tampabay.com

Call to greatness

Playoff appearances are nice, but the Crusaders aspire to closing in on "elite status."

By BRYAN BURNS
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - Bob Henriquez returned to the sideline for his second stint with Tampa Catholic last season and turned around a team that finished 1-9 in 2004 by going 6-4 and leading the team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

Now Henriquez has his sights set on loftier goals.

"I always felt like we had a top-flight program at Tampa Catholic," said Henriquez, who was a standout player at TC and compiled a 63-40 record and seven playoff appearances as head coach from 1991-99. "I always envisioned Tampa Catholic could be one of those elite programs, like a Bolles or a St. Thomas Aquinas. Those schools exemplify the highest quality of a student-athlete.

"We've always had things in place to succeed here, but there was always something missing, like a stadium or an athletic facility. Now, hopefully, we can raise ourselves to that elite status."

The school opened the first stadium in its 44-year history in October after playing home games at Hillsborough, King, Leto and any other school that would accommodate them. This season the Crusaders will have a true home-field advantage for the entire season, playing a kickoff classic and six home games, including their first game on campus with local rival Jesuit.

THROUGH THE AIR: Henriquez welcomes back Dickie de Lama, a 6-foot-3, 188-pound senior quarterback, who as a first-year starter threw for 1,423 yards, fifth best in the county, and 11 touchdowns. A second-team all-state selection, de Lama again should be one of the county's best this season.

"Last year was his first year and there was a learning curve for him," Henriquez said. "He was learning as the season progressed. But now he has a great command of the offense. He's a tall and rangy kid with a strong arm and mind. He opens up a lot of things for us."

Senior Joey Lauteria returns as de Lama's primary pass catcher. Last season, Lauteria finished fourth in the county with 658 receiving yards, and this offseason, he has been working with former Buccaneer Mark Carrier, according to Henriquez.

Lauteria will be counted on heavily in the Crusaders' multiple-set, multiple-formation offense, but Henriquez said he has at least eight quality receivers with good size he is confident in.

"That's probably our most exciting position," he said. "We have the ability to put four receivers on the field, none of them under 6 feet tall."

ON THE GROUND: Drew Zink rushed 142 times for 715 yards and six touchdowns last season, and the junior again will see the bulk of the carriers in the backfield.

"He had a fine season as a sophomore, and he's had an incredible offseason," Henriquez said. "He's a tough, hard-nosed kid that does everything 100 percent."

Junior P.J. Briody returns at fullback after gaining 105 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown. He played at 190 pounds last year and has bulked up to 232. Briody will share fullback duties with senior Anibal Roldan.

"We feel like we'll be able to pound the ball more and also break some long runs," Henriquez said.

DEFENSE: Because of a lack of depth on the defensive line, Henriquez said the Crusaders will line up in more three-man fronts and occasionally bring a linebacker up in a three-point stance.

But the coach likes the size on his defense and thinks it could be better than last year.

"We really swarmed to the ball in the spring and were really aggressive there," he said.

Briody, who also plays middle linebacker, is one of the leaders of the defense.

"He had double-digit tackles in the spring game for us," Henriquez said. "He really holds down the middle for us."

In the secondary, Henriquez has two stars in senior free safety Benny Junco and junior cornerback David Bankston.