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Panthers have tasted success, want more

The school had its first winning season, but is in a tough district.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


The school had its first winning season, but is in a tough district.

LECANTO -- Three days after Lecanto whipped Eustis to complete the Panthers' first winning season, coach Dick Slack was back at work and his players had returned to the weight room.

They had 2002 on their minds.

"Last year, we proved we could do it," Slack said. "This year, we want to continue building on that foundation. I think everybody knows the expectations have gone way up. ... We want to look at (last season) as our starting point."

In 2001, Lecanto ended a 17-year run of mediocrity (that's being generous) by going 6-4 -- 3-0 against Hernando County opponents. Highlights included the Panthers' 65-28 win at Hernando and their second-place finish in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference standings.

But that's all in the past.

Ever the optimist, Slack is confident Lecanto will ascend to an even higher level

"We finally got over the top," he said. "We don't have to worry about that anymore. Right now, the natural progression is getting into the playoffs."

It won't be easy.

The Panthers' district (Class 3A-3) is one of the most competitive in the region. Crystal River, Dunnellon and North Marion advanced to the playoffs in 2001 and have enough talent to do so again.

"There's very good football played in this district," Slack said.

Lecanto is not without its share of quality players.

The Panthers return eight starters on each side of the ball, including versatile seniors Jarvis Patterson and Phil Reed, who play multiple positions.

Patterson, who does most of his damage at running back, rushed for 1,141 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. He is expected to get 25-30 carries a game. Reed, the Panthers' emotional leader, starts at quarterback and splits time between linebacker and safety on defense.

The supporting cast is solid, too. Steven Brainaird, Nate Edwards, Casey Potts, Chris Reeves and Jimmy Sudlow anchor the offensive and defensive lines, Ron Curtis is a factor on the offensive line and at linebacker, and Bruce Emberley is a threat at receiver and defensive back.

"If we're going to be a force, the line is going to have to be the engine to drive this thing," Slack said.

Now the bad news: Because Lecanto lacks depth, it will have nine two-way starters.

"We feel very good one-deep," Slack said. "But we've got a lot of 48-minute kids. If we get a couple of kids hurt, we're in trouble."

PANTHERS PLAYBOOK

OFFENSE: Lecanto runs the Power-I, which features three running backs and one receiver. It's no secret what the Panthers like to do -- hammer an opposing team with the ground game. To keep defenses from stacking 11 players on the line, Lecanto mixes in an occasional pass. The Panthers' offensive line, led by Chris Reeves and Jimmy Sudlow, is solid. The backfield's top threat is senior Jarvis Patterson, a big, fast and powerful runner who will get the majority of the carries. He's more than capable of rushing for 150 yards a game. Quarterback Phil Reed is another good one. He's a physical presence and might be the area's best short-yardage runner. Reed also has a better-than-average arm.

DEFENSE: The Panthers' 4-4-3 alignment is designed to let linemen and linebackers make plays. What the line can't get to, the linebackers are expected to cover. When opposing teams face passing situations, Lecanto's linebackers are mobile enough to drop into coverage. The Panthers aren't particularly fast ("We have average speed," said Reed), but have strong, physical players who love to hit and take pride in mastering the fundamentals. Nate Edwards, Reeves and Sudlow anchor the front. The hard-hitting Reed plays linebacker and safety.

LECANTO PANTHERS

AT A GLANCE

COLORS: Green and gold.

CLASS: Class 3A, District 3.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1999.

LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Jefferson 28-20.

HEAD COACH: Dick Slack, eighth season (20-51).

ASSISTANTS: Ron Allan, Fran Copp, Chris Grimes, Ted Hopkins, Don Magee, Bill Murray, John Novak.

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