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Cougars must surmount rugged district

New coach John Davis has numbers, but a tough schedule to work with.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


New coach John Davis has numbers, but a tough schedule to work with.

CLEARWATER -- A year ago, there were signs of optimism in the preseason and confidence-building wins in the opening weeks of the regular season.

Then, the bottom fell out.

That was the story of 2001 for Countryside and for John Davis, then the coach at Clearwater Central Catholic. At CCC, injuries decimated the team at midseason and the Marauders never recovered.

The Cougars, then under coach Joe Ionata, lost a couple of close games after a 2-1 start, then fizzled the rest of the way behind a porous defense and finished 3-7. Ionata moved into the business world and Davis took over, vowing to try to get Countryside back on the playoff streak it enjoyed from 1998 through 2000.

"I don't like the word 'rebuilding,' we're not a rebuilding team," Davis said. "The cupboard's not bare."

When Davis surveys the sideline he sees numbers (more than 50 on varsity) and some size. What might be tougher to see is a playoff berth, which he became used to annually at CCC. Class 4A, District 9 is the toughest in the county top-to-bottom and the Cougars' district road schedule runs through Largo, Lakewood and Tarpon Springs.

"The schedule is tough, my goodness," Davis said. "But I think we always have to talk about (playoffs). I don't ever want to go into a season and sell my kids short."

THROUGH THE AIR: The quarterback spot is a big one to fill with the loss of Kyle Wolfinbarger, but T.J. Meyer will try. And he'll get chances to throw, as Davis runs a pass-friendly offense.

Receiving was a question mark in the spring, but moving Dan Petillo from quarterback to wideout helps. So does having 6-foot-2 Jermaine Filer, who might emerge into one of the county's better receivers.

ON THE GROUND: It's all on Isaiah Gwyn, who ran for 648 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. Davis knew about him when he took the job, then got a nice look in person when Gwyn dashed for 142 yards in the spring game against CCC.

The line is good, led by senior tackles Patrick Lynch (6-2, 275) and Tommy Hanner (6-2, 225).

DEFENSE: Well, it certainly can't be any worse than last year, when teams rumbled for 365 yards per game. Davis has a handful of coaches working solely on D and sees potential.

Plugging the run is the first order of business, and senior prospect Andrew Blumenthal (6-4, 250) will anchor the line assigned that duty.

Joel Morgan and Brendan Donoghue will play big roles as senior linebackers, but most of the rest of the defense is young or inexperienced.

JUST FOR KICKS: Times All-county first teamer Jon Peattie is now at Miami and senior Chase Hobby takes over the job. A 43-yard field goal in the spring game allowed fans to breathe a little easier.

Senior Goran Aleksic, a soccer goalkeeper, will punt.

COUNTRYSIDE

AT A GLANCE

COACH: John Davis (first season).

ASSISTANTS: Todd Belisle, Art Harriel, Matt Lance, Todd Pierce, Greg Pitt, Ron Ragland, Bart Roberson and Bob Stephens.

COLORS: Garnet and gold.

STADIUM: Cougar Field, 300 State Road 580, Clearwater.

CLASS: 4A, District 9.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000.

LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Flagler Palm Coast 17-9, lost to Belleview 28-15.

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