Spartans look to step out

Published August 25, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Lakewood coach Otis Dixon is guaranteeing that his team looks a lot better on the field than it has in recent years.

He just hopes it's not only because of the uniforms they will be sporting.

After a three-year stretch that has yielded a 4-26 record, Dixon is hoping to turn around the Spartans, after a promising finish to his first season in 2005.

The Spartans finished 2-2 after an 0-6 start. Lakewood averaged over 20 points down the stretch, after failing to reach double digits in any of the first six games.

With enough players back to get his hopes up for even more improvement, Dixon figured why not do it in style.

"We're going to look good," he said. "We're going to look like just the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hopefully, some of their magic will rub off on us."

This year, Dixon has placed an emphasis on game film and Xs and Os. He hopes his team tackles the finer points of the game.

ON THE GROUND: Donnell Jones had a solid spring game and though he is being recruited as a defensive back has shown big-play capability as a running back.

Dixon said Jeff Ardis (5-foot-10, 165 pounds) might be his most consistent back, with Jont'e Green and Bernard Reidy filling out the backfield.

Lakewood has one of its bigger offensive lines in recent memory as well, led by 6-3, 285-pound Hermon Williams. Mike Shaw (6-4, 275), Gerardo Alvarado (5-10, 235), Ronnie Williams (5-11, 200) and Andre McKenzie (5-11, 280) are the starters.

THROUGH THE AIR: Dixon is expecting big things from senior quarterback Corey Henderson.

Last year, Henderson struggled through his first season starting, following up good plays with bad ones. "Now, he has something you can't coach - 10 games of experience," Dixon said.

The speedy Henderson is a dual threat, just as able to run in a score as he is throwing for one. But with a quality group of wide receivers, Dixon wants a 50-50 balance.

The Spartans wide receivers are big and fast, led by 6-3, 190-pound Ronnie Lane, who is being recruited by Central Florida, North Carolina State and West Virginia.

Henderson will also have top targets Courtney Brown (6-3, 170) and Shayon Headley (5-11, 165) to throw to out of the spread offense.

Dixon is coaching the offensive line this year, and has stressed the need for it to be in shape. He said too many deep drives stalled because the line tired.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE! The Spartans gave up 30 points or more in six games last year. A drastic improvement is needed to compete. "Defense is where we need to get better," Dixon said.

The Spartans return nine of 11 starters, including lineman Jeff Stephens (6-2, 210), linebacker Kevin Hartzog (5-11, 205), and Jones and speedster Paul Britten (6-1, 175) in the defensive backfield.

JUST FOR KICKS: Soccer player Eric Cucco will kick. Henderson will punt.