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Eagles to take field with winning feeling

Last year's 6-4 mark was a big step in their climb to respectability.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


Last year's 6-4 mark was a big step in their climb to respectability.

SPRING HILL -- Taped to a file cabinet in coach Bill Vonada's office is a photograph of Springstead's team. Players, backs to the camera, rest on one knee, listening to a postgame talk.

The caption reads, "2000-2001. We Climbed The Mountain."

It's easy to think Springstead's turnaround from a 16-game losing streak stretching over three seasons began with last year's 6-4 performance.

But the Eagles' first winning season in four years was merely the next step -- albeit a significant one -- on an ascent that started the year before with a 3-7 team that won its final two games.

'They kind of laid the groundwork for that," Vonada said. "They finished on a strong note, and then last year's seniors were like, 'Hey, we want to continue that.' "

Now, Springstead must prove the long climb isn't over.

The problems started in 1998. Preparation was poor. Players approached their jobs as individuals rather than teammates. Work gave way to infighting. After going 7-3 the previous year, Springstead went 4-6. An 0-10 season followed.

Before 2000, Vonada compared his team's plight to a mountain climb: It's a long road with lots of small steps along the way. But first, the proper groundwork had to be laid.

For Vonada, that meant two things: getting into better shape and becoming closer as a team. It took time. After a 1-7 start, the Eagles closed with victories in their final two games.

With the foundation in place, Springstead set about the business of winning games in 2001. Shaking off a 1-4 start, the Eagles won their final five games, coming within one win of the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Now it's time for the next step.

"We know what it's like to win games," Vonada said. "Now we want to have a winning program."

Many of the pieces are in place.

Springstead returns three-fifths of its offensive line -- juniors Broc Olejniczak, Joe Vitale and Charles Gonyea -- as well as running back Joe Merando, linebacker Kurt Carriveau and defensive back Frank Conway.

The Eagles are young (six seniors) and thin (58 players between the JV and varsity) but should benefit from the extensive playing time their large junior class saw last year.

Two obstacles loom.

Linebacker Allen Lamb, the county's second-leading tackler last year, moved to California.

Running back/defensive back Justin Melnik, the county's third-leading rusher, was arrested last month. At presstime, he awaited a hearing on charges of battery and strong-armed robbery.

EAGLES PLAYBOOK

OFFENSE: Springstead uses a multiple pro set, a balanced offense designed to keep defenses on their heels by controlling the tempo and mixing running and passing plays. In Broc Olejniczak, Charles Gonyea and Joe Vitale, the Eagles return three starting linemen. But for the offense to be effective, Springstead will have to find replacements for quarterback Brian Bolcar, wide receiver Jeff Hill and running backs Justin Melnik and Steve Garofano. Ian Wald appears set at quarterback, with Jesse Griffith and Tadd Hale at receiver and halfback Joe Merando (238 yards, 2 TDs) the top returning back. Luis Perez and James Harris will vie for time at fullback.

DEFENSE: The Eagles use a variety of fronts but work mostly out of a 5-2 with five down linemen, two linebackers and four defensive backs. The defense is pursuit-oriented and meant to take advantage of the aggressiveness and quickness of its players. The linemen fill the gaps, allowing the linebackers to come up and make plays. Kurt Carriveau returns at one linebacker spot, with T-Roy Gusler expected to replace the departed Allen Lamb at the other. Frank Conroy and Jose Yearwood anchor the secondary.

SPRINGSTEAD EAGLES

AT A GLANCE

COLORS: Blue, red and white.

CLASS: Class 4A, District 6.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1993, 1996.

LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Armwood 24-7.

HEAD COACH: Bill Vonada.

ASSISTANTS: Dan Garofano, Mike Garofano, Duke Hess, Terry Hoffman, Scott Simmons, Myron Smith, Craig Swartout, Frank Vitale.

Directions

BOOSTER STADIUM: Spring Hill. From State Road 50 east of U.S. 19 and west of Brooksville, turn south on Mariner; school complex will be on the left, about 1 mile north of Spring Hill Drive. From Spring Hill Drive east of U.S. 19 and west of Brooksville, turn north on Mariner; school complex will be on the right, about 1 mile north of Spring Hill Drive.

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