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16 seniors finish up careers

By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- This was supposed to be the stuff of senior dreams. A game for graduates to reminisce about at class reunions to come.

Instead, the Gators' record-setting season came to an abrupt halt with Friday's 49-14 region final loss to Melbourne Palm Bay, leaving 16 seniors to ponder what-ifs.

Being part of the winningest team (12-1) in school history was of small consolation.

"It's my first taste of defeat. It's terrible," split end/defensive back Logan Payne said. "I'm a winner. It just breaks my heart to lose."

"It's bad and it's good because we pretty much accomplished most of our goals," said Michael Garcia, a versatile player who lined up as a receiver, quarterback and defensive back. "But our expectations were so high. We wanted to come out of this and go to the state finals."

No one took the loss harder than a sobbing Josh Harvey, whose father Ray (Class of 1977, the school's first graduating class) and uncle Tim (Class of '79) also played for Land O'Lakes.

"We're like best friends; the whole group," said Harvey, an offensive guard who transferred from Plant City before his junior year. "I had so much fun playing football here.

"It just breaks my heart that it's over."

It might not be over had the Gators given a better effort, said two-way lineman Bobby O'Dell, who in the final game of his career had two sacks and his first interception at any level.

"We played (terrible) the whole night," O'Dell said, alluding to six turnovers and 10 penalties for 77 yards. "Too many mental mistakes."

Added two-way lineman Joey Tuttle, "It's pretty tough to beat teams close (Land O'Lakes defeated Ocala Vanguard 14-6 and Merritt Island 20-14 in its first two playoff games) and then go out like this."

Though Friday's outcome brought tears to many players including Payne, the state's leading receiver (72 catches and 21 touchdowns) said he will never forget scoring the final touchdown of the season.

"It means the world to me," Payne said of that 37-yard reception from Drew Weatherford with 2:36 left in the game. "It shows we didn't give up. We kept fighting.

"It was good to hook up with Drew. We may never get to hook up again."

Icing down a sore left knee on the bench as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter, Dustin Collins, a former soccer star who concentrated on football the past two seasons, looked toward the home crowd at Gator Stadium.

"The fans," Collins responded as to what he would remember most about his senior year. "I love the crowd, every one coming out and supporting us."

For O'Dell, the memories could have been even better.

"We didn't expect to just be the best team at Land O'Lakes," he said. "We expected to be the first (Land O'Lakes) team to win a state championship."

As for the future, running back/linebacker Tom Hoskins hopes this year's squad represents the beginnings of better days for the Gators.

"I hope there are better (Land O'Lakes) teams," he said. "I hope they go further than we did."

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