tampabay.com

Lithe, loaded

The Ravens return a slew of starters, and though their size won't intimidate many opponents, they have the speed and skill to make some noise in the district.

By DAN GENOVESE
Published August 25, 2006


TAMPA - After graduating only five starters from last year's team, which lost by a point to Wharton in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs, Alonso looks to improve behind speed - and seasoning - in crucial areas.

Like previous years, Alonso won't be recognized for size and power, but that doesn't matter to fifth-year coach Mike Heldt, who says what the Ravens lack in brawn they make up for in experience.

"The kids are really starting to come together as a team and maturing as a group," said Heldt, whose club finished 4-7 last year.

"We had a good spring and offseason, and despite the size, we are very tough and dedicated."

And capable of winning the Class 5A District 6 title, he insists."That's our No. 1 goal," Heldt said. "We're going to be very disappointed if we can't accomplish it."

THROUGH THE AIR: The Ravens will use speed to their advantage and operate out of a spread shotgun formation. Heldt converted senior speedster Cory Quintilliani from a wide receiver to this year's starting quarterback.

Last season, Quintilliani led Alonso with 21 catches for 355 yards in the regular season.

"He's fast, he's mobile and he's a great athlete with good instincts," Heldt said.

Quintilliani will have a big, quick target in 6-foot-3 junior receiver Joe Clarke, who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash.

ON THE GROUND: Joining Quintilliani in the backfield are senior running backs Kendrick Hopkins and Mike Forbes, who combined for more than 1,600 yards in 2005.

Hopkins was among the top rushers in the county last year, gaining more than 1,100 yards. Forbes is the brother of John Forbes, who graduated in 2004.

The offensive line, though small and partially young, will be anchored by senior center Paul Roche.

He's a very good center," said Heldt. "He's not going to be the biggest guy out there (5-foot-8, 230 pounds) but he makes up for it in toughness."

DEFENSE: The middle of the Ravens' defense will be loaded with talented seniors who should anchor this unit, which struggled against the run (180.6 yards per game) in the 2005 regular season.

Middle linebacker Garrett Hellman will lead the defense, joined by Matt Dillon and Justin Henika as the Ravens' strength.

Speedy junior defensive end Jamal Crook should emerge as a presence on the line, but a young secondary could be a concern.