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Depth in trenches crucial for Eagles

As the roster shrinks so does the protection for a host of talented players at the skill positions.

By JOEL POILEY
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


BRANDON -- The Eagles no longer rule their neck of the woods, as continued school openings to the north and south drain Brandon of talent.

These days, sixth-year coach Ernest Hayes scours the halls for wide bodies to fill a dwindling roster. He will suit up about 40 players, compared to 50 a year ago.

Hayes now has more players than ever (five) going both ways. He returns talented skill players on offense, but struggles to find fresh linemen to block for them.

Just what he could least afford, an injury to a key lineman, occurred the first day of summer contact drills when starting defensive end Rashard Goff dislocated an ankle and broke a bone in his lower right leg.

Goff, an athletic 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior, also was going to be part of Hayes' goal-line offense as a tight end.

"It's a big loss," Hayes said. "I think he was getting ready to turn into an all-conference player.

"We need other people to come in and step up."

THROUGH THE AIR: With quarterback Adam Garrison (1,500 yards passing with 10 touchdowns) pitching to lanky receiver S.J. Green (6-3, 200 pounds), the Eagles will keep defenses on their toes.

Green caught 24 passes for 510 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. He and Garrison are primed for big senior seasons, with college recruiters showing considerable interest.

Senior Steve Smith also provides a quality target at 6-2, 185.

ON THE GROUND: Hard-charging senior Kris Derr (6-1, 190) rushed for more than 600 yards last year and also caught 18 passes from the wing and slot positions.

Senior Jimmy Bogan (5-10, 190) flashed his vast potential when he rushed for 185 of his 500-plus yards against Plant.

Both backs will run behind a big line led by senior Matt Norcross (6-0, 246), senior Mark Leon (6-1, 275) and junior Keith Simmons (6-0, 255).

Depth is a concern, with all three doubling on defense.

"We've got all the skill kids in the world," Hayes said. "We need some more linemen."

DEFENSE: Hayes makes no bones about the fact that last year's 3-7 record was attributable to a lackluster defensive effort. The Eagles scored more than 20 points in several losses where the defense couldn't hold leads.

Hayes has pushed this unit to get tougher and more physical. He should not have to worry about senior linebackers Anthony Jones and Keith Walker. Jones will also play defensive end in certain schemes.

Senior outside linebacker and strong safety Jhamel Stephens is the team's hardest hitter despite his 5-8, 165-pound frame.

"He plays a lot bigger than his size," Hayes said. "He's a tough kid who goes to the ball on every play."

THE BIG GAME: Armwood, Oct. 11.

"It's a district game, and the kids all know each other from elementary and middle school," Hayes said.

"Teachers and coaches look forward to playing Bloomingdale because that goes back to when Bloomingdale first opened (in 1987).

"But our kids on the north side mingle with Armwood kids. They played more youth football with those kids, too."

BRANDON EAGLES

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