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Lions bring back lots of experience

King looks to return to the playoffs with the help of its talented sophomore class.

By JEREMY RASMUSSEN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


TAMPA -- Before it could practice this fall, the Lions had to battle the forces of nature.

First, woodpeckers nested in the light poles of King's stadium, and the poles were condemned by the Hillsborough County school district.

TECO came to the rescue with interim poles. Otherwise, the Lions would have had to play all of their games on the road.

Next, coaches and players heard a low growling from the equipment shed. Wild dogs had taken up residence and had to be removed by the Humane Society.

"I was trying to see who our toughest guy was," coach Joe Severino said jokingly. "Who would go in and get the equipment?"

Anyway, now that mother nature has been taken care of at King, Severino said he's more ready to deal with his talented group of returners.

King started several freshmen last year, including quarterback Marquis McCullough, running back Raymond Neal and center Kyle Salman.

This year, Severino should have a super sophomore class with a little senior leadership thrown in.

"I think we have a chance to be better," Severino said.

"We're lucky that we have a lot of players returning, and they have knowledge of what we want to do here. Right now, we're way ahead of where we were last year."

Last season, Severino and his staff came in and took the Lions to the second round of the playoffs. This year, King has moved up a classification but plays many of the same teams. So barring any other acts of nature, the Lions could have another good year.

OFFENSE: While King's Wing-T offense was mostly run-oriented last season, it showed it could throw as well in its 21-14 playoff loss to Seminole. McCullough passed for 243 yards, and Neal had touchdown receptions of 75 and 53 yards.

"(Neal) is a phenomenal player," Severino said. "He can mix it up. We can run and throw with him."

Neal will not be the only option. Small but speedy, J.R. Courtney will get a lot of carries at wingback.

And Brian Bentley and Charleston Coney will play fullback.

The offensive line is big, averaging 265 pounds. Anchoring the line at left tackle is 6-foot-5, 340-pound Chris Hutchins. Salmon, Fedell Jackson, Bjar Atkins, Armand Overstreet and Chris Brevi also return.

DEFENSE: The defense is not as big. Coordinator Jim Gee said it will rely primarily on its speed.

The linebacking corps features some tough hitters, including Brevi, Drew Akinpelu, Delton Griffin and Kenny Hair. In last year's 10-7 playoff win, the Lions held high-powered Auburndale to a season-low 83 yards while Akinpelu tallied 15 tackles.

"Drew was just an unstoppable force in that game," Severino said. "He's a good-looking athlete.

"He's not big, just muscular. He's like a guided missile out there."

The secondary also will be a veteran group, led by safety Mike Brewster, who had nine interceptions last year. James Hopkins returns at the other safety position.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Harry Kayian has been coaching with Severino since 1983. Kayian also runs the nationally recognized Kayian's Specialists Camp, schooling kickers and punters. Under the tutelage of Kayian, Donald Brauner appears to have the placekicking and punting jobs won. But soccer standout Toyian Phillips might challenge for the jobs.

Neal and Courtney will share punt and kickoff return duty.

KING LIONS AT A GLANCE

COACH: Joe Severino, second season (8-4, 50-46 in 10th season overall)

ASSISTANTS: Eric Brooks, Jim Gee, Orlando Gudes, Steve Myers, Ray Rairigh, Robert Schaller

COLORS: Columbia blue and scarlet

STADIUM: Bill Stewart Stadium, 6815 N 56th St., Tampa

CLASS: 5A, District 6

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1972, 1976, 1978, 1981, 2000

LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Auburndale 10-7, lost to Seminole 21-14

THE BIG GAME

OCT. 18, CHAMBERLAIN: This could be the biggest game of the year for King because it might be able to clinch a playoff spot. The fact it would come against the Chiefs, one of Coach Severino's rivals from his days at Gaither, is even better. This also is the third of four consecutive district games for the Lions.

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