With a potent running and passing game, the Gators expect more great things from their offense, which was among the best in the county last season.
By STEVE LEE
Published August 25, 2006
LAND O'LAKES - Tight end Caz Piurowski took some of the pressure off Develin Robinson last season, allowing the wide receiver ample room to race down sidelines or break free over the middle.
Robinson led the county in three categories in 2005 - 49 catches for 1,029 yards and nine touchdowns.
Piurowski, who wound up second in the county in catches (34) and third in receiving yards (589), will team up this fall with former Land O'Lakes quarterback Drew Weatherford at Florida State. But Robinson still should find plenty of room to roam in opposing secondaries, especially with the arrival of wideout Dontarrius Thomas, a Wharton transfer.
The dual threat of Robinson and Thomas gives Joe Weatherford, Drew's brother, a shot at topping last year's county-leading numbers of 1,945 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.
"I hope it helps me," Robinson said of Thomas lining up on the other side of the offensive line. "He's a very special athlete. He's fast and he can jump high. If a lot of teams focus on me, he'll get open. It gives Joe another target."
As impressive as Robinson's statistics were, he predicts loftier figures for his senior season.
"I have to outdo myself," Robinson said. "I'm looking at 70 catches this year."
Attaining that goal will depend, in part, on how well the running game fares. The team's balanced offense has depth at running back, which includes Mike Torro, John Weatherford, Jerome Blyden and Chris Singleton. And Brad Patton and Cameron Harris add depth to the receiving corps.
"Our running game is going to open up a lot," Robinson said. "Everybody's going to look for us to pass and we'll use (the aforementioned backs). Then that's going to open up our passing game."
Up front, the offensive line must overcome the losses of Piurowski and four-year starting left tackle Ross Hughes. Returners Lee Smith, Zach Martin and Brent Scott, along with Lake Gibson transfer Raleigh Bamberg, make this a deep and talented unit. Line coach Tom Carter said as many as eight players can be shuffled in and out.
The same can be said of the linebacker corps, which lost just one player (Hunter Hedlbom) to graduation. Returners John Weatherford, Torro and Blyden will be joined by Smith. As usual, the secondary is a combination of running backs and receivers, and the defensive line consists mostly of two-way linemen.
Coach John Benedetto has an additional weapon at his disposal this season, a punter/kicker - newcomer Alex Spock - he expects to boom kickoffs out of the end zone.
The Gators went 9-2 last season in extending their postseason streak to nine straight. Benedetto anticipates a 10th consecutive playoff appearance.
"Other than losing Ross on the line of scrimmage and losing Caz as a skill player offensively and defensively, all the skill kids are back," Benedetto said.
Make that with a key addition in Thomas.