18 losses, ton of pressure

One little win would go a long way toward King earning a little respect.

Published September 1, 2006

TAMPA - With a hand towel, seventh-year King coach Joe Severino wipes his forehead in what seems as much a mannerism of frustration as a blotting of perspiration.

Four nights earlier, his team lost its 18th consecutive game. Two of his starters - outside linebacker R.C. Fabreo and defensive lineman David Innocent - are already out with a broken arm and leg, respectively.

A week into the regular season, he may be forced to reach into his junior varsity roster to shore up depth. And he's sleeping about as well as Dan Marino scrambles.

"It's very stressful. Very, very stressful," said Severino, whose team hasn't won since a 14-13 home victory against Blake on Sept. 24, 2004. "I mean, there are so many things to come overcome, you know? ... I lose sleep and eat too much. I guess that's better than drinking."

Welcome to Severino's world, located at the corner of Sligh - make that Sigh - and 56th Street in Temple Terrace. For years now, this is where frustration - and ridicule - have come to roost.

"The thing I don't like is to hear other students in school talking (bad) to our players," Severino said. "You know, their own high school - that's what's bad."

The reasons for this drought? They're probably too diverse to detail. The program, for one, has no rich heritage to which the Lions can hearken, and the facilities are among the county's oldest.

During this current grim stretch, a succession of talented players - some of whom had siblings play for King - have moved to more glamorous programs.

Depth, it seems, is an annual problem. Optimism, surprisingly, is not.

"We're few," Severino says, "but we're coming together."

Ridicule the Lions if you must, and players concur many of their classmates do. Just don't knock their attitude. For all the broken bones, twisted knees and neck stingers, their collective hope doesn't appear to be fractured.

Sometimes, it's all they have.

"I guess when it comes down to it, when you see these guys come out every day, you feel like you have the ability to finally come out on top one game," said senior defensive end Ali Khan, who had six tackles and two sacks in last week's 34-20 loss at Robinson. "From the (spring) jamboree game that we had and the game against Robinson, it's at a level compared to the past few years where you know your time's coming for success."

Some tangible evidence suggests the Lions' swoon could be nearing an end. The defense played solid in a 10-0 preseason loss at Durant two weeks ago, and the 20 points scored at Robinson represented their second-highest point total of 2005.

Additionally, King went 3-4 in seven-on-seven competition during the summer, defeating Tarpon Springs, Pompano Beach Ely and Armwood's "B" team.

"You just keep working. Just keep working at it," said Severino, a county coaching veteran who went 22-42 his first six seasons with the Lions. "Also, they know we're improved. They saw it last week. They can feel it."

Further encouraging Severino is the fact he possesses a nucleus of roughly a dozen seniors - including Khan - who have toiled through the misery and endured a Lion's share of ribbing.

"I've heard some pretty bad stuff about King, but I guess the worst to hear is from someone you consider your friends who come to King," said Khan, who has experienced one victory in a varsity uniform. "When you hear it from them it's like, you're not a worth (anything) to them."

The smack - and streak - could end before September does. An upset of Gaither, which dismissed Severino as its coach in the spring of 1996, may be a stretch for the Lions, but winnable games against Brandon, Blake and Alonso loom.

"We're real close," Severino said. "We just don't need to get anybody else hurt or nothing."