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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Largo coach Rick Rodriguez had some anxiety when he watched running back Dexter McCluster hobble off the field late in the first half of Thursday's 44-6 win over Clearwater.
Rodriguez used McCluster as an outside speed rusher to block a field goal attempt by Patrick Carter. After the unsuccessful kick, McCluster was on the ground holding his knee. He eventually walked off the field and returned to the game. But the scare was enough for Rodriguez to make immediate changes.
"Dexter's no longer on field-goal block," Rodriguez said. "That was a mistake on my part. We've got to make sure he doesn't get hurt anymore."
Though McCluster plays bigger than his 5-foot-9, 160-pound frame, he occasionally breaks down from the pounding. He has hurt his knee and had surgery to repair a broken ankle.
The ankle injury occurred in the final game last season and he spent the past six months working himself into shape.
"I feel like I'm in good shape," McCluster said. "The thing that happened with my knee (on Thursday) was just a stinger. I was able to get right back out there and play."
That's good news for the Packers. Much of Largo's success hinges on McCluster, a multidimensional threat who gives defenses fits. He ran circles around the Tornadoes, gaining 212 yards on 12 yards and scoring three touchdowns on the ground. He also scored on a 75-yard kickoff return.
"Dexter's worth about three touchdowns a game," Rodriguez said.
That's why Rodriguez is treating McCluster's body with the care befitting a family heirloom.
"I took Dexter out in the fourth quarter," Rodriguez said. "Better to be safe than sorry."
MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Nothing scares a coach more than the first kickoffs of the season. That's because the coverage units are not that special early on.
It showed in Week 1.
Four kicks were returned for touchdowns. Those who scored were McCluster, Northside Christian's Brett Anderson, Northeast's Leon Wright and Boca Ciega's Jamar Newsome.
SCORING POINTS: Dixie Hollins linebacker Dustin Zitzmann has always had a nose for the ball.
Now he's finding his way to the end zone once he has it.
The senior scored two defensive touchdowns in Thursday's win over Palm Harbor University. He picked up one of the Hurricanes' four fumbles and returned it 80 yards for one score. He also intercepted a high-flying deflection in the fourth quarter and returned it 18 yards for a TD.
Zitzmann has three career defensive touchdowns. Rebels coach Mike Morey said the senior could have more if not for a broken thumb last season.
(TURNOVER) MARGIN OF VICTORY: It paid to take the ball from an opponent this week.
Of the 14 opening-week games, 10 were won by teams that had the edge in turnovers.
DICEY DEBUTS: Tarpon Springs' Bruce Buck was the only new coach to win his first regular-season game. Admiral Farragut's Chris Miller, Indian Rocks Christian's Mark Buchanan, Lakewood's Otis Dixon and Palm Harbor's Dustin Bengston all lost big. Canterbury's Shannon Brooks will have to wait until this week to make his debut.
EXTRA POINTS: Northeast snapped the county's longest losing streak with its win over St. Petersburg. Jeff Brinson ran for 129 yards on 16 carries for the Vikings. ... Keswick Christian's Jared Stacy is a viable option at quarterback and will be used occasionally to take the workload off Blake Englehardt. ... L.D. Crow was 13-of-19 for 160 yards and two touchdowns in his quarterbacking debut for Countryside.