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Largo quietly waits for kickoff

The Packers aren't saying much about tonight's district showdown with Lakewood.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

Judging from the bulletin board filled with newspaper articles chronicling Lakewood's greatness, Largo is fully aware of the importance of tonight's Class 4A, District 9 game.

But that is the only evidence that the Packers have the Spartans on their minds. There are no highlighted quotes, no motivational sayings.

That was done by design.

Largo coach Rick Rodriguez has gone out of his way to make sure his players speak softly and has cautioned them about making remarks that could find their way into Lakewood's locker room.

"Hey, we have a lot of respect for Lakewood and we know they are a big-play type of team," Rodriguez said. "But that's all we're saying. We're trying to stay low-key. We don't want headlines. We don't want anything to fire them up."

Although the Packers are not saying much, you could hardly blame them if they felt they were denied their due.

Last season, Largo beat the Spartans 33-32 in overtime. The victory helped the Packers win the district title and advance to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Lakewood, meanwhile, had to battle back in order to earn a playoff berth.

But as Jason Laurence found out whenever he navigated the streets of his neighborhood this summer, the Packers got credit for the victory and the district title but not much else.

"I know a lot of guys on the Lakewood team and they all would come up and say, "There goes the district champ' whenever I passed them by," Laurence said. "But I think some of them probably thought we were kind of lucky."

Critics point out that Lakewood missed three extra-point attempts, had a snap sail over the punter's head and allowed the Packers to score on an 84-yard punt return. In fact, the Spartans' special teams were so bad that coach Brian Bruch opted to go for a two-point conversion and the win rather than send out the kicking unit in overtime.

Given that the game was close and that Lakewood advanced further in the playoffs, the Spartans supplanted Largo this preseason as the team to beat in the district. It might be enough to chafe at if the Packers would talk about it.

But they refuse to give in to the hype.

"It's a big game and we've looked forward to it, but that only started this week," Largo quarterback Fred Marshall said. "But we knew we had two games to play before this one and we could not look too far ahead."

The only one who might have eyes trained toward this game is Laurence. To him, it is more than a key district game: It's for bragging rights among friends.

For years, Laurence thought he'd be playing alongside Pat Carter, Maurice Robinson and Ricky Coleman, childhood friends who star for Lakewood.

But Laurence's father opted to enroll his son at Largo.

"I didn't know anything about Largo and I was real mad at first when my dad made that decision," Laurence said. "'It was my dream to play for Lakewood. But everything has turned out good.

"It'll turn out better if we win tonight. In fact, it'll make my year."

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