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Too many veterans not to be optimistic

A team with 20 seniors and a new offense needs consistency - and to abandon its fear of losing.

By ROD GIPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


A team with 20 seniors and a new offense needs consistency -- and to abandon its fear of losing.

TAMPA -- The numbers are right there.

Seven victories in five seasons for the Sickles program. The Gryphons have piled up 41 losses during that span, haven't won a district game and have finished last in all but one season of their existence.

So why the enthusiasm heading into Year Six?

Because components might be in place to change the Gryphons' fortunes. As coach Pat O'Brien begins his second season, he can look forward to 20 returning seniors, a revamped offense under first-year offensive coordinator Bob Irvin and none of the injuries that plagued the Gryphons a season ago as they sank to 2-8. "We have made a big step forward for this program," O'Brien said. "As coaches, we have helped build a consistent atmosphere and the players need to build a consistent atmosphere of working hard and being prepared. Now they have to learn to play without the fear of losing."

That became difficult last year as O'Brien & Co. searched for answers by shifting assignments, alternating lineups and changing schemes.

"That hurt us," O'Brien said. "We made constant changes on offense and defense and that is what we mean this season by being consistent throughout the season. We know what we want to do."

THROUGH THE AIR: As Irvin takes over the offense, he has the luxury of having two quarterbacks to choose from. Seniors Aaron Maguregui and Pat Carr will vie for the starting job. Maguregui, bigger at 6 feet 2, 190 pounds, has the smoother throwing motion while the 6-0, 165-pound Carr might be more of a hard-nosed playmaker. The Gryphons will employ a double wing flexbone offense that features one back, four receivers and no tight end. Speedy wingbacks Jon Price and Ben Hildebrand will be the primary targets. The fastest player on the team, Hildebrand recently ran a 4.63 time in the 40-yard dash.

ON THE GROUND: Marquis Peace, who broke his leg in a car accident and missed all of last season, will be the main ball carrier. Peace, a senior, is described by O'Brien as a "quick-footed runner who, while not a burner, can run by some people."

Peace will have plenty of size and experience on the line. Tony Vaccaro and Anthony Powell are three- and two-year starters, respectively. And in Steve Hoschak, the Gryphons have a 6-6, 260-pound athletic right tackle.

DEFENSE: O'Brien should have even more returning players on defense, where veteran end Steve Brockman and noseguard John Blowers anchor the front. Senior middle linebacker Jason Henika and junior linebacker Brandon Hart are rangy, sure tacklers and should help the unit erase memories of last year's defense that yielded almost 37 points a game. The secondary will have Steve Schweichler and Doug Mays at the corners and Louis Maurino and Chris Mendez at the safety positions. Senior Evan Trumball returns to handle the placekicking and punting.

THE BIG GAME: There are two big games every year for the Gryphons.

The first is any game in Class 4A, District 8 play as Sickles continues to look for its first district win. The Gryphons get their first shot tonight on the road against a loaded Jefferson team.

The other big game every year is the neighborhood scuffle with Gaither. The Gryphons and Cowboys hook up this year Oct. 11 at Sickles.

SICKLES GRYPHONS

AT A GLANCE

COACH: Pat O'Brien (second season, 2-8; seventh season overall, 19-31).

ASSISTANTS: Bob Irvin, Mark Key, Travis Hall, Lawrence Walker, Tom Ewalt, Steve Vendertana, Chuck Cotton, Fred Walahausen, Mike McMullen and Tom O'Donnell.

COLORS: Green and white.

STADIUM: Gryphons' Lair, 7950 Gunn Highway.

CLASS: 4A, District 8.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: None.

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