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New outlook at Lakewood
By JOE SMITH
Published September 1, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Lakewood football coach Otis Dixon huddles his team for a pre-practice pep talk.
The former two-sport standout at USF speaks softly, but sternly. Like his nickname of "Coach Carter" implies, Dixon's bite is bigger than his bark.
"We need to be one," Dixon, 28, tells his players, who surround him, most taking a knee. "We're a family."
The second-year coach is finally seeing his Spartans buy into his all-for-one, accountability-over-attitude approach.
Dixon instituted a Spartans code of honor pledge, recited after every practice. There's the unified wardrobe, with every player dressing the same on school days (from shirt and tie on Tuesday to game jerseys on Friday).
As Dixon tells them, "We have bull's-eyes on our backs."
But unlike the previous three years, when Lakewood went 4-26, the boys in black and yellow aren't the butt of jokes at school. The Spartans (1-0), fresh off a 35-0 drubbing of rival Gibbs in their opener, will play one of their biggest games in recent memory tonight when they travel to face the Times' top-ranked county team in Largo (1-0).
"This team has come a long way," said Lakewood star senior receiver Ronnie Lane. "Everyone in school is getting pretty excited to see what we can do."
The Spartans' struggles the past few seasons came partly because, as Lane put it, "some guys were playing as individuals." Lakewood lost its first six games last season, but went 2-2 down the stretch, including a win in November over previously undefeated Countryside, which "opened our eyes," cornerback Paul Britten said. "We started to believe in ourselves."
Senior quarterback Corey Henderson, in his second year as the starter, is more comfortable running the spread offense.
The defense, which gave up 30 points or more in six games last season, has nine starters back and swarmed more to the ball in surrendering just 120 total yards against Gibbs.
"They're a heckuva football team," said Largo coach Rick Rodriguez, Dixon's assistant coach at Clearwater more than a decade ago. "They're gonna win a lot of games this year."
Lakewood assistant football coach Mike Moten, a former standout defensive lineman at Florida, will join many of his teammates from the 1996 national championship team at "The Swamp" on Saturday for an onfield presentation before the Southern Miss game.
Moten, who played three seasons for the Arizona Cardinals and two in the Canadian Football League, is one of five Lakewood coaches with college or pro football experience.
The others are head coach Otis Dixon Clearwater/University of South Florida, assistant Anthony Snead (Dixie Hollins/Florida Firecats of AFL2), Jason Carpenter (Albion College in Michigan), Mike Sandy (Osceola/Rutgers, USF).