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The situation is offensive for Leopards

It's also defensive as Hernando has lost several linemen and must fill in the gaps before Friday's jamboree.

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Any football coach covets experience on his offensive and defensive lines, and Hernando's Bill Browning thought he had a lot to appreciate before spring practice began.

Now Browning sees disarray on the line of scrimmage because of an injury, a move, and rock and roll.

"We were anticipating having our ducks lined up to reload, not rebuild," Browning said. "But there's been a monkey wrench thrown in that."

Browning has lost three upperclassmen he was counting on for next season, including starters Chad Schneider and Austin Rampt.

The Leopards will need to find some starters before their jamboree Friday at Central. The Bears meet Lecanto in the first half. Hernando then faces Crystal River.

Schneider, who was taken from the field on a stretcher after injuring his neck against Central in September, has been advised by doctors never to play contact sports again. He has a congenital narrowing of the vertebrae in his neck. He wore a brace and missed the rest of last season following the injury.

Schneider (5 feet 10, 240 pounds) has stayed with the team as an unofficial assistant, helping out with such odd duties as holding the ball for placekickers during field goal drills.

"To his credit, he's still out and he's acting like a player-coach type deal," Browning said. "He's still a big part of the team. He'll still be a big asset, just in another way."

Brian Rosas (5-9, 220), whom Browning called the team's "best lineman coming up," moved with his family to Tuskaloosa, Ala.

Rampt (6-2, 255), who backed up Ryan Trinque as a junior and was projected to start at offensive tackle, quit the team to work and play in a band.

Compounding the line problem, one of Browning's best junior varsity linemen moved to Pasco County.

"We are very raw up front," said Browning, in the understatement of camp. "(Line coach) Matt Smith has the coaching challenge of his life. There is some potential there, but we're going to be raw early, depending on how fast we improve."

Sam Forester (5-9, 245) will offer some experience at center after starting the last three games.

Two completely rebuilt lines, and the presence of one returner on offense (fullback Dee Brown) and two on defense (linebacker Brown and defensive back Ozzie Whitten) have at times made for some hard-to-watch practices, Browning said.

"We're working on lots of fundamentals," Browning said. "Last week we were very ugly. Now we're still ugly, but we'll get pretty sooner or later. We lost some very good seniors."

Whom those linemen will be protecting is also a mystery. Freshman Brad Wyatt, who started for the junior varsity, will compete at quarterback with varsity back-up Whitten and newcomer Gabe Boze.

"(Boze) has an outstanding arm," Browning said. "We plucked him out of physical education class, but he will be a senior with no experience. That is a downfall. We know that, but he does have ability."

Boze may become at least the back-up by default if Whitten's speed is deemed better applied elsewhere.

"Ozzie may end up being our best wide receiver," Browning said.

Browning said all the personnel changes could prompt slight adjustments in his offensive and defensive systems. Brown figures to get a tremendous number of carries as the senior returner on offense, and after scoring 11 touchdowns last season.

"We're going to plug people in," Browning said. "I'll adjust the offense and defense as I deem necessary. I don't foresee any major changes. I'm sure there may be some subtle changes."

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