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For their own good
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.
By JOHN C. COTEY, High Schools Columnist
Published December 7, 2007
LARGO - The field is yellow in spots, gray in others, brown in most. If you look real close, there's a little green there, too.
They say it's grass, but what kind they're not sure. Lots of kinds, they think, a potpourri of grasses. Yes, that's it: It looks like potpourri.
If you grab a clump, just throw it in the nearest receptacle. Chances are, you grabbed a weed. The players thank you.
It doesn't need a mowing, having been trampled by high school football players all season.
It does, however, need a good painting.
There's a rumor going around that there used to be a school logo painted at midfield. We couldn't confirm it. There seem to be bits of blue in the grass, but that could just be little leftover pieces of Cape Coral Seahawk.
The field is a little crooked. Has a few peaks and valleys. Some rolling hills, which go perfectly with the rolling eyes of opposing coaches.
Oh, and please don't wear your good shoes. If you're not standing on a weed, you're standing in mud. At least you better hope that's mud.
"People around the neighborhood bring their dogs out here for a walk," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. "You better watch where you step."
Rodriguez says this with affection. He has lovingly tagged his place the "Dog Patch."
He is smiling, but he is not exaggerating.
"We've had players step in dog piles," said assistant coach Jeremy Frioud, who admits some were presents left by his pooch.
Frioud says the school has only three custodians, and they rarely make it out to the field. Monday, litter lined the fences around the field and filled the stands, until a band of rubber-handed students showed up with garbage bags.
Rodriguez started getting phone calls from the county that day. Superintendent Clayton Wilcox showed up, "with some other dignitaries," Rodriguez said, offering to fix things up.
"Rich boys are coming to town, I guess," the coach said, referring to the private school coming to town.
He estimates 36 service trucks and 100 workers flocked to his stadium, painting the front of it.
All the toilets are working. New lighting was installed. And 18 portable toilets have been ordered to accommodate the visitors from Fort Lauderdale.
"Extreme makeover," he said, laughing.
After chasing the Packers off to a nearby field to practice, they painted LARGO in the end zones. Striped the field. Filled in divots. Fixed the sprinklers.
They even offered the next best thing to resodding: green paint.
Rodriguez said no.
"The kids wanted them to paint 'Dog Patch' at midfield, but other than that, they didn't want their field touched."
"We've been poor all year," quarterback Leonard Johnson said. "Now they want to help?"
That was the general feeling in the Largo locker room: It's our field, we like it the way it is, and by the way, where the heck have you been for 13 weeks?
Better never than late, they say. The Packers think they deserve any advantage their dirty, nasty, beat-up homefield gives them.
Keep in mind, they face a team in St. Thomas Aquinas that practices in silk warmups, cashmere when it dips into the 60s, and each player has a masseur.
Okay, so maybe that's not completely true, but this certainly is: The field they play on is made of green cotton candy.
They call it FieldTurf.
There are bright white lines drawn on their field, big bold numbers and hash marks.
Maybe word spread last week about the lack of portable toilets for visitors the school got complaints. On film, the Largo field probably looked horrendous.
So the extreme makeover? That's big news, even in Fort Lauderdale. Thursday night, it was the lead item on the Aquinas football team's Web site:
"Largo High School Stadium ... has been cleaned this week as Largo hosts the state semifinal game ... Pinellas County School Board officials decided to give the stadium bleachers a quick pressure cleaning since the game is being broadcast live on local Tampa area TV."
That should be a big relief to the visitors. Just as long as they remember to watch where they step.