tampabay.com

Leopards offense gains some oomph under new coaches

By DEREK LARIVIERE
Published May 15, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - The Rodney Byrd regime was supposed to officially kick off on the field last Friday for Hernando's traditional purple and gold intersquad scrimmage. After a meeting with administrators, Byrd and his staff canceled the game because of the smoke-filled air around Leopard Stadium.

Without the game, the first taste of action for Byrd's Leopards will come Saturday at Umatilla for the annual spring classic. There, Hernando will unveil its new, groundbreaking offense.

While many area programs continue to run conservative, traditional systems, Byrd and offensive coordinator Eric Riggins are going into next season with a fresh look.

"Obviously, I am not going to give out all of our secrets, " Byrd said with a wry smile. "The point is to keep (opposing teams) guessing."

The plan is to rotate Hernando's backs in a single-back spread offense. The idea is so novel at the prep level this could be the most high-powered offense seen in this area in some time. It definitely will be a vastly different look than the Leopards have given in recent years.

Running the traditional Wing-T system under coaches Bill Browning and Matt Smith, Hernando never really broke through.

"The (players) like the idea of the whole scheme - playing up-tempo and with excitement, " Byrd said.

Riggins especially is looking forward to mixing it up with his new corps of running backs. He gets credit for helping develop star freshman Tevin Drake when he was an assistant at Nature Coast last season, so Byrd is anxious to see the effect he will have on current Hernando backs.

With George Fribley leading the way as the explosive scat back, Riggins likes what the team has to work with. Justin Braswell and Nick Sizemore should see just as much time because of their different abilities.

"We're going to be able to give different looks because we have three very different types of backs, " Riggins said. "George is shifty and the other two have the ability to pound the ball."

The only real question mark seems to be under center. Though Jason Davies is penciled in as the starter, Byrd is quick to emphasize nothing is set in stone.

"Right now, Jason is our guy, but we are going day by day, " Byrd said. "If we are going to run this type of offense, quarterback is going to be a very important position."

If Davies does not work out, Lamon Neal and Kyle Daniels appear to be the other options on Byrd's list.

STARTING FULLBACK NAMED: D.J. Williams, a 5-foot-11, 271-pound rising junior, will start at fullback for Nature Coast this week in the spring game. The Sharks host St. Petersburg at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Britt Langley and Tadd Govedich were competing with Williams for the spot, but coach Jamie Joyner said Williams looked good in last Friday's intersquad scrimmage.

"In our offense it's all about the timing between the quarterback and the fullback, " Joyner said. "He does a really good job of just being where he's supposed to be."

RUNNING STRONG: Drake, a rising Sharks sophomore, made a big splash last season as a freshman running back. In Friday's scrimmage, he broke free for several long runs despite not playing behind the starting line.

INSIDE LOOK: With whistles in their mouths, Joyner and assistant coach Charles Liggett reffed the scrimmage. Nature Coast initially planned to cancel the game because of smoke but changed its mind later in the day. No one told the officials. Joyner didn't mind being closer to the action.

"I get an opportunity to listen to the kids in the huddle and hear them communicate if they're encouraging each other or getting on each other, " Joyner said. "I get a better feel for listening to them and gauging where they're at."

Joyner liked what he saw and heard.

Times staff writer Kellie Dixon contributed to this report.