TAMPA - Nothing could have prepared Sickles for this season better than coach Jim Leavitt's football camp at the University of South Florida. For three days, the Gryphons attended two practice sessions a day, at two hours each, on USF's practice fields.
Coach Bob Irvin said the camp, which was held in June, allowed his team to bond and gave players the mental and physical preparations they need to focus on the season.
The Gryphons ended last season 4-6, tallying the most wins in school history. This season, Irvin wants his team to make history again by playing its first playoff game.
"We set some goals we're really going to work toward, that's definitely a goal," Irvin said.
With 16 returning starters and a majority of his team hitting the weight room, Irvin is looking forward to competitive football in his second season.
"We're still a young team, but you've just got to work them real hard and let them know we're serious about football and they have some things they have to do to be in the program," Irvin said.
Last year, Sickles also was faced with adjusting to a new district when it moved from Class 4A to Class 5A, District 8.
"We were close in other contests I thought we should have had, but that's the name of the game," Irvin said. "We started from the bottom up last year, but our players responded well."
THROUGH THE AIR: Craig Burns takes over at quarterback after working under graduated Chris Mendez last season. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior has a good arm and good understanding of Sickles' offense.
"He really learned what we expect of him and what the offense is all about," Irvin said.
Sticking to the Wing-T variation, tight end Greg Kiehinger returns as a main target for wide passes with sophomore Ed Wertephy. Wertephy is a 6-foot-4, 190-pound high jumper and basketball player, who also played some defense for the junior varsity last year.
ON THE GROUND: For the Gryphons' running game, Irvin will rely on five guys to help handle the carries. They include returners Nick Carpenter, Pat Shores and Josh Kramer, along with Aaron Moses and Otis Chambers.
Carpenter, a 6-foot-3, 180-pound fullback, is the team's key motivator and one of the team's hardest working players.
"He's a workaholic and motivates by example," Irvin said.
DEFENSE: Linebacker Drew Whitaker returns after making 148 tackles last season, and senior Kyle Califar returns at strong safety after breaking his hand last year in a game against Leto.
Califar will have some time at running back as well. Sophomore James Dock will be a big help at corner. Dock, who played with the junior varsity last year, has more speed and strength along with the confidence to give Sickles some security in the backfield.
Irvin said he is waiting to see who will be the kicker. Irvin would like senior Justin Bedore to return after his good performance last spring, but it depends on whether Bedore makes the cut for the golf team. In the meantime, senior Jon Pokrana is listed as kicker.