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Taking to the air

The passing game is no passing fancy with county teams, whose elite QBs are anything but grounded.

By IZZY GOULD
Published August 25, 2006


LAND O'LAKES - Paying to watch Pasco County football isn't just a donation to athletics anymore.

Between grid-locked U.S. 19 and Dade City's orange groves, you'll find stadiums loaded with aerial shows.

Coaches here are finally airing it out on Friday nights.

The somewhat monotonous power running game - still a staple for some programs - no longer dominates the county landscape.

Offensive coordinators routinely dabble in the traditional shotgun formation, play-action passing and trendy spread offense.

Thank the boost in bona fide quarterbacks, especially this season. The county's population boom should help the trend continue with plenty of talent to go around.

Land O'Lakes is credited with revolutionizing the quarterback position in 2001 when coach John Benedetto revamped his scheme for current Florida State quarterback Drew Weatherford.

"As a coach you do with what you've got," said Mitchell's Scott Schmitz, who has been coaching in the county for 22 years. "John (Benedetto) was 3 yards and a cloud of dust until Drew Weatherford. ...It just happens we're in a cycle where there's some good quarterbacks in this county.

"Drew basically started this."

 

This year's crop is solid

Fans should tour the county to appreciate each quarterback.

They range from pocket passers to running backs converted to play under center. First on the must-see-list is the senior crop.

One of the true pocket passers is Land O'Lakes' Joe Weatherford, Drew's younger brother. Joe is a replica of his older brother, a passer with the ability to run. He threw for 1,945 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.

Gulf's Alton Voss has garnered plenty of attention as a gritty do-it-all quarterback with plenty of ability. He's also a major defensive presence capable of playing linebacker or safety. He combined for 2,600 yards of offense and 23 touchdowns as a junior.

At Zephyrhills, coach Tom Fisher will lean on Sederrik Cunningham, an option quarterback who found his touch late last season. He helped the Bulldogs to their first playoff berth in three years, passing for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns.

These seasoned quarterbacks are vital to the offense. "They control the huddle," Fisher said. "They touch the ball every play. They're only going to be successful if they can run the ball, throw the ball and people catch the ball."

Some coaches have given the offense to underclassmen.

Tate Humphrey returns to Mitchell for his junior year after he combined for roughly 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

After a year of uncertainty, Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare has his answer at quarterback with junior Greg Jenkins, another athlete with plenty of skill.

Then there are two quarterback battles at each end of the county.

Ridgewood has a pair of juniors battling for the top job in Charley Minichino and T.J. Haab. And Pasco's incumbent, sophomore Josh Johnson, is trying to fight off Bushnell South Sumter transfer Justin Smothers.

"Every school always seemed to have a good one with chances to go places," Wesley Chapel coach John Castelamare said. "I don't know about so many in abundance."

Always one or two

Pasco County might have more talented quarterbacks this year than in any one season. But history shows there usually are a handful of good ones each year.

This conversation has to begin in Dade City with Pasco's 1992 state title team.

Issac Johnson, Josh's father, might best be remembered for leading the Pirates to a 28-16 victory against Jesuit in 1992 for the Class 3A title.

Issac Johnson's on-the-field success followed that of Lex Smith of the late 1980s. Smith enjoyed three solid seasons at Pasco before playing at the University of Florida. He threw for roughly 1,300 yards as a senior and was considered among the top 10 quarterbacks in the nation.

Most recently was the success of Ben Alford, who established himself as the Pirates' top gun in 2002. He capped his high school career with 3,225 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons as the starter.

"Pasco has some great athletes," Pasco coach Dale Caparaso said. "We will never be short on athletes."

Ridgewood was led by Bill Linderman in the late '80s and often sprinkled the pass with the run. He earned Class 4A all-state honors his senior year as a safety before heading to Houston, where he lasted one season as a walk-on.

Zephyrhills had James Adamo in 2002, who led the Bulldogs to a district title with 1,051 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior.

Wesley Chapel recently said goodbye to the gutsy Anthony Rawson, who played the end of his senior year in 2004 with a stress fracture in his left shin.

Of course no one will soon forget Land O'Lakes' Drew Weatherford, who threw for 7,657 yards and 79 touchdowns as a four-year starter. His teams went a combined 34-14.

"When Andrew came in it enabled us to be able to throw mid-distance and long-distance routes," Benedetto said. "It opened it up defensively and allowed us to strike quickly."

 

Wing-T vs. spread

 

Castelamare, a former Nebraska player, might be best known for sticking to the running game. But even he senses a change in strategy.

Most local coaches agree these new offensive passing looks often flow down from the NFL to the colleges and into Pasco County locker rooms.

"We still run the Wing-T," Castelamare said. "Even Nebraska was run, run, run and now (Bill) Callahan is throwing all over the place. They had a pretty good year last year.

"Delaware itself (credited with inventing the wing-T) won the (Division I-AA) national title with the spread."

Caparaso picked up a tape of Urban Meyer's spread offense when Florida was recruiting Dominic Brown in 2005. The loss of quarterback Tony Smith and Brown's transfer to Redan (Ga.) High ruined Pasco's move to the spread.

Caparaso has reverted to the Wing-T.

Even Schmitz, who enjoyed success running with players such as Spencer Brown, is convinced more passing can help.

You just need the right quarterback.

"I looked for a quarterback to manage the game, not win games for you but not lose games for you," Schmitz said.

"Now with the spread and the shotgun our quarterback is going to win and lose football games because he's throwing it 20 times and he might be running it 15-20 times.

"There's a big difference in the quarterback's role than there was in the Wing-T."