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Panthers go from 0-10 season to almost giddy

Hard work in the offseason, a spring jamboree victory over Central - what's next? Playoffs?

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


LECANTO -- Panthers coach Dick Slack is excited.

Players are working hard and walking tall. There is talk of a winning season and a possible playoff berth. You'd never know this is the same program that was winless last year.

"We have the potential for being a pretty good team," Slack said confidently. "We're in a tough district, but I'd say we've got as good a chance as anybody of making the playoffs."

That would be some turnaround.

In 2000, Lecanto's season went kaput early and only got worse.

It started with a couple of second-half collapses, was fueled by a few humbling routs and completely wrecked by injuries. The Panthers finished with 17 players, less than two-thirds the number they started with, and a depressing 0-10 record.

"Those kids who lived through last year grew and there was a lot of character developed," Slack said. "It's showing right now with their work ethic. We got a lot out of it. Everybody wrote us off for dead, but the guys came out and worked hard in the spring."

A change in attitude, Slack said, began not long after the 2000 season ended. It started in the weight room, where participation during winter conditioning reached an all-time high, and continued into spring practice, when roster numbers rose and so did results.

The Panthers beat Central, a team that went 7-4 last year and is expected to be strong in 2001, 14-6 in the spring jamboree.

"We didn't really worry a lot about Central in the spring," Slack said. "We worried about how good we could be. And then at the game, we just executed the way we had been executing at practice. The players weren't surprised. They pretty much expected to perform at that level. After not having success last year, it meant a lot to them to go out and dedicate themselves to working hard in the spring."

The question now: Can Lecanto's solid spring turn into a fruitful fall?

"We have the potential to be better than (the 1999) team that made the playoffs," Slack said. "It's just a matter of how hard they're going to work."

Lecanto's hopes begin with running back/linebacker Terence Hollis, a senior who was the team's top player and a Times All-Citrus/Hernando first-team pick. Junior Phil Reed, who starts at quarterback and safety, showed great improvement in the spring and is another player to watch. Joining Hollis and Reed to form what could be one of the area's better backfields are Jarvis Patterson and Jeff Yearwood.

"We're pretty squared away (on offense and defense)," Slack said. "The kids we've got are as good as anybody's."

Depth is Lecanto's major concern. Again.

The Panthers will begin the season with 30 to 32 players. Because most of their best athletes start on both sides of the ball, keeping injuries to a minimum will be crucial to the team's success. If Lecanto can stay relatively healthy and survive a schedule that has it playing six of its first seven games on the road, this could be an exciting season.

"Other than our (lack of depth), I'm very happy," Slack said. "We can be a successful team by working hard and by us staying healthy. As of now, they've all shown that they're willing to work."

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