With many starters gone, some wonder if team can still dominate.
By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
There are two main questions surrounding Crystal River:
How will the Pirates replace four-year starting quarterback Clayton Trenary and the rest of last year's senior standouts? Can the school retain its dominance?
According to the players and coach Jere DeFoor, the answers to both end with the same punctuation mark. The Pirates can fill the holes in the lineup and be as competitive as ever, period.
For DeFoor, the personnel loss led to some preseason evaluating.
"With only two running backs back on offense and three kids on defense, we have a lot of openings, and the juniors last year, a lot of them weren't starters either," DeFoor said.
The loss of enough seniors to field for an actual game leaves many wondering if the Pirates' history of success will continue.
Crystal River finished 10-2 last season and boasts a 60-11 record since 1996, although the Pirates haven't made it past the second round of the playoffs since 1996. The Pirates haven't had a losing season since 1992.
Returning All-Citrus/Hernando and Gulf Coast Athletic Conference honoree Ryan McNally relishes any underdog role because it gives the Pirates motivation to prove doubters wrong.
"They think because we lost 22 seniors that we aren't going to be any good, but we're out here to prove everybody wrong and keep the tradition alive," McNally said. "No one thinks we can get to the playoffs and we've kind of been stuck in the second round of the playoffs for a while now, so that'd be nice to get past that just to prove to everybody that we can do it."
McNally will be a big reason for any success. The senior rushed for 1,637 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, both county highs. Rejoining him is junior Chianta Smith, who had 643 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Speedy junior Chris Bunch is heir to the quarterback slot vacated by Trenary. DeFoor said the Pirates will throw the ball some, but their bread and butter is the ground attack with two running backs who have started for two years.
Crystal River's defense will be anchored by McNally, Norman Longfellow, Josh Hall, Scott O'Steen and Charles Slattery among others.
Although many of last year's starters have moved on, players believe the Crystal River tradition will remain as replacements make their mark.
"It's still going to continue, it won't make any difference," Bunch said. "It makes us work harder and think about who we've got to face, so we just let them talk."
COLORS: Royal blue and gold.
CLASS: Class 3A, District 3.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1988, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001.
LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Live Oak Suwannee 35-23, lost to Milton 36-12.
HEAD COACH: Jere DeFoor, third season (20-4).
ASSISTANTS: Billy Bass, Charles Brooks, Sean Casses, Ron Cline, Bob Croyle, Forest Stillwell, Dick Tipton.
PIRATE STADIUM: 1205 NE 8th Ave., Crystal River. From the west, take U.S. 19 to S.R. 44 (W Gulf to Lake Highway) and turn north on NE 8th Avenue. School is three blocks on the right. From the east, take U.S. 41 to S.R. 44. Follow it about 20 miles to Crystal River and turn north on NE 8th Ave.
OFFENSE: Crystal River has run the Wing-T since 1996 and boasts a 60-11 record in that span. Even the middle schools have implemented it. The ground attack again will feature backs Ryan McNally (1,637 yards) and Chianta Smith (643 yards). As the only two backs returning on offense and a new quarterback in Chris Bunch, they will be relied on heavily. Bunch won't have three of the top four receivers in the county for his targets, as Clayton Trenary did last season. Instead, he'll be throwing to an untested group of split ends, wingbacks and tight ends. The Wing-T also helps makes up for a lack of big linemen and provides a lot of good angles for blocking.
DEFENSE: The Pirates again will go with a 4-4, but need to fill eight of 11 positions. Josh Hall (79 tackles), Scott O'Steen and Charles Slattery (2 interceptions) will step right back in at linebacker. McNally (four sacks), Smith, William Bunch and Desmond Atkins looked to be the front-runners in the secondary during the preseason. Doug Massey, Norman Longfellow, Mike Kotsifakis, Jerry Sawyer, Josh Knapik and Brendon Allen were in the running for spots on the line. Speed is emphasized on defense. DeFoor looks for players who can give a good pass rush, stop the running game at the line or thwart the big play.