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Bulldogs need to stay healthy to contend

There are many talented players, but most play two ways, so injuries could be a problem.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Tom Fisher doesn't say much.

He says even less to sports writers. Not exactly a revelation to those who know the Zephyrhills coach best. His innermost football thoughts, feelings and strategies stay with him and his staff.

Instead, he lets his team do his talking for him.

Last season, the Bulldogs spoke loud and clear.

Zephyrhills was the most competitive county team in a Hillsborough County-dominated district, giving Jefferson, Jesuit and Robinson fits.

A heartbreaking home loss to hated rival Pasco kept Zephyrhills out of the playoffs. But in the thriller of 2000, Zephyrhills unseated the county's reigning king, Land O'Lakes, seized the Sunshine Athletic Conference title and at 5-5 avoided a third consecutive losing season.

So what's the prognosis this year, coach?

"Barring a rash of injuries," Fisher said. "I think we'll be very competitive this year."

Not much to chew on. So, to translate: Zephyrhills wants to win it all, and might have the talent, but not the depth, to do so.

Any discussion of Bulldog talent starts with Michael Moody, likely the county's top running back.

Moody rushed for 1,139 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, had 38 tackles and two interceptions at safety, and the fleet-footed 5-foot-10, 165-pound Moody has gotten better and stronger.

"I think all our opponents are going to have to respect his ability, his quickness, his speed, what he's done in the past," Fisher said, "and he's going to be even better this year."

Justin Cobb and transfer Jordan Thacker are the options at fullback.

Transfer James Adamo gives Zephyrhills a 6-3, 220-pound, cannon-armed, pocket-passing quarterback. Offensive coordinator Chris Bounnell believes Adamo has Division-I potential, but this will be the junior's first varsity season. Keith Ostermann is his very mobile and much-improved backup.

Veteran center Shane Hand, right guard Jamen Monbarren and left tackle Zach Zeigler return to anchor the offensive line. Daniel Cerf is the new starter at left guard, and Nick Maxwell is leading the race at right tackle. Adding depth to guard is Bubba Tindale, as does Derek Wallace to tackle.

Justin Whitworth is the most experienced and reliable wideout. But a new crop of talented, speedy and raw receivers -- Shawn Stewart, Tony Smiley, Kyle Briscoe, Chris McMillan and Sidney Williams -- make it the deepest position on the team.

A.J. Devonshire gives the team another speedy option on offense, but defense was his forte last season. Fisher believes he was the best outside linebacker in the county until he ran into disciplinary trouble.

Devonshire will be a force on both sides of the ball -- if he chooses to be.

Cerf and Hand will rotate at defensive tackle, where newcomer Doug Burden, a standout junior varsity linebacker, is an intriguing addition. Just 5-7, 150 pounds, the coaching staff wants to try out Burden's quickness on the line. Paul and Nick Maxwell rotate at end. Returning starter Whitworth is a playmaking, pass-rushing force, collecting nine sacks in 2000.

There's little experience at inside linebacker, where Thacker and Sokol will start. Marco Perez and McMillan join Devonshire at outside linebacker.

The defensive backfield will feature Stewart, Smiley, Briscoe and Moody.

But they all play offense, too. Which means depth is again a factor at Bulldog Stadium. So will the schedule; key district games against Hernando, Pasco and Wesley Chapel are on the road.

There's something else that concerns Fisher. Attitude. Discipline. Composure.

On the eve of the 2000 Land O'Lakes meeting, Fisher suspended three key starters, including Devonshire, for various reasons.

"Last year we won games and we had a lot of turmoil, internal and external, as far as player discipline," the coach said. "We lost some key players and we won despite not having them, and it showed the kind of character our kids had."

So, what winning formula will bring a district title and playoff berth back to Zephyrhills?

Fisher put it best, if succinctly:

"It comes down to attitude," he said, "and health."

AT A GLANCE

COLORS: Black and orange

CLASS: Class 3A, District 7

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1989, 1993, 1995, 1997

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: Beat Crystal River 7-0, lost to Gainesville Eastside 24-0

HEAD COACH: Tom Fisher (13th season, 71-54)

ASSISTANTS: Chris Bounnell (offensive coordinator); Ron Hardin (offensive backs); Troy Hochstetler (defensive backs); Brian Matthews (offensive line); Stephen McCloud (tight ends/defensive ends); Matt McDermott (wide recievers/defensive line)

DIRECTIONS BULLDOG STADIUM: 6335 12th St., Zephyrhills. From the west, take S.R. 54 east to Gall Boulevard and turn north. The school is 2 miles on the left. From the south and north, take Interstate 75 to S.R. 54, turn east and follow above directions.

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