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County high school teams ready to spring into action

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Call it the last oasis -- that final refreshing drink before entering the longest, driest, most treacherous stretch of the desert.

For many fans in Florida, that exactly is what spring represents: The last taste of the gridiron before a football-less summer; the final bit of refreshment before the NFL opens training camps in late July.

The annual rite of spring begins at the high school level Tuesday when teams from around the state take the field for their first action of the year -- and their last until mid-August.

Fans hoping to glean a little knowledge about next year's schemes and starting lineups might be disappointed. Fact is, for coaches at Crystal River, Citrus, Lecanto and many other programs, the spring session is more of an evaluation period than training camp -- a chance to solidify depth charts and determine off-season preparation.

"We like to continue the work with the kids from last year that we know and really work the younger guys and guys that were second and third string last year and see where they are now," Crystal River coach Jere DeFoor said. "We'll see if they've gotten stronger or whether they are working up some and try to create some kind of depth chart and find out who will be varsity and who will be JV."

Tuesday will kick off the first of four days of non-contact practices. Florida High School Activities Association rules mandate that schools may not begin their spring workouts until May 1 and may not have contact drills until May 5. Crystal River expects to start letting players hit on Friday, but plans only limited work on next year's offensive and defensive game plans.

"We will have about an hour of offense and an hour of defense against each other," DeFoor said. "We'll do that maybe a day or two before the spring jamboree. That's all."

Instead, the Pirates will focus on a few crucial positions. Most notable among those are running back and linebacker, where the team must replace key starters in Nate Madison and Andy Crawford.

Ryan McNally (868 yards, 11 touchdowns last season) and Chianta Smith (364 yards, 3 touchdowns) appear to be the front-runners for the fullback spot. A number of players will be considered at middle linebacker.

Several starters, including quarterback Clayton Trenary and tight end Will Bleakley, will not be available for spring workouts due to baseball commitments, but DeFoor doesn't see that as much of a problem.

"Most of those guys have 15 weeks last year, and a lot have been with us a couple springs," he said. "This will probably give some of the other kids a chance to get more repetitions."

Lecanto's Dick Slack will take a similar approach, focusing on fundamentals in addition to the occasional experiment at certain positions.

"We want to get a cohesive unit together," Slack said. "We've got a lot of kids coming back from last year, and we want to try to get people in right positions. We may move some people around, and we'll evaluate that and try to get a good grasp of fundamentals and what we're trying to do on offense and defense. That's about all you can hope to accomplish in 2 1/2 weeks.

Spring practice concludes for the Citrus schools May 18 with a jamboree at Springstead. Teams scheduled to play are Citrus, Crystal River, Lecanto, Hernando, Central and the Eagles.

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