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Pirates need victories to regain respect

The absence of Hillsborough County foes on the schedule has given Pasco a new attitude and a bright outlook.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


DADE CITY -- Pasco coach Ricky Thomas knows the cure for what ails the Pirates:

Victories.

"I think what we went through those two tough seasons, it set us back a little bit, breaking our kids' confidence," he said. "We've got to try and get that back. It's nothing a couple of wins won't cure."

Indeed, for Pasco suffered as much as any county team the two years the Pirates were matched against bigger, faster and much, much better Hillsborough County foes.

The Pirates haven't won any crown or been to the postseason since 1998. The past two seasons, Pasco went 0-8 against opponents from down south, and finished no better than fifth in an eight-team district.

Losses like last season's 51-12 drubbing against Jefferson -- the first time the running clock was invoked in Pasco's storied history -- typified what the Pirates endured.

Those one-sided affairs eroded morale, discipline and effort. Nor did two high-profile offseason player defections help the rebuilding process. Only road wins against rivals Zephyrhills and Hernando salvaged a modicum of respect.

Respect. There's a word the Pirates want to start hearing in Pasco County again.

"Yeah, we're not feared anymore," quarterback Ben Alford said. "So we've got to take it game by game, and earn our respect back."

Thanks to a new schedule, a new district and a new attitude, Thomas believes Pasco might be well-positioned to do just that.

It starts with second-year starter Alford under center. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound, strong-armed junior is mobile and elusive. He isn't afraid to run with the ball when plays break down. "He looks great," Thomas said. "He's got a year under his belt, and he's very mature. He knows the offense real well. I expect big things from him."

Joe Bain's understudy last season, Marcus Allen, steps to the forefront at wideout to give Alford a speedy downfield threat. Anton Standifer has stepped up his play, and along with Thomas Hasley, Devorian Burns and Joe Howell, gives the Pirates talent and depth at wingback and tailback.

But fullback is the position Thomas is focused on, for he is convinced that 6-2, 229-pound Devon Hicks has the speed and power to dominate.

"I believe if Devon Hicks ever makes up his mind, if something ever clicks in his head, that he doesn't want to be stopped," Thomas said. "then I don't think anyone in this county is going to stop him."

But who will block?

The defection of tackle Donnie Woods to Jefferson hurt.

Defensive tackle Bobby Benson will replace Woods, moving to right offensive tackle. At right guard is Jose Romaniz. Starter Scott Geidest is back at center. Defensive end Kirk Moats will start at left guard. Sean Peterson didn't play last season, but will be thrown into the fire at left tackle.

It is the defense's swarming, hard-hitting practice sessions, however, that really have the coaches' attention. Swift nose guard Bruce Simon is back after sitting out a year because of grades, joining tackles Maurice Standifer and Tamonjamine Williams. Returning ends Garion Pope and Moats are solid.

Howell has experience at middle linebacker, while Tim Jackson and Hicks will see time at outside linebacker. Standifer returns to cornerback, joined by Hasley and Burns. Allen will man the safety spot in the 5-3 scheme.

But while the scheduled opponents appear favorable, the schedule itself is not. The Pirates have just four home games, and three of those are against Land O'Lakes, River Ridge and Zephyrhills.

Depth is much improved, and Thomas believes this is his fastest team since the '98 squad. Which is why the Pirates' swagger of old is starting to rear its head. "We feel this year the playing field is leveled," Thomas said, "and any time the playing field is leveled, we have a chance."

AT A GLANCE

COLORS: Black and red

CLASS: Class 3A, District 7

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1977, 1983, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998

LAST APPEARANCE: Defeated Citrus 38-21, lost to Alachua Santa Fe 42-20

HEAD COACH: Ricky Thomas (sixth season, 33-19)

ASSISTANTS: Joseph Brown (head junior varsity coach/offensive line coach); Jeff Bush (quarterback coach/receivers/defensive backs); Patrick Durden (defensive backs/receivers); Ricky Giles (defensive coordinator); Michael Penix (running backs coach); Jim Ward (special teams)

DIRECTIONS W.F. EDWARDS STADIUM: From the west, take S.R. 52 east about 25 miles. The school is on the right. From the south and north, take I-75 to S.R. 52 and head east. School is 5 miles on the right.

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