Enthusiasm, energy to spare

Published May 2, 2007

DADE CITY - Tom McHugh seems to have everything except a brake pedal.

Pasco's first-year coach hit overdrive on his first day of spring practice, moving nonstop from the weightroom to the locker room to the football field. He is heavily involved in each drill he helped mold as the defensive coordinator at Wesley Chapel.

Now he wears a bright red T-shirt and teaches the 40 or so kids out here how to chant "Pirate Pride."

"This is great, " said McHugh, hurrying onto the practice field. "This is what you've been waiting for."

Since he was hired in January, McHugh has spent most of his time getting to know the guys while monitoring an offseason conditioning program.

In the weeks that followed he pieced together a coaching staff, cleaned up the weightroom and made the adjacent coach's office his own, placing pictures of his family on the walls.

It has been a whirlwind ride so far.

"It comes up quick, " McHugh said. "It's like a rubber band or Slinky. It gets up quicker than you think it will."

McHugh was hired to instill discipline and to win games.

When he noticed a player with a gold bracelet on his wrist, McHugh barked once and the player took it off.

A pair of veteran players agreed they have been eager to get started and like what McHugh has shown so far.

"When we were clapping hands you could tell everyone was getting into it, " lineman Eric Stroud said. "It's exciting. I like it. He's a lot more involved with the community and the weight room."

The regimented practice wore on and at times teaching broke the rhythm.

Practice mostly consisted of drills because the Florida High School Athletic Association prohibits players wearing pads the first three days of practice.

That hardly seemed to deflate the enthusiasm as players ran hard through drills and seemed focused. Several students stood by the weight room to get a glimpse of practice, and at least a car or two drove behind the end zone to sneak a peak.

"There's more spirit than we had last year, " receiver Demetrious Larry said. "Coach McHugh's in your face all day. He pushes you."

McHugh said he grabbed lots of highlight tapes to study his kids and feels he has a handle on them in a football sense.

"Now I need to get to know them, to get to know their personalities and that kind of thing, " McHugh said. "I think I know them on the field."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or 727 580-5315.