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Browning is steady in turbulent times

Eighth-year Hernando coach holds injured team together to reach playoffs.

By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- Good luck, opposing coach, if you hope to glean any sense of what Bill Browning is thinking by staring across the field at him.

Brow furrowed, hands on hips, the Hernando coach could be a cardboard cutout if not for his occasional pace up the sideline.

The eighth-year Leopards head coach is no stiff, however.

A season after watching Hernando succumb to injury and inexperience and slog through a miserable 3-7 campaign, Browning overcame many of the same potential season-killers this fall, duct-taping together a team that finished 6-4 in the regular season and advanced to the playoffs.

"To me, he seems like one of those kind of guys that (is) really steady," said Central's John Wilkinson, who coached against Browning for the first time this season, losing 33-23. "He never seems to get too excited or too low, just real even-keeled."

Browning needed those traits when this season began to assume the same theme as last: injury after injury.

First, junior tailback Jagren Castillo sustained a nagging high ankle sprain that cost him part of five games. Then, backup Rod Roberts lost parts of three others with a hurt ankle. Browning got a brave effort from senior Art Starks, whose season-ending knee injury last year contributed to the downward spiral, and coaxed a career effort from senior quarterback Brad Wyatt.

Their performances offset a 1-2 start, and the Leopards received an at-large playoff berth by beating Crystal River for the first time since 1995. The win took the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title from the Pirates.

Maintaining cohesion after a rash of injuries is one of a coach's toughest tasks, Wilkinson said.

"It's definitely psychological," he said. "You count on people to do things and they're not there, and now you're thinking, 'How are we going to get this done?'

"A lot of people can play well in practice, but it's a lot different when you turn on the lights," Wilkinson said. "That he can move people around and get all those athletes in the right spot says a lot."

There are certain things an opposing coach can expect against a Browning squad, Bill Vonada said.

"Usually they play pretty solid defense," the Springstead coach said. "You know they can tackle, and they'll excel in some facet of the kicking game. He's pretty good at finding that one kid and turning him into something special."

A staunch defense and a recovery of an onside kick by Starks in the fourth quarter helped Hernando to a 28-22 season-opening victory over Springstead that set the Leopards and Eagles (2-8) on different paths.

-- Brant James can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1407.

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