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County welcomes newest member

Alonso coach John Fontes knows the first-year school has a long road ahead of it.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001

TAMPA -- It all starts here.

This field of dreams is disheveled with thick, spotty grass and crooked lines. Mosquitoes constantly nip at you. There are no goal posts, but a pair of nearby trees suffices for field goal practice.

There are more than 90 players, most with no football experience and few with much life experience. No seniors, just a collaboration of freshman, sophomores and very few juniors. They must be taught how to put on their uniforms and how to play the game. Ten games to be exact, all on the road because there is no stadium.

Welcome to Football 101, Ravens style.

Your professor for this ground-breaking course is John Fontes. It's his job to carry the load as Alonso becomes Hillsborough County's 25th football-playing school.

Fontes, a former assistant coach with the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings, will wear many hats this year: teacher, organizer, leader, coach and even trainer.

"I haven't lost my touch," Fontes said as he wrapped the left shoulder of junior Phil Nelson using a technique he learned when he started coaching in 1973 at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High.

Before practice even begins on this day, he will help ice another player's knee, tell some players how to get to the field, enforce a dress code and make sure the water cooler is full.

"This is ground absolute zero," Fontes said. "What we are looking for is to build a foundation like building a home.

"We have to teach them how to line up, how to get in a stance, how to take on blocks, how to read, how to react, where to go on the field. We're not where we need to be right now.

But we're a thousand miles from where we started, and we've got a million miles to go."

OFFENSE: When Fontes returned to Tampa from Minnesota, one of the first things he did was scout some spring jamborees.

After watching established teams like Hillsborough, Jefferson and Chamberlain, he quickly realized what it would take to compete. "We're going to have to control the football," he said. "That's what's going to win you games."

So expect the Ravens to run, and expect Nelson, a fullback, and running back John Forbes to get the ball a lot.

Chris Depin will anchor the line at center while sophomore Tim Goodrich has impressed Fontes enough to get the nod at quarterback.

DEFENSE: Fontes talks of a two-year plan, which is good because in his first year, he will have a lot of two-way players.

Depin, Forbes, Goodrich and Nelson will go both ways. The rest of the holes will be filled by what Fontes called "big, young kids."

Fontes remains optimistic because more than half of the squad attended his nine-week summer program of weight lifting and conditioning. The program was the same one he used for the Vikings and Lions.

"The mental frame of mind is the first thing I wanted, and I got it," Fontes said. "Now we just need time, and time is what we have.

"If I can keep them in the program, in two years, they have a chance to be pretty special."

SPECIAL TEAMS: Fontes couldn't pinpoint anybody who will handle the kicking and punting.

"We're trying to find some kickers right now. That's one of the things we've had some shortcomings with," he said.

"We've gone and looked at the boys and girls soccer teams, put a memo out. And we haven't been able to find a kicker to come on out."


COACH: John Fontes, first season

ASSISTANTS: Earl Clarke, Ray DiPompo, Lee Meitzler, John Moore, Thomas Payne, David Price

COLORS: Navy blue, gold and white

CLASS: 5A, District 6



SEPT. 7, SICKLES: The Ravens begin the season with Blake, a playoff team from a year ago, making Week 2 their biggest game. Alonso meets Sickles, which could evolve into a nice little rivalry. Nevermind the fact this could be Alonso's best chance to pick up a win this season.

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