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Battle for starting spot expands

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- River Ridge coach Mike DeGennaro has found an inside linebacker to replace the Sunshine Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

It's the other inside linebacker vacancy that has the coach in a quandary. To make matters more confusing, another candidate emerged after Wednesday's Purple/Silver scrimmage at the James Valentine Athletic Complex.

Alan Minichino is the heir apparent to Chris Robinson, who signed with the University of Virginia-College at Wise after leading county tacklers last season with 59 stops and 59 assists.

That leaves one opening in the Royal Knights' 5-2 defensive front. Anthony Daugherty and Michael Dix have spent spring practice battling for the position occupied last season by Jeff Janus, but Harrison Nix has made it a three-way competition. "He played well enough (Wednesday night) that he's now in the mix," DeGennaro said of Nix, a senior who decided to come out for football for the first time.

While Minichino has some big shoes to fill, he's off to a pretty good start. As a junior varsity player, Minichino called the defensive alignments. This spring, he won a conference weightlifting championship. "He's up to the challenge," DeGennaro said. "He's hungry, he's just raw."

Another tackler who made an impression on DeGennaro in Wednesday's scrimmage was outside linebacker John Gilmore, who tackled quarterback Tim Dare for a safety and raced across the field to haul down running back Joe Dahmen.

Gilmore, heralded as the fastest sprinter in the county, was just as effective on offense. He ran for two of the Silver team's three touchdowns.

"Once John gets into the open field, I don't think there's anyone who can run him down," DeGennaro said.

DARE AT THE CONTROLS: DeGennaro anticipates a breakout season for the Knights quarterback, who turned in a mediocre season (616 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, 8 interceptions) in his first year as the starter.

"He's a lot smarter and he's a lot stronger," the coach said of Dare, who like Minichino, also won a conference weightlifting title this spring.

"I think he's seeing the field much better. We're expecting a lot out of him."

IN DARE'S SIGHTS: Dare's primary targets this season will be wing back Jesse Hoolihan and wideouts Jarred Tzoucalis and Chris Malone. DeGennaro had good things to say about that trio after the scrimmage, especially Hoolihan.

"He does it all for us," the coach said of Hoolihan, who last season had 3 touchdowns, 157 rushing yards and 124 receiving yards. "Anywhere we ask him to play, he can play.

"He's got great hands and he can block."

Tzoucalis, a basketball player, took advantage of his height (6-foot-2) Wednesday to make two catches above defenders.

Malone, DeGennaro noted, is "not the biggest; he's not the fastest. He just loves the game. He brings a ton of heart."

Following three weeks of football practice, DeGennaro enters his second year as the River Ridge coach satisfied with his team. He cited high attendance in the weight room and hard work on the field as reasons for optimism.

"I'm happy with what I've seen," DeGennaro said. "There was a lot of good hitting; a lot of good running."

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