By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000
Wednesday was Countryside's 28th football practice this fall.
Today, the Cougars finally get to hit somebody besides themselves.
About half of Pinellas County's football teams will play in preseason jamborees or classics today, and the rest will play Friday. In other words, 18 days after commencing fall drills, the players at last get to crack pads with a real opponent instead of a teammate or a simulated opponent.
"It's big," said Countryside coach Joe Ionata, whose team hosts St. Petersburg in the second half of a jamboree tonight, with Tarpon Springs and Largo playing the first half. "We've had 28 practices already. It's fun to finally get out and hit somebody different, and I'm sure every team feels that way."
For the coaches, this is a chance to evaluate how the team functions in a real game situation.
"We're using this as our first scrimmage. We're so thin this year, we haven't even been able to scrimmage," said Ionata, who recently added a few players and now has 30 on the roster.
Sept. 1 is opening night, so with this as the only preseason game, the players will be going full-throttle.
"No holding back. They have to get used to it," Ionata said.
However, a portion of the playbook could be withheld.
"We're not going to show everything in our bag of tricks," Dixie Hollins coach Mike Morey said. "For me, this is practice with an audience. It definitely makes it more exciting for the kids, but our main purpose is to prepare for (the first game against) Clearwater."
There are various ways to structure the preseason game. Some teams opt for jamboree quarters. For example, Lakewood, Palm Harbor and Pinellas Park will play a quarter against each other at Lakewood tonight. Some, like Countryside, play halves. And others play full games, or classics.
"I like the halves because with the quarters, you have to prepare for two teams and you get no momentum. You stop and then play another quarter against a different team," Ionata said. "And a full game is just a little too much."
Dixie Hollins travels to Jesuit tonight for a classic. However, the teams will be playing varsity for the first half and junior varsity for the second.
Morey said there's an additional purpose for going all the way to Tampa to play instead of meeting a south county opponent: money.
"That's why Clearwater goes across the bridge for classics (Friday, the Tornadoes are at Bradenton Manatee). In Pinellas County, you don't get the crowds and money," Morey said. "We're getting $750. You don't get that much in the county. And with it split between varsity and JV, it's like a jamboree."
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! That's the chant for this game. Both teams have the ability to stop each other thanks to an unyielding pair of linebackers -- Chris Fairchild and Chris Robinson. Fairchild was the Falcons' leading tackler last season. Robinson is a hard-hitter for the Royal Knights who has received interest from Division I schools.
Better make sure the lights work on the scoreboard. On offense, these teams got skill. Skill players that is. The Marauders are led by quarterback Jay Davis and receiver Marcus Edwards, both highly rated players. The Warhawks counter with quarterback D'Quell Jackson and versatile athletes Donyelle Williams, Dequrez Gulley and Justin Lumpkin.
The Spongers play the Packers in the first half, and the Green Devils play the host Cougars in the second. Rick Rodriguez is in his first season as Largo coach, and he has his players talking about a playoff berth. The Packers get their first test against Tarpon Springs, a team that has been there two out of the past three seasons. In the other half, St. Petersburg and Countryside will try to leave behind a long month of practices on a positive note.
An intriguing matchup between a south Pinellas public school and Hillsborough County's leading private school program. Jesuit lost a lot to graduation for the second consecutive year, but the Tigers are always stocked with Division I talent. Dixie coach Mike Morey said the Rebels will get $750 for playing the game. Linebacker Melvin Teartt, the leading tackler a year ago, leads the Dixie defense.
The Hurricanes will play the Spartans in the first quarter and the Patriots in the second, and Lakewood and Pinellas Park meet in the final quarter. Palm Harbor thinks it has its best team ever and is primed for a playoff run. Pinellas Park, behind two-way terror Billy Henderson, has high hopes as well. Both will be able to gauge how good they are against Lakewood, the defending Class 3A, District 7 champion.
The Mustangs are one of four small schools in the county headed to the Orlando-area for a preseason game, and they are one of three playing at the Disney Sports Complex (Shorecrest and Indian Rocks Christian play separate games there Friday). Coach Bob Dare's team was 5-4 last season but was hit hard by graduation. Tonight, Dare will try to find some varsity players from among 12 freshmen.
-- Compiled by Pete Young and Bob Putnam