Mark Kantor, the team's fifth coach in five seasons, is excited to be at Gaither, but not so happy about this season's schedule.
By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
TAMPA -- As of Aug.12, first-year Gaither coach Mark Kantor didn't know what to expect out of his team. It was just a few minutes before the first official day of practice and Kantor didn't know what he was going to see.
He hadn't seen them play, didn't know how they were going to adjust to a new offense and wasn't sure exactly how the Cowboys would react to their fifth coach in five years.
Almost two weeks later, Kantor was relieved to say there were no surprises. That's good and bad.
Aside from a few injuries, he said, the team was doing just about how he expected. Some players took to the double wing offense a little more quickly than others and his defense was working out pretty well.
He was not quite as happy with the fact that the Florida High School Activities Association didn't arbitrarily decide to realign his district. Not that there was any chance of that happening but, hey, a coach can dream.
And so Kantor's inaugural season will be filled with a district schedule comparably tough to any in the state. He will face state runner-up Chamberlain in Week 3, region semifinalist Hillsborough in Week 5 and district runner-up King in Week 7, not to mention the scrappy squads of Wharton and Leto.
Kantor knows every game is going to be important as he hopes to build Gaither, which finished 5-5 last year, back into the program that went 11-2 in 2000 and 7-5 in 1999. And since Kantor said he's bound and determined to break the trend of coaching the Cowboys and then leaving before spring practice, that's a priority for him.
"Look at this place," Kantor said, raising his arms around the practice field behind the softball complex. "I have two practice fields, a great football stadium, a supportive staff. I get to play in Tampa against some of the best teams in the state. I'm not going anywhere for a long time."
THROUGH THE AIR: Kyle Leavell will take over at quarterback, his first season taking snaps for the varsity. But he will be tested by Mike Abernethy, a 6-foot-3 transfer from Hillsborough.
The main receivers will be Craig Barber, Zack Harp and Ryan Kao, all seniors. Wingbacks Doc Marshall and Jason Speaight also will be counted on to catch some passes out of the backfield.
ON THE GROUND: Craig Bullara will handle most of the rushing duties, acting as the featured back in the double wing set. He is a bull of a runner, more apt to run through a line than around it. Marshall and Speaight will get some carries too.
DEFENSE: The defensive line isn't really strong or really fast but a combination of the two, which Kantor likes. The linebackers have been hit hard by injuries and could be the weak spot, although the position was bolstered by Larry Emmonds, who transferred from Leto.
The defensive backfield is perhaps the deepest part of the team, led by Justin Luper, a hard-hitting senior, and Jordan Hicks.
THE BIG GAME: Chamberlain, Sept. 20. It is Kantor's first district game and it just so happens to be against the Class 5A state runner-up, which also happens to be one of Gaither's biggest rivals.
Chamberlain won 38-17 last year, giving the Cowboys good reason to arrive at Chiefs Stadium with a score to settle.
AT A GLANCE
COACH: Mark Kantor (first season).
ASSISTANTS: J.J. Kolski, Rob Mahler, Jeff Simms, Ray Lista, Mike Bays, T.J. Payne and Dave Richtberg.
COLORS: Navy blue, silver, gray and white.
STADIUM: Cowboy Stadium, 16200 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.
CLASS: 5A, District 6.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1985, 1994, 1999, 2000.
LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Boca Raton Spanish River 33-3, beat Delray Beach Atlantic 34-25, lost to Melbourne Palm Bay 28-7.