Hazard-free zone

After a tumultuous 2005, the Pirates have removed the negative energy and are ready for big things.

Published August 25, 2006

DADE CITY - This is Dale Caparaso's office on the first day of fall practice: An unusually neat desktop, every chair in its place and a floor so clean you could kiss the tile.

Players of all shapes and sizes scurry through a few at a time, trading paperwork for locker combinations and helmets.

Some traipsing across the glossy-white floor in cleats get an earful from "Coach Cap" who resembles Popeye with an Al Pacino bark.

This cramped space, no larger than your typical children's bedroom, is stuffed with optimism replacing a 2005 locker room void of coaching, leadership and discipline, all contaminants to the Pirates' 2-8 finish.

This is extreme makeover, Pasco style.

Caparaso began with a face lift of the coaching staff and a tightening of his inner circle. A number of assistants resigned and were replaced with Cap's guys.

"We were doomed last year there was so much controversy, so much second guessing, so much back stabbing," Caparaso said. "It will not take place this year. We want Dade City football back."

Caparaso, a master promoter of his cause, insists he has the personnel to reclaim that Dade City swagger.

Most supporters are likely to turn their attention to the quarterback battle between incumbent starter Josh Johnson and Bushnell South Sumter transfer Justin Smothers.

Johnson, a sophomore oozing with natural athleticism, is versatile in the sense he can play various positions including running back, receiver and defensive back.

Smothers, a junior who considers himself a pocket passer, has a strong arm, sharp eyes and, in a pinch, can turn the corner and gobble up yards. If Johnson holds onto the job Smothers will play tight end. Johnson would be in the backfield if Smothers get the nod.

"I can't fathom one of the two quarterbacks sitting an entire game as a quarterback," Caparaso said. "There are things Justin does better than Josh. There are a lot of things Josh does better than Justin.

"We will evaluate what gives us the best chance to win."

Caparaso touts depth this season as his No. 1 strength.

One recent coaches meeting allowed him to identify 10 starters on offense, another 10 on defense and one two-way player in lineman Cameron Pope.

Of course, everyone will learn how to play a handful of positions, preparing for a doomsday scenario.

Caparaso seems most proud of his offensive line, one that boasts five starters 6 feet or taller and ranging between 240 and 330 pounds. Early favorites to start include Pope, Josh Jones, Erik Stroud, Chris Burgos, James Knox and Jeremy Lee at tight end.

"That's some beef," Caparaso said. "That's something that we haven't had here. On top of all of that we have a new offensive line coach (Jim Jensen from Marathon) who has brought us together."

There are 16 players competing for a handful of spots in the backfield including Mario Jenkins, Matt Jackson, Dorian Tooks, Marcus Tooks, McClain Bryant and Zephyrhills transfer Matt Lemon.

With only one true receiver in Demetrious Larry, Caparaso will return to his coveted Wing-T approach and sprinkle in some spread offense and possibly the I-formation.

"We may arguably have the county's No. 1 running game as far as yardage is concerned and won't have a single running back on the all-county team," Caparaso said. "We'll use six running backs and they'll have 500 yards each, which ain't nothing."

Defensively, Caparaso will return to a 4-4 scheme he used his first season, likely anchored by Pope, Bryant, Stroud and Greg Pye.

The four linebackers likely will include Jackson, Lee, Jacob Hinkle and Korey Trancrell. The secondary will consist of Demitrious Larry, Jenkins and Evan Allison, a wrestler who played football a couple years ago.

"There is a different attitude in Pasco football," Caparaso said. "It has seeped down to our players.