Mount Dora went 5-5 a year ago despite a rash of injuries. This year the Hurricanes move up to 5A.

For the Mount Dora High School football team, it’s always about staying healthy.

The Hurricanes battled their way to a 5-5 campaign in 2018, despite suffering numerous injuries that forced head coach Frank Scott and staff to sometimes get creative with their play-calling and lineups.

And this year, as one of the smallest Class 5A schools in the state, the Hurricanes’ overall health over the course of the season could loom as an even bigger factor.

“We’re going to start the season with 30 or 35 players on the varsity roster,” said Scott, who is entering his second season as coach. “For me, 35 would be a good number of us. Last year, we dressed 25 for games at the end of the season and we were forced to play teams like South Sumter. That made things tough. And now that we’re moving up in class and into a district with teams like (Orlando) Bishop Moore and (Orlando) Jones along with rivals Leesburg, Eustis and Tavares, it’s going to be even tougher.

“Our guys had a good summer getting stronger in the weight room and competing in several 7-on-7 leagues, so I’m optimistic we’ll be able to compete in one of the toughest districts in the state.”

One of the first tasks for Scott, who is also the Hurricanes offensive coordinator, over the offseason was to find a new quarterback. Tyler Schwarz, who passed for nearly 3,400 yards and 34 touchdowns over the past two seasons, has graduated.

Stepping in to fill the void is Reid Rodewald, a senior transfer from Umatilla.

“Reid is doing a nice of picking up our offense,” Scott said. “We probably won’t be as wide open at the start of the season, depending on how comfortable Reid is, but we have a lot of talent around him, which should help him get comfortable.”

For starters, Scott still has running back Isayah Hatter, who ran for 1,396 yards and scored 19 touchdowns in 2018, in the fold, along with senior wide receiver Roman Newkirk, who caught a team-high 33 passes as a junior.

“I think we’ll be pretty successful on offense as long as we can run the football,” Scott said. “We plan to run a lot of our offense through Isayah and we hope to turn Roman into a big weapon for us.”

Defensively, Scott has replaced defensive coordinator Bill Larkin, who retired as a coach after last season. Carlin Bryant has stepped and has installed a 3-4 defense that will blitz and attack more than the 4-3 bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that Larkin used.

“We thank Bill for all he’s done for our program,” Scott said. “Last year, he had to make a lot of changes to his defense because we had so many injuries on that side of the ball, but he did a great job, nonetheless. Most of our defense is back, including defensive tackle Tim Newbold, and we’re going to get after the ball.

“Like everything else with our team, we have to find a way to stay healthy.”

One of the things Scott said he will do to help prevent injuries is to have fewer contact drills in practice. He also may opt to use more younger players, allowing them to gain valuable in-game experience, while providing his starters an opportunity to catch their breath.

Literally and figuratively.

Everything the Hurricanes do this season is fueled by the big picture — trying to compete against a meat-grinder schedule that includes district foes along with South Sumter, East Ridge, and Ocala Trinity Catholic among their non-district games.

“Our guys are working really hard,” Scott said. “If we can avoid the injuries, hopefully we can surprise some people this year.”

KEY PLAYERS

Isayah Hatter, running back; Roman Newkirk, slot back/defensive back; Tim Newbold, lineman; Reid Rodewald, quarterback

KEY GAMES

Sept. 27, Eustis

Last year, Eustis escaped with a 45-42 win. This year, this is a Class 5A-District 7 game.

Oct. 4, at South Sumter

Mount Dora led 28-27 at halftime in last year’s meeting before South Sumter pitched a second-half shutout for a 42-28 win.

Oct. 25, Orlando Bishop Moore

One of the state’s top powerhouses make the trip to Mount Dora.