An offseason of hard work could lead to best season in school history.
By TERRY JONES
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
GIBSONTON -- At the beginning of the 2001 season, East Bay had a roster loaded with talented sophomores and juniors, but none of them had much experience. Coach Brian Thornton expected it would take some time for his team to jell, and being realistic, he hoped for a 2-3 record by midseason.
His young Indians, however, surprised even him.
East Bay rolled to a 5-0 start, then finished 8-2 in a regular season that included surprising victories over powerhouses Riverview, Haines City and state finalist Chamberlain.
The Indians lost a playoff game to Lakeland, but the groundwork had been laid for a promising 2002. Most of the players went to football camps in the offseason to improve their skills running the wishbone and intensify their defense.
Now, with a little experience, Thornton said this could be the best season in East Bay history.
THROUGH THE AIR: The sea gulls around neighboring Big Bend power plant are about the only things flying through the air at East Bay. The Indians will pass when defenses stack the line with nine or 10 players, but even then passes will be rare. Otherwise, its wishbone offense is on the ground. Last year in 11 games, the Indians threw only 43 passes for 417 yards. They scored only three touchdowns on pass plays. When quarterback J.B. Garris does throw, his favorite target is split end Anton McDuffie. All the running backs can catch when necessary.
"Garris can throw as good as any wishbone quarterback we have had," Thornton said. "He is best as a moving passer, using play action and sprint outs. We can throw when necessary and gain a lot of yards."
ON THE GROUND: Every opposing coach knows what to expect with East Bay's wishbone offense: The Indians are going to run straight ahead with the triple option.
Keith Smith, Reggie Doby and Garris combined to gain more than 2,400 yards and score 20 touchdowns last season. They have other backs capable of fitting in when needed.
Billy McPhaul and Winn Hutchinson are also likely to see plenty of action. Leading the way are senior tackles Clint Williams and junior Josh Johnson along with senior guards John Carrion and sophomore Justin Anaya. Senior Ryan Conley is the center.
"We have a pretty good offensive line," Thornton said. "They all are pretty big. They all have good feet and can pull and block." DEFENSE: The Indians defense returned somewhat intact, which translates to a big, aggressive bunch. Leading the defensive line are Matt Knight and Bryson Porter, who both stand 6 feet 4. They'll team with Dante Thomas and Darrell Temple.
Johnson, who's a 6-4, three-year starter, leads the linebackers. He is backed up by Ryan Guarisco and McPhaul.
McDuffie also plays free safety. THE BIG GAME: Chamberlain, Sept. 6.
East Bay is in a black and blue district along with Lakeland, Riverview, Durant, Haines City and Plant City, so almost every game is big for the Indians.
"Our first game is probably the biggest, because we start with non-district Chamberlain," Thornton said.
"So we will be measured early in the season."
AT A GLANCE
COACH: Brian Thornton (ninth season, 48-36).
ASSISTANTS: Mike Gottman, Brett Oberzan, Eric Hutchinson, Terry Varvil, Lou Luce and Mike Thornton.
COLORS: Gray and red.
STADIUM: E.G. Simmons Field, 7710 Big Bend Road, Gibsonton.
CLASS: 5A, District 5.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1973, 2000, 2001.
LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to King 17-14.