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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
River Ridge is building confidence, eager to end its 23-game losing streak.
By IZZY GOULD
Published May 27, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Tim Stevens feels more comfortable at the top.
Moments after the second-year coach called a wrap on spring practice, he recalled his first days as head coach more than a year ago.
Forget coaching. Stevens had to learn Administration 101.
There were phone lists, rosters and medical forms to start.
"That first time through I was swamped, " Stevens said. "My head was spinning."
Then came the imperfect season: 10 losses in 10 games.
Any hopes of being carried off the field in celebration quickly faded.
River Ridge hasn't won since 2004, dropping 23 consecutive games - the longest such streak in Pasco County.
Stevens and his players walked away from Thursday's scrimmage and into the hugs and handshakes of family and friends.
They had gained a fiery confidence. They will enter the fall with a core of players with varsity experience for the first time in recent memory.
No one on the roster should expect a call from Urban Meyer or Bobby Bowden.
What Stevens has is a core of solid football players who proved they are mentally sound. Some of these kids have never won a varsity game.
"You want to have fun and have success, " Stevens said. "There wasn't a whole lot of that last year.
"The kids that don't want to be here quit. It's a character builder."
Leaders such as quarterback Blake Spinks and tailback Shawn Ford represent a group of returning starters that will overshadow the loss of 12 or more seniors.
Spinks is bigger, stronger and more confident than a year ago. Stevens likes the way he throws and believes he can eliminate some of the costly mistakes he made as a first-year starter.
"Not that they were all his fault, " Stevens said. "But ultimately you're going to blame the quarterback if things aren't going right. You're going to blame the head coach after that. That's the way it goes."
Ford should help solidify a solid backfield along with newcomer Stavros Arianas and slot back Markel Bell, younger brother of former speedster Sam Bell.
"As far as gamebreaking ability, he's probably our closest one to that guy that can get out in the open field and make people look silly, " Stevens said. "He does a good job of that."
Of the 60 or so players who came out this spring, some who could make a difference in the fall include Andrew Singer, Mike Disparti and Justin Ayers.
Ultimately, there was a sense that everyone was simply tired of losing.
River Ridge should get a shot at a victory early, opening at 0-10 Lecanto followed by first-year startup Sunlake.
"I'm tired of losing, " Ford said. "I'm tired of walking to the store and people saying stuff. I want to win some games this year. I want to turn things around."