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Eagle excels at being elusive

Springstead senior running back Steve Garofano learned at an early age the benefits of being hard to tackle.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Steve Garofano is looking to build on his performance in last season’s final game. That night against Eustis, Garofano ran for a 55-yard touchdown, recovered an onsides kick and intercepted a pass to clinch the Eagles’ victory.
SPRING HILL -- Years of experience have taught Steve Garofano a simple strategy for dealing with fast-approaching linebackers in the open field: treat 'em like family.

Long before he arrived at Springstead, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior often found himself dodging older relatives in summer pickup games, which quickly taught him to be elusive.

"He was the youngest of all of them, so he always had to try a little harder," his father, Larry, said. "He couldn't run faster, so he'd devise these moves to get by them. You see it now, so when he gets a hole, he can really run."

Garofano still has relatives chasing him on a regular basis -- his brother, Mike, is an assistant coach with the Eagles, as is his second cousin, Danny. Mike, 26, said the sandlot games were never about picking on a little kid, but rather about improving yourself against bigger -- but friendly -- competition.

"Our whole family, we'd play every day of the summer, play Kill the Carrier," said Mike, a 1993 Springstead grad who played tight end and linebacker. "That helped me out, but my cousins would rough me up pretty good, and we did the same thing to Steve, too. We dropped him on his head a few times."

Entering his senior year, Garofano remembers first attending Springstead games 10 years ago, when his family would be its own cheering section for Mike's games.

"It was always exciting watching Springstead, seeing how big things were," Steve said. "It was a big event, going to Springstead every Friday night."

The same clan will be back in force this fall. "We sell a lot of tickets," said Mike, whose brother is glad to have a following in the stands.

"Pretty much all my family comes," Steve said. "My dad, my step-mom, my mother, my step-dad and usually all my cousins come, and there's eight of them. It's good to have support."

Part of that support is his brother, who first coached him when Steve was an eighth-grader at Powell Middle School. Mike works primarily with the team's linebackers and defensive ends, but he keeps an eye on a particular tailback/defensive back as well.

"It's fun to be able to pass on what I've learned from my experience, though he already knows a great deal," Mike said. "Even when we're watching the Bucs or a game on TV, we'll talk about plays and what he would need to do in certain situations."

Steve recalls that Mike noticed he was stopping his feet at first contact with a defender. Mike reminded him to keep moving even after the first would-be tackler. The dynamic between the two brothers is something their father enjoys seeing.

"I'm so proud of them and the relationship they have," said Larry, who moved to the county 28 years ago from Queens, N.Y., and works for SunTrust Bank. "I think because they're not that close in age, they've never had the bitterness that some brothers have. Steve idolizes his brother, and he wants to coach and be a teacher like his brother someday."

If Garofano can start his senior year where he left off last season, opponents are in trouble. He made three huge plays in the final two minutes of Springstead's win over Eustis, running off a 55-yard touchdown, recovering an onsides kick and intercepting a pass to clinch the Eagles' victory.

"That's pretty much the best two minutes I've ever had," said Garofano, who had nearly half of his 238 rushing yards in that breakout game.

This year, Garofano is the Eagles' most experienced back, with more than twice as many carries as the rest of the backfield combined. Coach Bill Vonada said the senior is now the kind of player opposing defenses will focus upon, but he's up to that challenge.

"He has the potential to be a game-breaker, and I think other teams will see that and think, 'We're going to try to take him out of their game plan,"' Vonada said. "Still, we're expecting a certain amount of production from him. He's a guy who can do a bunch of things for you, and he's a lot more disciplined now, more dependable, and that's huge."

Garofano is also a standout wrestler. Despite taking up the sport just two years ago, he reached the state final in Lakeland last year, losing by a single point.

Whether through football or wrestling, he'd like to continue competing at the college level, as his brother did at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri. First, he wants to make the most of his senior year. "I want to do whatever I can to help the team meet its goal of going to the playoffs," he said. "It's very exciting. Things are looking so bright for this year, coming together as a team, playing together. Hopefully we can maintain that through the season."

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