed Purple and Gold, shouldn't fret just because John Palmer did not return as Hernando High's boys weightlifting mentor this spring.
Due to health concerns, Palmer stepped down on his own accord from his gridiron duties last spring.
Mark Latsko, who serves the Leopards' football defensive coordinator and varsity basketball coach, will take over a loaded Hernando weight room this season.
Latsko will have big shoes to fill.
Palmer's 2012 squad not only captured the Hernando County Championship Meet for the first time since 2005, but hoisted the Class 1A, District 6 championship trophy at South Sumter.
Latsko pins his hopes to Hernando's literal strength in numbers. The Leopards will defend last year's title behind a county-high 36-member roster.
According to Latsko, the object is to arrive in every meet with two starters in very weight class. The more lifters in the competition, believes Latsko, the better the end results.
Based on last season's county meet, Hernando returns 11 starters including: sophomore Devin Moore at 129 pounds, juniors David Goodwin and Harrison Hall at 139, junior Brennan Ertl at 154, junior Nick Brewer at 183, seniors O'Mar Hawkins and Robert Hill Bronson at 199, senior Kyle Loparco at 219, senior Richard Hudson and junior Jesse Gaudin at 238, and senior Canaan Swackard at heavyweight.
This group is brimming with credentials. The above 11 all placed in the county meet, as Hawkins and Swackard return as county champions while Moore and Bronson return as county runners-up.
Goodwin, Hawkins and Loparco return as district champions.
Hawkins (eighth), Loparco (ninth), Bronson (16th) and Goodwin (19th) all return from last year's rugged 38th annual 1A state finals in Kissimmee.
In evaluating his heavy metal cache, "We've got some good pieces to the puzzle," admitted Coach Latsko. "Obviously, we want to piggyback on what Coach Palmer did last year. Our strength should be at 154, 199 and 219. Those are our most experienced guys."
The Hernando schedule is slanted toward peaking at the end of the season. Like most spring sports, Latsko's lifters aren't strictly in weightlifting. Some are splitting time in track and field. Others lift to help prepare themselves for the rigors of spring football.
"Our schedule is slanted toward the county and district qualifiers," said Latsko. "There's not as much of a premium on the early duals because we'll be missing some guys."
On his team's outlook, "We're a senior-laden team," indicated Coach Latsko. "What I like most is the older guys have taken the younger guys under their wings and kind of shown them the ropes and weightlifting nuances."
If there are any underlying concerns, "As a whole, I noticed we're a little short on our jerks," emphasized Latsko. "We can clean it. We're getting our legs underneath the bar, but we've got to work on making sure we're technically sound on the jerk portion."
Nature Coast finished runner-up to Hernando and nipped Springstead in the county standings last spring, 49-46.
Besides clipping the Eagles in the county meet, the Sharks solved Springstead for the first time in a dual meet, 54-49.
Times, however, have changed. In 2013, the Sharks have zero returning placers from the county meet in six weight classes: 119, 139, 154, 169, 199 and 238.
Nature Coast opens the season without the team's security blanket – three-time county champ A.J. Fedor – who graduated, along with fellow state qualifier Mike Sanders.
Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett begins his sixth season with seven starters back from the county meet: seniors Derek Newman and Ryan Stevens at 129, seniors Joey Berrios and Dylan Savoury at 183, senior Josh Benyola at 219, senior Nathan Johnson at 238, and senior Anthony Siciliano at heavyweight.
"It's a young group overall, mostly freshmen and sophomores," described Coach Liggett. "The focus, even more so with so many young guys, is to get stronger for spring (football) and the fall. As far as football strength, I'd say we have a long way to go."
After peering at his lineup Liggett isn't tossing in the towel on the season, saying, "I see Newman and Stevens as our best two chances to go long. I see a crisis in strength-o-nomics. It'll take some time for some of the other kids to get stronger."
On forecasting the county picture, "Hernando still has all that strength coming back and as long as Springstead has Coach (Mike) Garofano calling the shots, they'll be fine."
In Year 10 of the Garofano era, Springstead may struggle to finish third in the county ranks.
The Eagles' best lifter in 2012, last year's county, district and state champion Brandon Holmes, graduated.
Springstead opens minus 10 starters from last year's county meet and its best returning lifter – junior Jesse Cowan – delaying needed wrist surgery until after this year's county meet.
The Eagles return Austin Stock and Carter Cowgill at 183, Luke McLeod and Jameson Peppe at 199, and Cowan at 219.
Cowan is the lone returning county champ while Stock finished as county runner-up.
Looking at the entire picture, "We're really inexperienced and lacking depth," lamented Coach Garofano on his 26-man roster. "Our numbers are the lowest they've been since I've been here. I don't really know why."
Garofano is banking on the additions of sophomore Geoff Boettjer and junior Steven Torres at 219, along with the arrival of junior Michael Miara and senior Ethan Kemp at heavyweight to help bolster the Eagles' chances.
"We're starting the season oddly," explained Coach Garofano. "Jesse (Cowan) is postponing surgery on his broken wrist until after the county meet to be heeled for spring football. He went from being my most promising guy coming back to probably not being able to compete in the district meet or state series."
On the county scene, "Hernando has the most guys coming back so they have to be the favorite," said Garofano. "As far as districts (Springstead placed 8th in last year's 15-team 2A-4 Meet), I don't know what all the other teams have yet. (Defending district champ) Sunlake has done a good job over there – they'll be tough again."
It's been six years since Central ruled the local weight room roost.
The Bears are coming off a fourth-place finish in 2012 county meet and seventh-place finish in 2A-4.
Both of Central's two county champs last spring – Matt Callaci and Thomas Maynard – are not back. Callaci graduated while Maynard transferred to Weeki Wachee.
Central, which was the only team to solve Hernando in a dual meet last spring, returns six starters from last season's county meet including: 2012 state qualifier and senior Gio Squartino at 119, senior Alex Sprinkle at 169, juniors Ricky Bolduc and Robbie Bradley at 183, senior Cole Teater at 199 and junior Anthony Patella at 219.
The good news for the third-year Weeki Wachee weightlifting squad is six 2012 county meet starters are back including: senior Eric Crawford and sophomore Nick Degaetano at 154, junior Anthony Dinardo at 183, sophomore David Hokanson at 219, junior Marcus Applefield and sophomore Brice Spaulding at 238.
Unfortunately, only Hokanson scored a point in the meet, placing sixth overall.
Like Nature Coast, the Hornets, under third-year skipper Mark Lee, have no returning lifters from six weight classes: 119, 129, 139, 169, 199 and heavyweight.
Weeki Wachee's best lifter is Maynard.
Despite the sea of fresh faces, "I like the energy this group of guys brings," explained Coach Lee. "They're relatively new to the sport, but are excited to be participating. These guys want to be in the room.
"I just hope their inexperience doesn't frustrate them too much," added Coach Lee. "The wins and losses don't matter. I just want our guys to be competitive and kind of get after it. As a program, I'd like us to take the next step. I'm anxious to see how we continue to grow."
On the county picture, "Hernando's still at the top of the mountain," pointed out Coach Lee. "They'll be there until someone knocks them off. They've got a lot coming back."
On the Weeki Wachee forecast, "Maynard will give us a chance to do some things," indicated Coach Lee. "Guys like Eric (Crawford) will help, too. Someone like Marcus (Applefield) is getting bigger and stronger. I think he's a year away from doing some serious damage."