tampabay.com

No pain is Eagle's gain

By BOB PUTNAM
Published August 25, 2006


EAST LAKE - East Lake was supposed to be a team to be reckoned with.

With an abundance of talent at the skill positions and an experienced line last season, the Eagles were vying for their sixth straight playoff appearance.

Then they were stung by the injury bug.

Jamal Walker tore an ACL in Week 2. Three more starters went down with injuries by Week 5.

East Lake somehow cobbled together a 4-1 record and was undefeated in Class 5A, District 9 entering the stretch run. But the momentum shifted with all the injuries, especially Walker's, and the Eagles limped home with five consecutive losses to end the season.

Therefore, all prognostications for this season come with a disclaimer about the health of the team, bringing new meaning to the term make-or-break season.

"Hopefully, we get some luck on the injury side," coach Bob Hudson said.

ON THE GROUND: Micah Powell, a youth league star, will be a featured back. Others who could get carries include Richie Bailey, Brian Groc and T.J. McFee.

East Lake also has a hulking fullback, Erin Murray (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) who can belly through the opposition. Jeff Aldridge and Billy Byrne are the other fullbacks.

The line, though inexperienced, will still be big with an average of 240 pounds per guy. Travis Schroeder and Will Sloat are the two returners.

THROUGH THE AIR: Mike Smooke is the starting quarterback and Tony Mannello will be his understudy. Jeff Lapratt, Brent Hill and Jacob Rachel are the receiving options.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE! East Lake's fast start last year was due, in large part, to a squad that was faster, more aggressive and fundamentally sound than previous editions. The Eagles gave up 42 points and forced 17 turnovers in the first six games.

They return a bulk of their front seven. Murray, Josh Petkovich and Jeff Aldridge are part of an unyielding line. Hill, Powell and Adam Trump are the top linebackers.

JUST FOR KICKS: Drew Petzoldt will do the kicking and punting.