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Rams' void not an easy one to fill


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001

Wayne Parzik didn't go so far as to call it the worst spring of his football coaching life, but there was no denying a pall was cast over spring drills this year at Ridgewood after the April death of James Priest, the expected starter at quarterback.

"We haven't shaken it off yet," Parzik admitted.

But Parzik lauded his team for coming together in spite of the tragedy.

"I've seen more enthusiasm going into the summer than I've seen since I've been at school," he said. "It's a culmination of things. I think the kids realize we've finally turned the corner and we can be successful. And the death of James ... the positive side is I think it helped unify the team. Some kids go through life and take it a little lackadaisical, like they are going to go on forever. What happened to James was a real shock and brought everyone down to earth."

This season, the Rams will honor Priest, who died April 13 from injuries suffered in an April 3 accident on U.S. 19 in New Port Richey, by wearing his No. 7 on the dress shirts they wear to school on game days, as well as on their helmets. And this spring, no one used the first locker in the first row of the locker room, a tribute to a fallen teammate.

DRAFT DAY: Parzik and his staff had a little fun with their Orange and White scrimmage by conducting a draft to decide teams for Thursday's contest.

With coaches Pete Marin, John Luoma and Ricky Ladimir running the White team and Troy Cornwell, Sean Davis and Tony Gentile in charge of the Orange team, Parzik was left to concentrate on watching both.

"I thought our quarterbacks did well and so did our backfield," he said. "I was pleased, overall."

For the record, the Orange team won 14-12.

NO STARTER: Parzik didn't expect a starter to emerge at quarterback, and one didn't. But he did stress that he was pleased with several aspects of Kale Durocher and Jonathan Emminger.

"The thing is, we didn't really think we'd find a definite starter in the spring and didn't want to put that kind of pressure on the kids. Both the quarterbacks did well considering they never played that position."

Emminger was a tight end and defensive end last year, while Durocher has played in the backfield.

FAMILIAR RICKY: Ladimir worked with the Rams staff this spring, a potential precursor to him joining the staff when he earns his teaching degree from Newberry College.

Ladimir played running back for Hudson when Cornwell was the offensive coordinator there, and led the county in rushing two consecutive seasons (1995-96). He worked with the Rams receivers this spring and will also help out during the summer, and Parzik thinks he has a future in coaching.

"Part of the long-term plan would be to get him here," Parzik said. "He did such a nice job in the spring, if we can somehow get him on staff. He's a very likable young man and a hard worker, and he has very good football knowledge for a young man."

STANDOUTS: Parzik cited Bobby Shields, Chase DeCubellis, Brandon Presley and Robbie Coghlan for having exceptional springs.

Shields had a great Orange and White game at guard and defensive end, and DeCubellis shone at center and defensive tackle.

Presley looked good at running back, having played there and at quarterback last year for the varsity in a limited role.

However, Coghlan, a rising senior running back, impressed Parzik the most with his leadership and determination. Parzik said Coghlan helped bring the team together following the death of Priest.

"It was probably the best spring I've seen in a long time as far as senior leadership is concerned," Parzik said. "Coghlan was one of those leaders.

"I really don't think we have the outstanding talent we had last year but some of the kids that we have have good talent and I like the attitude. It was a fun spring."

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