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Knights well on way

River Ridge shows it can be better than a 3-7 team.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- The rebuilding has begun at River Ridge, starting with Wednesday night's spring scrimmage.

Jahmaal Osbourne ran for two second-half touchdowns and almost hit the 100-yard mark to rally the Purple over the Silver 20-14 at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex.

"I was excited," coach Mike DeGennaro said. "I think we still made some mistakes because we're a young team, because we've got a lot of sophomores out there. But I think we played well overall.

"I saw a lot of bright spots. I think we saw the lineman play really well, and I think we ran the ball really well. Jahmaal, Michael Dix and Anthony Daugherty all ran the ball really well."

Sophomore Ryan Mistal, the probable quarterback in 2002, helped set up the Silver's first score with a 40-yard completion to junior tight end Danny Grant. Freshman fullback Chris Wilson recovered a halfback fumble and ran it in himself from 15 yards out to open the scoring. Junior halfback Chris Malone then added another short touchdown for the Silver in the first half.

The Purple got on the scoreboard thanks to Alex Wilson's 60-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Mike Gregory. Then Osbourne ripped off his two scoring runs to take the lead for good.

NEED TO KNOW: Size is the key word for the Royal Knights, who have plenty of it on both sides of the ball. Last season's line was a preseason darling but quickly turned into a disappointment in a 3-7 season.

This season, the coaching staff is wary of hyping the line until the unit earns recognition, but there's no hiding these guys: Junior tackle Zach Pantas is 5-foot-10, 260 pounds; guard Tony Egan 6-1, 265 pounds; and tackle Zach Huffman is 6-3, 295 pounds. Then look at Mark Dolatowski (6-5, 300), Devin Monroe (6-4, 315) and Phil Combs (6-4, 295).

"A lot of the lineman impressed me," DeGennaro said. "We have five juniors-to-be who are 6-foot, 295-pounds or better."

PLAYER TO WATCH: But no lineman is as impressive as 6-1, 280-pound center Steve Johnson. A starter since he was a freshman, Johnson looked even more polished in the spring.

He has improved so much that for the first time the coaching staff is considering letting him rotate in at defensive tackle.

"His footwork is much better than what it's been in the past," DeGennaro said. "He's matured, he's got a nonstop motor on the field, and he's a very smart kid also."

TO BE CONTINUED: Mistal is the likely starter at quarterback, but he'll have his work cut out for him all the way up until August.

"I still think we need to improve more at quarterback," DeGennaro said. "Ryan Mistal played well, but he needs to settle down and mature a little bit more.

"I think he's finally accepting the leadership role a little bit, and when he settles down, he throws a nice pass, and he runs the ball well from the quarterback position. But he needs to work on his decision-making, on where he's throwing the ball and when he's throwing the ball."

NEXT UP: River Ridge opens the season at Wesley Chapel's preseason six-team jamboree Aug. 29 at 6:30 p.m. The matchups, limited to a half, are: Wesley Chapel vs. Springstead, Mitchell vs. Pasco and Gulf vs. River Ridge.

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