tampabay.com

New quarterback breaks the mold

By KELLIE DIXON
Published May 10, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Stephen Pelaez kneeled on the Nature Coast sideline Monday, watching his teammates practice kickoff returns.

Breaks are rare for the versatile two-way player, so he takes them when he can. Pelaez, slated to move into the starting quarterback slot, will remain at outside linebacker where he was among the team's leading tacklers in 2006. This spring, he said, his goal is to improve in both positions, to get stronger and smarter.

Pelaez dominated at linebacker last season, but saw limited time as a quarterback behind starter Josh Ortiz. The quarterback position isn't new to him, though. He started as a freshman on the junior varsity team before being sidelined with a broken collar bone.

Last year, when he wasn't serving as the team's go-to receiver or bouncing around at other offensive positions, he took snaps behind of Ortiz. Pelaez, a rising senior, doesn't plan to copy Ortiz, who led the Sharks with 909 rushing and 659 passing yards. "I'm going to try to do better than him, " Pelaez said.

Pelaez respects Ortiz, but he knows he is a different player. So do his coaches. When it comes to running the Sharks' option offense, Pelaez is a bit more elusive than Ortiz.

"Pelaez might not have the overall speed, " coach Jamie Joyner said. "But he's a tough runner who isn't afraid to mix it up."

Quarterbacks coach Dan Garofano said Pelaez is a playmaker for the Sharks. He recalled last season when Pelaez came in at quarterback in the game against Springstead. It was third down, 20 yards to go. Pelaez helped the Sharks get the first down en route to their 15-10 upset win.

It was a big situation, but those don't make Pelaez nervous. Neither does wearing the No. 13 jersey. Some think it's unlucky, especially after he broke his collar bone while wearing that number. But Pelaez doesn't analyze things like that. He would rather focus on making his opponents miss on the run. Or, when it comes to this spring, working on his arm.

"He's a dual threat because he's got a strong arm, " Garofano said. "He throws the long ball really well, and now we're trying to get him a little more accurate on the shorter routes."

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or 352 544-9480.