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Graduation forces Spongers to ''reload''

Twenty new starters have some big shoes to fill if they are to extend their postseason streak to four.

By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002

Twenty new starters have some big shoes to fill if they are to extend their postseason streak to four.

TARPON SPRINGS -- Don't go there. Uh-uh. You want to ask, but Don Davis won't hear of it. The Tarpon Springs coach will openly discuss having lost 20 starters from last year's squad, but that does not automatically mean the "R" word.

The question does make sense, though ... "Coach, is this a rebuilding year?"

Uh-oh. You were warned.

"We're going to reload," he said, pointedly.

It is hard to argue, considering the Spongers have been to the playoffs nine times since 1990, tops among county public schools. They've watched great players go, replaced by more great players. But the 2001 Spongers did lose a 1,400-yard back, a slew of receivers and, oh yeah, the toughest defense this side of Seminole.

"It's tough to follow that act, but I like what's going on," Davis said. "You have to understand there's a cycle of athletes, and we went through a cycle of pretty good athletes."

This year's young group will undergo trial by fire, facing district foes Dixie Hollins on the road in Week 3 and Lakewood at home two weeks later. The rest of Class 4A, District 9 should be no pushover, though the Spongers made it look that way in the second half of last season.

THROUGH THE AIR: Senior Alex Kidman takes over quarterbacking from Anthony Houllis, who will play tailback. Davis described the 6-foot, 180-pounder as "very solid" and likely to improve each week.

Davis also said the "$10,000 question" is whom Kidman will throw to. Talented wideouts RoShawn Marshall and D.J. Robinson are gone, replaced by a handful of players.

ON THE GROUND: The diminutive but oh-so-elusive Jeremy Saunders (1,430 yards, nine touchdowns) is missed, but Houllis comes in as the feature back and brings a different combination of skills.

"He runs a 4.45 40, at this point he is a power runner," Davis said. "When he learns to put both together and get comfortable, he should do a very good job."

Houllis will not run behind a big line, but depth at that position makes it a strength.

DEFENSE: All gone, all gone. Tarpon pretty much lost 10 1/2 starters, with only part-time 2001 starters Houllis and George Sazalis returning. Davis said it could not have happened at a worse time, considering the early start of school reduced practice time.

Still, the starters are set. What remains to be seen is whether they can equal last year's group (8.9 points per game allowed). It all started last year up front, and Maurice Adams, Phil Arnold, Vinny Ingaragiola and Ben Patterson will try to replace that front four, who all went on to play college ball.

JUST FOR KICKS: Houllis punts and junior Chris Bannon will kick.

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