Playoff losses big motivation for Gators
Benedetto thinks he has the QB and other talents to go farther.
By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002
LAND O'LAKES -- A failed two-point conversion with no time left in last year's 7-6 playoff loss to Ocala Forest stunned the Gators.
Coach John Benedetto wants that Class 4A quarterfinal defeat to be a lasting memory for a team with five consecutive postseason appearances but no wins.
"It was very emotional," said Benedetto, the county's senior coach entering his 26th season. "Hopefully, we learned something from it. You can take a bad situation and turn it into a good one, I think, by getting your concentration up a little higher."
Improving on a 1-10 playoff mark is paramount and Benedetto feels there is ample talent to do just that.
First and foremost is quarterback Drew Weatherford, a junior who led the county in completions (111), passing yards (1,475, a school record) and touchdown passes (12) last season. After starting every game since his freshman season, look for Weatherford to increase those numbers.
"I don't know how the season is going to go, but we've got one damn good quarterback," said Benedetto.
The Gators' most productive receiver, Chip Whalen (492 yards, four TDs), graduated, leaving Logan Payne (306 receiving yards, five TDs) as Weatherford's top target. Deep threat Michael Garcia and tight end Dustin Collins are sure to see more balls.
Running backs Chris Perez, Giovanni Benedetto (the coach's son), Tom Hoskins, Adam Denicourt and Keith Elser also will be catching some passes.
All of which should make Land O'Lakes, traditionally a run-oriented team, the most balanced in school history. So why isn't the coach as ecstatic about his offense as he is his quarterback?
"Here's the problem," Benedetto said. "You've got a Division I quarterback, but other than Logan, who is an above-average receiver, Drew's throwing to average receivers.
"Is that going to work?"
Probably, especially if Perez turns out to be the latest in a long line of outstanding running backs. The junior should give Land O'Lakes its first 1,000-yard rusher since Godfrey Pestana (a 2000 graduate who rushed for a school-record 4,057 yards).
Like Pestana, Perez rushed for 1,000 yards at Pine View Middle School and for the junior varsity. Last season, Perez ran for 363 yards, had another 103 receiving and scored five touchdowns.
"It's so hard to get a good hit on him and he's got deceptive speed," Benedetto said.
Defensively, all-county cornerback Payne (five interceptions) returns along with lineman Joey Tuttle and linebacker Denicourt.
LAND O'LAKES GATORS
- COLORS: Blue and gold.
- CLASS: Class 4A, District 6.
- PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1978, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001.
- LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Ocala Forest 7-6.
- HEAD COACH: John Benedetto (127-125, 26th season at school).
- ASSISTANTS: Al Claggett, Tom Carter, Bill Gebauer, Rock Ridgeway, Tim Stevens, Billy Garcia, Mike Tompkins.
GATORS STADIUM: 20325 Gator Lane, Land O'Lakes. From the west, take S.R. 52 to U.S. 41 and turn south. School is 5 miles on the left. From the east, take S.R. 52 to U.S. 41 and turn south.
OFFENSE: Land O'Lakes' run-oriented offense can be boring -- and especially proficient as evidenced in the past five consecutive playoff seasons -- with a slew of dives and traps. Not anymore, thanks to strong-armed quarterback Drew Weatherford, a junior entering his third year as the starter. Plays such as 90 Special Post will be used more often than in the past. On that call, Logan Payne flying down the left sideline is the primary target, with split end Giovanni Benedetto and tight end Dustin Collins as the outlets. This happens behind one of the county's most experienced lines anchored by Joey Tuttle and Bobby O'Dell.
DEFENSE: In the Gators' traditional 4-4 scheme, Tuttle and O'Dell anchor a defensive line primarily responsible for keeping offensive linemen off the linebackers. They help funnel plays for inside linebackers Adam Denicourt and Kevan Bogaert. Outside linebackers Tom Hoskins and Collins force plays back to the inside. Defensive backs Giovanni Benedetto, Chris Perez, Michael Garcia and Payne are interchangeable as safeties and at the corners. This unit is disciplined enough to play the pass first and come up quickly for run support.
Back to Sports
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times sports desk
U.S. Open Tennis
Sampras whips the kid
First Hewitt-Agassi match was a stunner
Davenport and Mauresmo up against Williams wall
On the Net
Tennis sites top NFL in searches
'Canes' DBs face big test
State practice reports
Silence isn't golden for DTs
Loss leads to better days
Beavers cruise to victory
Around the Nation
AL: A-Rod reaches 50 HRs in rout
NL: Four-run first helps Schilling get 22nd win
Streak is nice, but A's want division
Stewart nips Harvick for rare Truck victory
49ers win season opener
Around the NFC
Around the AFC
Sports on TV, Radio
Fox trio of announcers paving way to top spot
Mitchell promotes JV coach
Bears open with victory
New Chiefs, same dreams
Why run when they can fly?
UT ready to honor its best
Daily fishing report
NFL Football preview 2002
Light up the cannons and hold your ears
Gruden's path littered with historic hurdles
League site gives fans what they want
Bucs by the numbers
Kiffin's in charge of the defense, as always
What to bring and what to leave home
Dilger site knocked off-line by Sept. 11
NFC South capsules
Confidence still strong despite loss of talent
So fast, they're scary
Buccaneers defensive capsules
Buccaneers offensive capsules
The Florida Keys
'I am making a guarantee'
Buccaneers at a glance
Bucs: High Hopes
On the road with the Bucs
Team by team breakdown
Dolphins: For the fans
No more excuses for Miami
New NFL stadiums
Jacksonville looking dim without its stars
Jaguars: For the fans
NFL: By the numbers
What they're saying about the Bucs
What they're saying about the Dolphins
What they're saying about the Dolphins
What's past is past for Panthers, unless you hang on for motivation
Panthers: Special teams must keep scoring points
Prep football preview 2002
4A-6 DISTRICT PREVIEW: Defending champ faces tough road
Losing season doesn't sit well with Hawks
Team's continued rise depends on cohesion
Graduation forces Spongers to ''reload''
Barons look forward to tough schedule
New-look Warhawks boast lofty goals
New Pats coach plans plenty of changes
Devils welcome fresh cast of characters
'Canes in playoffs? Not that far-fetched
Explosive Felton to carry Warriors' load
Small Mustangs must rely on experience
Harris looks to measure up in win column
Packers boast new weapon at quarterback
Loaded Spartans have talent to dominate
Crusaders hope to make success a habit
Numbers to give Eagles breathing room
Gladiators trying to stay more grounded
Eagles likely to finally get off the ground
Seniors have Falcons thinking playoffs
Rebels pinning hopes on healthy veterans
Cougars must surmount rugged district
Healthy Marauders pose playoff threat
Nucleus has Tornadoes primed to rebound
Pirates hope confidence is the difference
New coach looking to stretch the field
Big dreams without big heads
You've come a long way baby!
The small things come first for county's newest teams
Hillsborough distric outlook
From the editor:
Team's character, offense are focus
West Preview: Could this be the season the west finally fights back?
Veteran leadership strength of Cougars
This Cowboys coach promises to stay put
Don't be surprised by Indians this time
It's now or never for the Dragons
Potential for title run has Lions' attention
One loss motivates Tigers to improve
Leto's new offense, season hold promise
Reaves ready to put Panthers in spotlight
Rebuilding Raiders must grow up fast
It's Hicks' turn to carry load for Knights
New-look Titans plan to pass first
Too many veterans not to be optimistic
Crusaders continue rebuilding project
Wildcats begin to whisper about playoffs
Last season's woes strengthen Eagles
Ravens' growth will determine success
Last season's stars are tough to replace
Bucs want early wins then trip to playoffs
Nine-game skid shakes team's foundation
Bulls out to end trend of one-win seasons
Depth in trenches crucial for Eagles
Pasco County: For the fans
Playoff losses big motivation for Gators
The word little's a big deal for Mustangs
If Pirates can remain healthy, watch out
This season's schedule bound to have more surprises
New coach, offense give Rams new hope
Juniors out to resurrect Knights' success
Wildcats prepare for tougher challenges
Bulldogs are lacking in numbers, as usual
10 Games to Watch: A week-by-week county primer
10 Questions: Setting the record straight for 2002 ... sort of
Gators begin making big waves
National Signing Day will be a big deal this time around
Bucs sport a new look called the Spread-I
Conference race has new meaning
Offense has promise, defense a concern
Weightman to test reloading Hudson
New Bears coach is all about approach
Hernando: For the Fans
On the Net
Castillo, Leopards ready to break into open
Eagles to take field with winning feeling
Hernando County's college players to watch
Eagles in for rocky start, strong finish
Springstead ready to push Central
Scheme stays same but faces change
Panthers standout isn't very hard to find on field
Pirates bent on dismissing doubters, foes
Panthers have tasted success, want more
Buoyed by experience, athleticism
Tigers have playoff potential if they unite
A whole new offensive ballgame
Citrus County football from A to Z
RaysRays, Kennedy get swept away
Naimoli says deal should help sport
Nash to get out of jail
Up next: Rangers
BucsProductive Saints QB still looking for respect
Lightning forces players into garage
From the wire
From the state sports wire Jacksonville's Spicer placed on IR after leg surgery
FIU-Western Kentucky game postponed because of Jeanne
Brown anxious to face old team for first time
Dolphins' desperate defense readies for Roethlisberger
Former Sarasota lineman sheds tough-guy image with Michigan
Rothstein rejoins Heat as assistant
No. 16 Florida has history on its side against Kentucky
FSU and Clemson QBs both off to slow starts