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Ravens' growth will determine success

Alonso lacks size and depth, but the winning attitude of new coach Mike Heldt might change the team's fortunes.

By JEREMY RASMUSSEN
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


TAMPA -- If one looks hard enough, it's possible to find a few positives in Alonso's winless inaugural season last year. The Ravens cheerleaders were able to do a few push-ups in the team's ninth game when it finally got on the scoreboard in a 49-6 loss to King.

Alonso also earned a moral victory when it was awarded a forfeit over Gaither after the Cowboys used an ineligible player in a 42-0 win.

Now, new coach Michael Heldt will try to look for real positives -- such as wins -- in the team's second season.

Heldt took over for John Fontes, who departed to become an assistant coach at Central Florida. Heldt won a state title as a wrestler and was a standout lineman at Leto. He was also an All-American on Notre Dame's 1988 national title team and played in the NFL before an injury cut his career short after stints with the Chargers and Colts. After serving as an assistant coach at Leto and King, Heldt brings his championship attitude to a struggling program. He says he doesn't need to beat his players over the head with his trophies and awards. He simply lets them know that he knows what it takes.
photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Defensive lineman Frankie Toro stretches before practice. The fewest points the Ravens defense gave up last year was 28 in a loss to Leto.

"The kids listen to me when I'm telling them stuff," Heldt said. "I've been there. I tell them the attitude they need to win."

Heldt also knows he needs to keep a sense of humor in the face of what might be another humiliating season.

"Obviously, they're all young," he said. "And we have to play some teams you've never heard of. You know, Hillsborough, Chamberlain, King. Hey, Hillsborough only beat us by 10 last year -- touchdowns, that is."

THROUGH THE AIR: It's not a good sign that the quarterback position is still undecided, but projected starter Jorge Lopez might have academic eligibility problems. In his place, sophomore Anthony Tompkins might get the nod. Unfortunately, he might not have anyone to throw to.

"We don't have a soul that can catch the ball," Heldt joked before adding that junior Jeff Siddle could catch "a little."

ON THE GROUND: Junior tailback John Forbes and sophomore fullback Grant Williams will form the heart of the rushing attack.

"They're hard-nosed runners," Heldt said. "I know it's cliche, but what they lack in size they make up for in heart."

DEFENSE: Heldt said the team has more depth on defense than offense, but with young players, size will be lacking.

"We started a summer weight and conditioning program, but when you start with a bunch of freshmen becoming sophomores, it takes some time to grow," he said.

"Still, we're very optimistic about the future of the program because we have such a great group of sophomores."

The linebacking corps could be the mainstay with Tim Grosz, Terry Yannick and Kyle 'Gator' Thompson. Heldt said Thompson, a sophomore, exemplifies the attitude he wants to see.

"He'll be a name you'll hear in the next couple of years."

THE BIG GAME: How far has Alonso come in a year? Heldt said the team will know after 1-0 (or 0-1).

"I think the biggest game will be the first one against Blake, because it will set the attitude for the whole season," Heldt said. "That's when the kids will find out if all their hard work and discipline has paid off. If we win that, we could be successful this year."

ALONSO RAVENS

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