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Eagles likely to finally get off the ground

A new offense should add more passing from QB Dan Gale.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


A new offense should add more passing from QB Dan Gale.

EAST LAKE -- Seminole coach Sam Roper said the skies must have been parting. That's how unbelievable it was to see East Lake fill the air with footballs.

In the first half of the spring game against Largo, Eagles quarterback Dan Gale threw 10 times while leading the team on two scoring drives in a 22-6 win. For East Lake, that's a Blue Angels-type air show.

Coach Tom Keeler isn't ready to go that far in games that count, but the potential for East Lake to throw often exists, thanks to the senior signal-caller and a new offense.

Gone from the playbook is the I-formation, replaced by a double-slot offense. It's a system made to maximize quickness, which East Lake has in abundance. It also allows simple passing situations, which the experienced Gale can handle.

Whether the new offense holds up during a tough schedule that has six 2001 playoff teams, including Class 6A Sarasota Riverview, remains to be seen. Perhaps the Eagles will build each week and finish stronger than the past two seasons, when the team dropped three of its last four regular-season games and then lost badly in the playoffs.

"This year, we're a little more loose. We're trying to let them do more and us (coaches) do less," Keeler said. "We felt like over the last couple of years, we tried to do too much, setting their goals instead of letting them do it."

THROUGH THE AIR: Expect improvement on last year's 607-yard passing effort, but nothing too dramatic. Big passing plays aren't likely to come on deep routes, but on short passes that are broken for long gains by a fast receiving contingent. Gabe Key and Jonah Bell are two 4.5-in-the-40 speed guys.

ON THE GROUND: There's speed among the slot backs as well, starting with D.J. Brooks, the only skill position player (other than Gale) to return. Lewis Carrella, J.R. Wiggins and Billy Manion might also get carries.

The group will try to make up for the loss of Jamar Jackson and Mike Wynn, East Lake's tough senior tandem from last year. The pair combined for 1,669 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Keeler would be delighted if his committee of backs can come close to those numbers.

They'll have to do it behind a small offensive line, however, with just one returning starter in Greg Bowen. There is quickness, but whether that can make up for a lack of size remains to be seen.

DEFENSE: The unit showed signs of greatness last year, including holding Seminole to a field goal in a tough 5-0 loss. But as on offense, graduation took its toll. Only linebackers Brooks and Billy Tettemer return.

The line could be a strength, however, with 275-pound Cole Scherer (a senior who has recovered from a broken arm in 2001) and 250-pound Vinny Stulic in the middle.

JUST FOR KICKS: Manion and Gale can punt, but Keeler admits there's a kicking problem. Freshman Matt Davis will get the call for field goals and extra points, and Leo Deartiago might get to keep the kickoff duties he held in the spring.

"All (Deartiago) does, he runs up and kicks the ball as hard as he can," Keeler said. "He doesn't know where it's going and nobody else does."

EAST LAKE

AT A GLANCE

COACH: Tom Keeler (seventh season, 38-27).

ASSISTANTS: Dave Bonchi, Dan Bouldrick, Todd Brooks, Jim Burgeson, Tony Giordano, Bob Hudson, Jamie Joyner and Brad Maisner.

COLORS: Royal blue and white.

STADIUM: East Lake Stadium, 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, East Lake.

CLASS: 5A, District 7.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001.

LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Northeast 28-0.

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