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Pressure's on to start right

Freedom wants to learn a little while Tampa Catholic needs to get back on track in tonight's preseason game.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 30, 2002

TAMPA -- While several county teams, Jefferson and Jesuit among them, hope to use tonight's preseason games to continue last season's success, the game between Freedom and Tampa Catholic presents the flip side of that idea.

For Freedom, success tonight means players showing up on time, putting their pads in the right places and lining up correctly. For Tampa Catholic, success will be seeing some hope, some skill and a little bit of learning in between.

As a first-year team, the Patriots aim to put their weeks of practice to good use on the field. It doesn't need to be slick. It just needs to be in an orderly fashion.

"This year we want to teach these kids the foundation," Patriots coach Jarrett Laws said. "We want to teach them how to get to class, how to get to weightlifting.

"Next year is when we'll learn how to compete week in and week out."

Freedom is a fair starting point for Tampa Catholic, a team once known as a consistent playoff contender that is trying to revive its glory. The Crusaders went 2-8 last season, and it took a season for second-year coach Jim Guderian to pound a sense of direction into his team.

"This is not a democracy," Guderian told his players Thursday at practice. "This is a dictatorship. And I am the ... ?"

"Chief!" several players shouted.

Guderian is seeing his work at Tampa Catholic take shape, and it shows in the form of players like senior offensive lineman David Locander, who came to Guderian last season in a 344-pound body and now stands at 289 pounds.

The Crusaders have reaped benefits from more than just workouts.

Having a coach stick with them for more than one season -- before Guderian, they had three coaches in 15 months -- has given them a sense of security.

"My players didn't know if I was the sixth guy in the parade," Guderian said. "It was a question of me having to prove to them that I was here to stay.

"The kids were lost. They hadn't had an offseason program in two years, and it showed."

The Crusaders can't afford to take anyone lightly this season, because "everybody on our schedule is better than they were last year and we lost to them," Guderian said.

And they won't overlook the Patriots, who hope to start history on the right foot.

One of Freedom's most prized players, sophomore wingback Lorenzo Warren, has no varsity experience. That won't mean a thing when he's grinding away against opponents.

"We don't plan to be the average new school," Laws said.

And the 2002 Crusaders don't plan to be anything like the 2001 edition as they face the Patriots on Wharton's field at 7:30 tonight.

"I know coach Laws has worked hard, and he's doing a good job over there," Guderian said.

"This should be a good, hard ballgame."

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