Youth served for PiratesBy GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 15, 2002
DADE CITY -- For years, Ricky Thomas had been a coach with a hand in everything. But in the spring, he took a page from the Steve Spurrier playbook: focus on the offense and find someone you believe in to take care of the defense.
"I don't mess with the defense too much," said Thomas, who guides Pasco into the playoffs tonight for the first time in four years. "That's what he does, and I trust him with it."
He is first-year defensive coordinator Will Dettor, a 24-year-old already in his sixth season as a high school coach and third as defensive coordinator. The last time Pasco made the playoffs, Dettor was in the stands, in town to visit his future in-laws. He and his wife, Alicia, decided last year to move to Dade City, where her mother is a school nurse. Dettor hoped to join the Pasco staff, even though it would be his fourth school in four years. And he hit it off immediately with Thomas, who he met a few years earlier at a coaching clinic.
"When I met with Coach Dettor in January, within five minutes, I knew he was my guy," Thomas said. "It's like when you see a pretty girl across the street, and you say "I think I'm going to marry her.' That's how I felt about that guy." The difference hasn't always shown up on the scoreboard -- the Pirates allowed only 11 fewer points this year than last -- but Thomas said there's a different attitude, sparked by a young coach who has made a quick impression.
"This is probably the best coaching staff I've had in my career," said Thomas, who has had assistants Pat Durden, Mike Penix, Lenny Polansky, Jim Ward and Bobby Wade for at least three years. "It's a lot like a family here, and (Dettor) has brought a lot of different things to the table." Dettor, who started coaching at Tallahassee Florida High during his sophomore year at Florida State, was defensive coordinator at Winter Haven and Arcadia but said this job already feels like one he can settle in with.
"I've been moving around the last couple of years, so I felt like I was on the southwest Florida tour," Dettor said. "Now I've found a place where I feel comfortable, where I really like the people I work with. It's great to know your head coach has that kind of confidence in you."
The autonomy has been a welcome change for Thomas and Dettor, who have built a mutual respect during their first season together.
"I've never had as much freedom as I have here, where it's just like, "You take it,"' Dettor said. "It takes a solid head coach to do that, and I appreciate it. If I get too crazy, he'll come down there and put his hand on my shoulder."
During a preseason game against LaBelle, Pasco forced a third and 35. Dettor put in a dime package that had only three players on the line.
"It looked like we had about seven defensive backs, and he came down to me and said, "What in the world are you doing?"' Dettor said. "I told him, "Just wait,' and we stopped them."
Dettor's defense, led by end Kirk Moats' 18 sacks, held Land O'Lakes to its lowest total of the season in a 26-19 loss, the final seven points coming in the final seconds.
Tonight's opponent is another district champion, Jesuit, a district rival in 1999 and 2000 who beat the Pirates 37-9 and 38-6.
Thomas said his defense will have to play well, especially against an imposing line.
"Their offensive line is so big, and they come right at you," Thomas said. "We've got to stay low. "If we stand up, they might block us clear back to Dale Mabry."
Just as Pasco hasn't been to the playoffs in four years, Dettor hasn't seen the postseason since his first season at Florida High. Though new to campus, he said he can appreciate his players' desire to reach the playoffs because he now has ended a five-year drought. "It was the most successful year ever at the school. And I, only 18 years old, thought "Oh, piece of cake. We'll be back next year,"' Dettor said.
"This is my first trip back since then, so I'm just as hungry to get back as Coach Thomas is."
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