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Strength in numbers

With just 24 players, Zephyrhills is more like a family than a team.

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 3, 2002

ZEPHYRHILLS -- Tom Fisher got the obligatory water-cooler congratulations from his players with about a minute left in the Bulldogs' 26-8 victory against Pasco on Friday night.

The very nature of dousing a coach involves a risk of players nearby getting a secondary soaking, but as a few Bulldogs dried off their arms and celebrated a district championship, it was clear this Zephyrhills team is naturally close to each other.

"It's almost like playing with a big family," said senior Shane Hand, part of a line that dominated Pasco on both sides of the ball. "We've always been together, and we always will be."

All season long, the first thing teams noticed about Zephyrhills was its roster of 24 players, a situation that forced eight players to start both ways, challenging their resolve and their conditioning. On Friday, lining up against a Pasco team with a dozen more players, Zephyrhills had plenty of energy at the end of the night, unleashing a season's worth of celebration.

Fisher said the heart of the team is its senior class, which includes 10 players, all major contributors: quarterback James Adamo and fullback Justin Cobb, who rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown; tight end Paul Maxwell, linebacker Derek Wallace, linemen Hand, Doug Burden, Bubba Tindale and Jamen Monbarren; injured kicker/receiver/defensive back Kyle Briscoe and his replacement, John McKnight, who had two field goals and three interceptions.

"We've got 10 seniors, and all of them contribute in every way," Fisher said. "I think it's the first time since I've been coaching that all my seniors are starters."

Whether it's practicing, pushing each other in the weight room, going to movies or winning district titles, the Bulldogs have done everything as a team.

"We hang out together, go to parties together," said Burden, a constant in the Pasco backfield, leading a relentless pass rush.

With a capacity crowd savoring the Bulldogs' first district title in five years and a second win in a row against rival Pasco, parties wouldn't be hard to find Friday night.

"You bet," Burden said. "We beat Pasco, we're district champs, baby. Of course, we've got to party."

Adamo, who threw for two touchdown passes in his final regular-season home game, said the team set two goals at the start of the season: reach the playoffs and win a district title. With those covered, what's next on the list?

"State champions!" Adamo said. "You never know! It'd be a great story. It'd be like Hoosiers if we won a state title."

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