A nearly new team will try to make people forget 2001's collapse.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
NEW PORT RICHEY -- It's practically a new team River Ridge coach Mike DeGennaro sees before him this season.
Last season saw the Royal Knights stumble to a 3-7 finish, the first sub-.500 season in three years. The fractured team surrendered its usual westside dominance in painful fashion.
Hard-fought games and tough players too often succumbed to miscues. Defeats came in every which way: from a brutal 14-12 season-opening loss at Pasco; to a 39-0 whipping at home by Wesley Chapel; to a stunning 15-12 defeat by Gulf, the first in seven years; to a last-minute, heartbreaking 17-14 loss at Zephyrhills.
River Ridge is ready to bury the past and a fourth-place district finish with 25 juniors trying to point the way back to the playoffs after a four-year hiatus.
"I think if you look at last season, we made some bad plays," DeGennaro said. "A few bounces go our way instead of the other way and we have a different season. But the problems we had definitely hurt us last year."
Ryan Mistal returns to give the Royal Knights a fairly experienced quarterback. He will benefit from the usual mainstays the program is known for: stout fullbacks and linebackers in Anthony Daugherty, Michael Dix and Alan Minichino and a reliable tight end in Danny Grant.
Add some newfound speed in the offensive and defensive backfields with Jahmaal Osbourne and Chris Malone, and a big target in 6-foot-7 wideout in Alex Wilson.
"I don't think we've had speed like that back there for a few years," DeGennaro said.
Then there's a massive offensive line, one with the potential to erase memories of last season's overrated unit, as the Royal Knights begin the climb back atop the west side.
Returning center Steve Johnson is the heart of the line. Strongside guard Tony Egan and weakside guard Zach Pantas are veterans who will lead the sweep.
Just look at the tackle candidates: 6-4, 286-pound Phil Combes; 6-4, 300-pound Devon Monroe and 6-4, 290-pound Zach Huffmon.
"We're still young," DeGennaro said. "But I think this is going to be one of the better lines we've had in a few years."
Andrew Hutchison is just 5-8, 165 but still a quick, aggressive nose guard. The linebackers are all hard hitters; Daugherty is the weakside linebacker and Dix and Minichino will share time at the strong side.
Strong safety David Onorato and free safety Jordan Hoolihan join corners Osbourne and Malone on a fast secondary.
OFFENSE: For the 12th season, River Ridge will run the Wing-T. Misdirection is what coach Mike DeGennaro wants, confusing defenses and creating a key two-on-one blocking mismatch to open holes. River Ridge wants to establish power fullbacks Alan Minichino and Michael Dix inside and throw in slasher Anthony Daugherty, setting up outside sweeps for speedy Jahmaal Osbourne and Chris Malone. Tight end is a Knights mainstay, and Danny Grant will be a favorite target of QB Ryan Mistal, along with 6-foot-7 wideout Alex Wilson. But DeGennaro only passes when he has to.
DEFENSE: The "50" defense starts with weakside linebacker Daugherty and strongside 'backers Dix or Minichino reading the movement of the opposing guards and fullback. The five defensive linemen are each responsible for plugging one gap. The Royal Knights like to play Cover-4 defense, sending strong safety David Onorato up as a third linebacker to help against the run and to cover short passes in the flat. The rest of the secondary divide the field into a half and two quarters; the weakside cornerback covers half the field, and the free safety and strongside corner each take a quarter. Coverage also adjusts to the motion of the backfield.
AT A GLANCE
COLORS: Purple and silver.
CLASS: Class 4A, District 6.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1995, 1996, 1998.
LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Ocala Vanguard 42-5.
HEAD COACH: Mike DeGennaro (8-12 in third season at school).
ASSISTANTS: Jack Homko, Gary Allen, Mike Marlin, Skip Glover, Gary Butler, Bill Linderman.
JAMES VALENTINE STADIUM: 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. From the west, take U.S. 19 to Ridge Road and turn east. Travel 7 miles to River Ridge Boulevard and turn south. Travel 1 mile to Town Center Road and turn east. School is 11/2 miles at the end of winding road. From the east, take S.R. 52 east to Moon Lake Road, turn south and travel 8 miles. Road curves into Ridge Road, turn south at River Ridge Boulevard and follow above directions.