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Mustangs to search for a defense this spring

On the brink of its first varsity season, the Mitchell football team has high hopes and holes to fill.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001


TRINITY -- Welcome back, Scott Schmitz.

After a year competing at the junior varsity level, a familiar coaching face returns to the varsity ranks.

His Mitchell team will play its first varsity season this fall, but the groundwork for that important campaign will be laid during spring practice, which begins Tuesday. It's no surprise Schmitz can't wait.

"I'm real excited," he said. "It's probably the most important spring as far as football is concerned that I've been associated with for quite a while. At River Ridge, we had the system in place, it was just a matter of plugging kids in. But we're still getting to know the kids here and they're still getting to know us.

"It's an important spring with the varsity season looming in a few months."

The Mustangs' camp will be one of the county's most intriguing. Can Schmitz, who helped build the Knights into a west county power, do so again?

Not quite yet.

"We've got to find a defense in the spring," Schmitz said. "I think we're going to be able to move the ball next year. Our philosophy here has always been you've got to be able to move the ball and to play good defense.

"I think we'll be able to move the ball. But we've got to find a way to stop somebody."

Playing a JV schedule, Mitchell finished the season 6-2 and discovered a quarterback, Sean Gillen, whose mobility running the option will challenge opposing defenses. Schmitz will again run the county's most venerable offense, the Wing-T, though the coach wants to spread the field with multiple-receiver formations.

Wingback Ed Garton will move to wideout to help in the passing game.

The offensive line is a strength, Schmitz said.

Center David Broughton impresses the coach most, and he likes what guards Ed White and Jamie Downey can do pulling and trapping.

But what about the defense?

Tony Hart should man the strongside linebacker position in the Mustangs' 5-2 scheme. But Schmitz is looking for other players to step up.

At end, freshman Mitchell Spivey will get a look, as will freshman Andrew Brougham and Robert Plews and Brandon Thomas.

"The great thing about spring is we've got a few kids coming out who were not here in the fall, some new move-ins.

"In the spring you always unearth one or two surprises. We might be lucky enough to get a couple of those surprises at positions we really need."

Schmitz said the biggest challenge he faces building a defense is teaching his young cast the philosophical concepts and responsibilities.

"A lot of people think about defense as you just run and you go tackle a guy and that's all there is to it," he said.

"We play a gap-responsibility defense. When the ball is snapped, every defensive player has a gap responsibility. When one of them breaks down, there's nobody in the gap, it's a big play.

"There's a lot to teach into it, a lot of discipline to it. I think that sometimes that phase of the game in our system comes around a little bit slower."

Schmitz will be joining the varsity ranks at time when the county is still licking its wounds after two years of tough scheduling against Hillsborough and Pinellas county teams. Now, Pasco County is neatly divided into two districts.

Mitchell will play in the new and more level Class 4A, District 6 with Central, Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, River Ridge and Springstead.

The coach is also glad the team played a season at the junior varsity level in 2000 instead of suffering through a varsity schedule, which he did as the head coach at River Ridge in 1991, going 0-10, and at Wesley Chapel in 1999, going 1-9.

"I've done it both ways now, and I don't think there's any doubt that going the JV route was better," Schmitz said. "I think we had some success and the kids got some success. I still don't think you learn anything by getting beat 55-0 each week.

"But I think the way our football staff handled them last year, we coached them just like a varsity football team. We expected the same things out of them as we did a varsity team."

One other thing: Schmitz said construction on Mitchell's football stadium has already begun and he has been assured it will be available to the team in August. Of course, construction delays postponed the completion of Wesley Chapel's stadium until the end of its second season.

2001 Mitchell varsity schedule

Aug. 23 -- Jamboree at River Ridge; Wesley Chapel vs. Springstead; Mitchell vs. River Ridge; Pasco vs. Gulf

Aug. 31 -- at Zephyrhills

Sept. 7 -- Pasco

Sept. 14 -- Ridgewood

Sept. 21 -- at Gulf

Sept. 28 -- River Ridge

Oct. 5 -- Wesley Chapel

Oct. 12 -- at Springstead

Oct. 19 -- Central

Oct. 26 -- at Land O'Lakes

Nov. 2 -- at Hudson

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