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Team's character, offense are focus

After a season of off-field problems, this year's Terriers have a new blue-color approach and ''Dawg Bone'' offense.

By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


TAMPA -- Beginning in 1999, Earl Garcia pointed to last season and would say, "That's the year we're going to be real good."

photo
[Times photo: Thomas M. Goethe]
Senior fullback Ronnie McCullough has been a starter for the Terriers since he was a freshman.
To a great extent, he was right. Hillsborough went 9-3, handed talented Jefferson its lone regular-season loss, defeated Lakeland (at Lakeland in the playoffs) and gave Class 5A state finalist Chamberlain all it could handle before losing twice in the final minutes.

So why does Garcia look back and say, "Last year was by far the toughest season we've had in my nine years here."

You have to look off the field. In the classroom, many players struggled to make grades. In the halls, players struggled to act like gentleman. And off-campus, some players found more trouble.

When it was over, Garcia said, "I'll never go through another season like that again. We're going to put a premium on character from here on out."

Enter the 2002 Terriers, a group that features 17 new starting faces, with half of those being underclassmen.

Garcia describes them as, "blue-collar types. They show up ready to work, whether it's on the field or at school."

Are they as physically talented as last year's group? Probably not, but that has something to do with their relatively young age.

"Put it this way," Garcia said, "there are some kids on this team who are pretty good athletes, and some of those will develop into exceptionally talented athletes.

"But the best thing about this group is their attitude. This group has rejuvenated me."

THROUGH THE AIR: The Terriers, long known for a straight-forward, two-back set, will feature a revamped offense that Garcia calls "The Dawg Bone" -- a hybrid of traditional wishbone and option offenses. This does not mean Hillsborough will strictly run the ball. The Terriers might pass as much as they did in the past, which was about 30 to 50 percent of the time, depending on the opponent.

Three quarterbacks -- senior Ryan Underwood, sophomore Cedric Harris and freshman Jarred Fayson -- are getting a lot of practice reps.

Underwood, who has come back strong after breaking his ankle in the spring jamboree, is currently the starter. Fayson has impressed with his speed, strength and arm. ON THE GROUND: The Dawg Bone is not a simple offense to learn because it requires the quarterback to think on his feet: when to keep it, when to pitch, when to throw, all while avoiding tacklers.

"In the past we relied on the quarterback to not lose the game for us," Garcia said. "We wanted him to hand it off and throw in safe situations.

"Now we want the quarterback to win the game for us. We feel confident that we have the quarterbacks who can win a lot of games."

Senior fullback Ronnie McCullough, a starter since he was a freshman, will be one of the featured backs.

DEFENSE: Not much has changed here, except the personnel. Defensive coordinator Dean Eychner continues to run his 3-4 front, which looks a lot like the Tampa Bay Bucs of the late 1970s.

THE BIG GAME: Plant, Sept. 6.

"The first one is always the biggest one," Garcia said. "Shoot, the next practice for us is the biggest one. At this point we're not taking it one game at a time, we're taking it one practice at a time."

HILLSBOROUGH TERRIERS


Introducing RB/LB Ronnie McCullough
photoBirthday: Nov. 19, 1984
Birth weight: 6 pounds, 11 ounces
Birthplace: Women’s Hospital, Tampa
Current weight: 210 pounds
Current height: 6 feet 1
Must be the shoes: When he was little, Ronnie had a fascination with a certain pair of cowboy boots, black with red trim. “He didn’t like to play cowboys and Indians but he loved those cowboy boots,” his sister, Trena, said. “He just liked the way he looked.” Red and black, by the way, are Hillsborough’s colors.
All in the family: Ronnie’s brother, Caleb, is an offensive lineman for the Terriers.
Two-sport star: Ronnie also plays on Hillsborough’s baseball team.

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