By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
"Well, I love her. But I love to fish."
The words came from Nate Edwards' mouth in a country twang during a Lecanto football practice last week.
"The boys like country, so I'll give them country every once in a while," Edwards said of the Brad Paisley tune, I'm Gonna Miss Her. "That's one of my faves."
The season is over for every county team. But in an up-and-down year, players such as Edwards have helped keep spirits up.
Lecanto coach Dick Slack did not seem to mind the senior's antics.
"He serenades the kids every day before and after practice, so he's our entertainment," Slack said. "You name it, anything, showtunes, it doesn't matter, he's always singing something."
The 3-7 Panthers needed a little comic relief. After coming off the first winning season in their history, they started 2-0 before a rash of injuries cut short another promising campaign. The remaining players were appreciative of any humor, even when preparing for their last game.
"We're out there and we're busting our rear ends and it's just fun to keep the moment light," Edwards said.
"If it gets too serious, then it's not fun anymore and no one wants to play. But I do it for myself as well as the other guys because I like watching them laugh and have a good time, too," he said. "I am goofy, but it also helps morale."
Besides the budding singer, future wrestling superstars such as 5-foot-8, 200-pound senior Jimmy Sudlow and 6-2, 285-pound Chris Reeves made the Panthers laugh while showing off their moves.
At Crystal River, a cast of characters kept things interesting through a 1-2 start that led to a chance at a playoff berth.
Plenty of good-natured ribbing went on, most notably by senior Charlie Slattery, who impersonated coach Jere DeFoor's Georgia drawl.
"It's the same thing every time. It's like, 'Alrighhhht,' " Slattery said, stretching out the last syllable. "And instead of saying business, he always calls it bidness. He's like, 'We just took care of bidness.' It's hilarious, he's so funny."
DeFoor, a good sport about the matter, acknowledged that his 6-4 Pirates found humor in a challenging season that ended in Friday's loss to Hernando.
"Jeremy (Cates), sometimes he can do some things, and (Doug) Massey comes up with the funnies, and (Charlie) Slattery, there's no telling what's going to come out of his mouth any time," DeFoor said.
"Sometimes, like when we're preparing for a big game, we don't need that, but then other times it might be a time when it's the right time for something to happen."
Any player or coach was fair game.
After playing Citrus, Slattery caught it from teammates who said he couldn't run fast enough to catch a pass that would have been a touchdown. Cates, a junior, admitted that last week a couple rolls of duct tape were used to tape up an underclassman -- somewhat of a ritual at Crystal River.
Personable senior star Ryan McNally, arguably the Pirates' most respected member, even called the team a bunch of clowns. But when it came to game time, the players prepared themselves and the silliness stopped.
"This isn't the military," said McNally, Crystal River's leading rusher. "We have our fun when it's time to have fun, and when it's time to get ready to play football, we play football. So that's just how we've got to do it. But we all goof off."
Citrus coach Larry Bishop didn't have anyone on his 5-5 squad who would qualify as a jokester like years past. Junior Steve Strong would loosely fit in the category because nothing seemed to faze him.
"When things go bad, you would never be able to tell it by his play, and when things are going good, he doesn't get really too excited," Bishop said. "He's just one of those kids who keeps things in perspective."
Strong said the Hurricanes spend much time goofing around, and he tried to stay outgoing and have a positive attitude. The players' outlook was that onceFriday night rolled around. Then it was all business, Strong said.
"It's still a sport, it's still a game, you got to have fun, but you go out there to win on every play," he said.
But through a season that started Aug. 12 and ended Nov. 8, the 'Canes created memories that might be as important in 10 years as their record.
For Slattery, that would be Crystal River singing Garth Brooks' signature song, Friends in Low Places. Slattery said graduated Pirate Jacob Langenmayr used to start it off two years ago. This season, senior Doug Massey did the honors.
Slattery, not a country music fan, said he was just starting to remember all the words that could be heard in the locker room or bus after wins.
"We sing so loud you can't even hear anybody, and I don't even know why we do that," he said.
The Pirates' third-leading tackler said this year mostly was about fun, since it was Slattery's last season. He will not play in college.
Edwards is leaving open his college options, but said his time at Lecanto was like "playing around with a bunch of brothers."
He and the other seniors felt the pain of injured classmate Phil Reed, and enjoyed their last year of prep football.
"That's what I hope the younger guys get from all of us -- the feeling that it's football, it's not life," Edwards said.
Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 564-3629.
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