tampabay.com

Fight to the finish

A never-give-up mind-set is an essential part of new coach Anthony Paradiso's program.

By BRIAN SUMERS
Published August 25, 2006


CRYSTAL RIVER - His bald head protected by a gray, floppy hat, Anthony Paradiso patrols the sidelines of the practice field, watching players execute and telling coaches when to blow their staccato whistles.

The coach, a 29-year-old with specks of gray in his day-old stubble, represents a new era of Pirates football.

Buzzwords like pride, discipline and work ethic dominate his talk. And he loves telling his players they must compete hard "for all four quarters."

Seems simple enough.

But Paradiso watched many of the game films from last year. With essentially the same team - Crystal River graduated just three senior starters - the Pirates were regularly out-manned by bigger, stronger squads.

And sometimes, they quit.

They were outscored 380-89 as they stumbled to their second straight 2-8 season. This year, the players are the same, but the mood is different.

And early reports are good. Morale is high.

Players are bigger, stronger and hungrier. About 60 regularly came to offseason workouts - more than three times as many as participated before last season.

Paradiso contributed his time during summer break, spending seven hours a day, five days each week at the school, though he was not paid.

He hopes the dedication will transfer into victories.

"We can win with our talent," Paradiso said, "if the kids learn how to finish."

Most players say they are willing to believe in their coach. It's their only choice.

"I'm ready for a new start," said junior wide receiver Wes Lanier. "This definitely is going to be different."

Though he can't guarantee wins, Paradiso said he promises players no longer will quit. He stresses "perseverance."

"I want to be down 28-0 and come back and end up winning the game," he said. "It's all about finishing."

But Paradiso will not dwell on players' mistakes. When he played quarterback in high school, he said he did not respect coaches who raised their tone.

"I'm not a yeller or a screamer," he said. "If I'm yelling, I might be really upset."

For the first season, Paradiso will keep the offense and defense as simple as possible. He has issued a 30-page playbook, and most plays were implemented during spring practice.

In the pro-style offense, most formations feature three receivers and two running backs, though the Pirates will sometimes use two receivers and one tight end.

Paradiso, the former offensive coordinator at Orlando Timber Creek, will call plays. He plans to run slightly more than pass, a departure from last season when the team ran almost exclusively.

Still, he knows the offense will not become perfect this season.

Paradiso said it probably will take three practice seasons - spring, fall and spring again - before he can fully implement it.

The defense will be a fairly straightforward alignment with four linebackers and four linemen.

Paradiso talks about competing for the district championship, not in the future but this season.

If it doesn't happen, though, Paradiso will be pleased if he meets another goal.

"We want to build men of character," he said.

TIDBITS

* How did the Pirates work on their speed and agility during the offseason? By playing a game they call Powerball, where two teams of eight attempt to score by throwing a football into a garbage can. Possession changes when the ball carrier is tagged or when a pass between teammates falls incomplete. The coaching staff learned the game from a magazine, but coach Anthony Paradiso has tweaked it a little. "We make up rules as we go," he said.

* Assistant coach Justin Wentworth, a former Pirates football star, married softball coach Lana Hough July 22 in Key West.

* Along with the new coach comes new uniforms. According to invoices provided by school administrators, Crystal River spent $6,000 on new home and road jerseys. If you're wondering, the official blue of the Pirates is "Kansas Blue."