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Last season's woes strengthen Eagles

After 0-4 start in 2001, Temple Heights comes together as a team and regains its optimism.

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


TEMPLE TERRACE -- A season of promise quickly turned into one of survival for Temple Heights last year when seniors Scott Layden and Jeremy Gordon were lost two weeks before the season due to transfer and ineligibility.

What appeared to be a chance for another 7-3 season like the Eagles registered in 2000 was reduced to 2-7.

Out of the rubble of an 0-4 start, however, veteran coach Steve Lewis found some life as the team won two of its last five games to enter this season with renewed optimism.

The lines will again be small and players will pull double duty. But Lewis is used to that and will have his team conditioned for the long haul.

"That's just a fact of small-school football," Lewis said. "But the flip side is that kids know they will play and get their chance to contribute."

THROUGH THE AIR: In his 25th year as a head coach, Lewis has always preferred the safety of the ground.

"We've had some guys over the years with good arms, but we just want them to get it in the general area and let our receiver make a play," Lewis said.

Junior Jonathon Miller fills that role this year. Though untested after breaking a finger early last season on his throwing hand, Lewis is comfortable he can protect the ball and connect with junior tight end Nathan Foshee. Lewis likes Foshee's toughness and 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame.

"He could be an X-factor in the passing game because of his height and ability to go up over guys and get the ball," Lewis said.

ON THE GROUND: With son, Nathan, leading the charge, the Eagles will again run from the T-formation with occasional wishbone and I-formation looks.

A senior, Lewis rushed for 722 yards last year. He scored five touchdowns on the ground, four on pass receptions.

Junior Adam Pietri will be the lead blocker and get his share of carries.

"We became a very close team last year because of our struggles early," Nathan Lewis said. "We had to fight through the hard times and we learned to depend on each other."

DEFENSE: With numerous players going both ways, Lewis favors a five-man front because of the team's lack of depth and size, particularly at linebacker.

Nathan Lewis and Foshee will anchor the line, along with Ryan Benefiel and P.J. DeLeon, who plays center and linebacker at 5-4, 184 pounds.

"Don't let his size full you," Steve Lewis said of DeLeon. "He's a versatile athlete who's not afraid to play everyone straight up."

Pietri will be one of the defensive backs.

Lewis is also a defensive asset on punts, averaging nearly 40 yards a kick last season.

THE BIG GAME: Northside Christian, Oct. 18. The Eagles have defeated Northside only twice since 1992.

TEMPLE HEIGHTS EAGLES

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