At Pasco High, it's just the beginning

By Izzy Gould, Times Staff Writer
Published May 29, 2007

DADE CITY - Spring football is over at Pasco.

The practice field gets two months to heal from the annual beating.

More than 30 players chewed through sod with their cleats while Pasco's first-year coach chewed into them.

Tom McHugh's work has barely begun.

He let out a soft laugh when asked about vacation plans during Memorial Day weekend. He's more concerned about painting the weight room and cleaning the floors.

"I'll be there every day this summer, " McHugh said.

Each task is a step in the rebuilding process at Pasco.

McHugh is focused on the short term.

This week it's spring cleaning and weightlifting. Next week it's a team camp at the University of Florida. The idea surfaced after players asked about summer football camps.

McHugh saw an opportunity.

"We needed 11 to go to team camp, " McHugh said. "We ended up getting 47."

Every Pasco player who wanted to go is going. That's 27 upperclassmen and 20 incoming freshmen. The ones not going had plans such as family trips or other camps.

McHugh is not sure what to expect in terms of the actual camp, though he knows the players will get one benefit: camaraderie.

"I don't know if it will be a tradition, but it's a get-to-know-you type of camp, " McHugh said. "We'll get to go up there and spend four days together. A lot of those guys have gone to school a few years, but they don't really know each other."

When the Pirates aren't ripping up Florida's finely manicured fields or staring in awe of Gators coach Urban Meyer, they will be at the pool together, in the dorms together, bonding for three days together.

"Maybe they'll get a little taste of that life, " McHugh said. "This may whet some appetites."

McHugh was hired in January for various reasons - and beyond victories, to clean up Pasco's image.

Pumping pride back into the program was a given, but McHugh quickly learned it's something the players were craving before his arrival.

McHugh was pleased when a handful of players approached him to bring back a simple chant.

Pasco used to shout "Pirate Pride" between jumping jacks.

"I knew nothing about that, Pirate Pride, " McHugh said. "They wanted Pirate Pride."

And those same players seem to have bought into McHugh, at least for now. Noticeably absent from spring practice was cursing or the playful banter that often derailed a good practice.

Oh, the players still have fun but in a confined sense.

McHugh made his methods clear from the first day.

"I went in there, and I speak pretty straightforward, " McHugh said. "I told them I expect them to maintain their emotions. They bought into it."

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