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Gryphons want to forget history

Sickles' new coach, Pat O'Brien, has revamped many aspects of the program.

By MIKE READLING

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


TAMPA -- The theme at Sickles this year is "The Past Has Never Happened."

As far as the players and coaches are concerned, there was no 14-game losing streak. And the fact that they spent all summer looking forward to playing Wharton on opening night (they actually play Jefferson thanks to some schedule rearranging two weeks before the season started) is irrelevant.

When the Gryphons hit the field Aug. 31, it will mark the start of a new season in more ways than one.

"I know it sounds generic, but our biggest concern right now is taking it one game at a time," first-year coach Pat O'Brien said.

The theory will kick in that very first week, when Jefferson shows up at the Gryphons Lair instead of crosstown rival and annual Times Cup combatant Wharton.

The Wildcats were dropped when Jefferson moved up two classifications, joining Sickles in Class 4A, District 8. The fallout from that is far more wide-ranging than the fact the Times Cup, which Sickles earned with its streak-breaking win last season, will stay in the Gryphons' possession for at least two more years.

"All summer long, we focused on Wharton with the kids," O'Brien said. "We had the Times Cup in the weight room. We showed them videos, put signs and posters up reminding them of the first game. We've just been on the kids that this is what our goal is.

"We were preaching it. The kids started living it. And then two weeks before it happened, it changed."

But change at Sickles has been a constant during the past year.

O'Brien moved up from his defensive coordinator post, which he occupied for four years, to take over for his brother, Shannon. The team itself has returned from the summer stronger and faster, and O'Brien has revamped his staff, adding several new coaches.

One thing that hasn't changed much is the roster. Most of the players are entering their third or fourth season in the green and white jerseys, and thanks in part to struggles during the past couple of years, many of them have plenty of game experience.

"It's good that we're going into the season knowing the kids," O'Brien said. "It's not like there's a lot of getting acquainted that has to take place. We're excited about that."

OFFENSE: Sickles will go from a wide-open, spread-everybody-out-and-let-it-fly offense to a more conservative offense; even though that pains O'Brien, a former quarterback at Maryville College.

Leading the way will be junior Aaron Maguregui, a tall, rangy type who was a backup for the junior varsity last year. Pat Carr, who played next to Maguregui last season, will pressure him for time.

Bryan Dalton, who was moved all over the field last season in an effort to get the ball into his hands, will line up as the lone running back and be the No. 1 weapon in an attempt to establish the run.

"We're trying to teach our kids how to come off the ball and run block," O'Brien said. "We ain't going to be spreading out, shotgun, no-huddle anymore. That's not us."

DEFENSE: O'Brien is expecting to field the fastest all-around defense Sickles has ever seen. That despite the fact five or more of the players will play both ways.

Three-year starter Ron Prelow will anchor the linebacking corps along with sophomore Brandon Hart. Karl Harmon will be one of the standouts in the secondary.

The defensive scheme will evolve into more of a 50-Slant formation similar to that of Riverview's as the Gryphons try to clamp down on their opponents.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Gryphons got a kicker! After searching for nearly four years to find someone to split the uprights and using a 300-pound plus lineman during the spring, O'Brien enlisted Evan Trumball, set him up with a personal trainer and kicking coach and created a kicker.

Trumball has responded by becoming "very accurate" from 45 yards and in. The junior also will handle the punting duties.

SICKLES GRYPHONS AT A GLANCE

COACH: Pat O'Brien, first season

ASSISTANTS: Steve Brockman, Chuck Cotton, John Diehl, Travis Hall, Mark Key, Travis McGinnis, Tom Walt

COLORS: Green and white

STADIUM: Gryphons' Lair, 7950 Gunn Highway, Tampa

CLASS: 4A, District 8

PLAYOFF HISTORY: None

THE BIG GAME

OCT. 5, GAITHER: You don't think this is going to be big? They played this on opening night last year, and Sickles had to shut the gates to keep people out after filling the stadium. Fire inspectors, break out your counters. This could come close.

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