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Team's continued rise depends on cohesion

The Chargers also must overcome a balanced district and a lack of depth.

By DUNN NEUGEBAUER
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 6, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- A look at the Charger squad is to see a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Yes, all the pieces appear to be there. The question is, can they fit together?

"We've got pretty good speed across the board and we're pretty athletic," coach Phil Hayford said. "I think it's going to be a matter of getting the teamwork and cohesion down. We have some who have played a little, others who have played a lot, so I think it'll just be a matter of getting some kind of chemistry going."

Hayford, in his 24th season, appears to have a unit on its way up. After enduring a 4-6 season two years ago, the Chargers emerged 6-5 in 2001 and earned a wild-card playoff slot.

Graduating nine from last year, including seven on offense, perhaps the biggest concern among the Chargers is depth.

"We have around 30 on the roster, so we're again going to ask several to go both ways," Hayford said.

The coach also cited the balanced district as a big obstacle in his hopes for another postseason run.

"Keswick and Admiral Farragut were first and second in the district last year, plus Northside Christian was only a game behind us," he said. "Also, Indian Rocks didn't lose anybody, so it could be a dog fight."

THROUGH THE AIR: Senior Matt Lettelleir appears healthy after missing half of last year with a collarbone injury. Lettelleir has experience operating the wing-T offense that is expected to have a 60-40 run-to-throw ratio.

His primary target could be senior Dave Jones, who started last year at wide receiver and cornerback.

ON THE GROUND: With last season's 1,000-yard gainer Forrest Eleazor graduated, the Chargers could share the wealth more this time around. Seniors Chris Rocker and Lauren Ciovacco and junior transfer Scott Mendelsohn have shown promise in preseason.

A big positive for the backfield will be the size and experience of the offensive line. Senior John Rice has the most experience in the trenches, but will have size and experience beside him in juniors Mike Hamilton (6-0, 225), Paul Elugozima (6-1, 275) and Matt McMichael (5-11, 240).

DEFENSE: Senior defensive end Matt Abbey is expected to have an excellent year, and will be complemented by most of the offensive linemen in Hamilton, Elugozima, and McMichael. Rice and Mendelsohn will get the nod at two of the linebacker slots, while Lettelleir and Jones will be counted on heavily in the defensive backfield.

JUST FOR KICKS: Three are vying for the kickoff and extra-point duties: juniors Casey Fulp and McMichael, and sophomore Jacob Stein. Stein and Abbey are contending for the punting job.

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