A strong offense, defense and special teams could combine to propel Hillsborough to a run for the state championship.
By RICK GERSHMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
TAMPA -- According to Hillsborough coach Earl Garcia, 2000 was a rebuilding year.
Leave it to the Terriers to go undefeated through the regular season. Garcia doesn't consider 2001 to be a rebuilding year, so you can only imagine what the Terriers have in store for opponents.
"We think this year, we could be pretty good," the coach said.
If he's right, by Hillsborough's high standards (its regular-season win streak stands at 21) the Terriers could compete for the state title.
They have come as close as state runner-up in 1996. Last year's run ended with a 28-20 loss to Bradenton Manatee in the second round.
This year, Garcia has a ton of talent at the skill positions and considers this one of his fastest teams ever.
The sole sour note: Standout senior running back/linebacker Elijah Dukes will not play the first three games of the season for disciplinary reasons.
Garcia declined to elaborate but said Dukes is on the right path now.
"He's doing great out there," Garcia said.
"He's doing everything we ask of him and more."
Dukes' absence won't affect Hillsborough's playoff chances because the team doesn't begin its district schedule until Week 4.
OFFENSE: Hillsborough is loaded even with Dukes on the sidelines.
Junior fullback Ronnie McCullough returns after a stellar sophomore year, and the Terriers finally get to play dominating running back Arteis Brown, who transferred from Jefferson last year but was academically ineligible.
Quarterback Ian MacAlister has a great touch on the deep ball, Garcia said.
And he has plenty of speedy targets, including Ryan Kuruc, Rafael Briggs, Ricky Johnson, Marlon Wood and Harvey Lester. Preston Nicholson, a sophomore, and freshman standout O.J. Murdock also have the wheels to stretch defenses.
Justin Patterson is at tight end, one of five starters returning to the offensive line. Antonio Harris and Kenny Hamilton are three-year starters.
Ruben Manzueta and Joshua Gravitt are two-year starters.
DEFENSE: Teams that get deep in the playoffs are dominant on defense, Garcia said, and the Terriers look strong again. Senior Greg Robinson is new to the squad but looks strong at nose guard in Hillsborough's 3-4 defense.
Justin Turner and George Shivers are the tackles.
Though Hillsborough graduated one of its top linebackers, Andra Hoston, this is still a strength with a ton of talent returning.
Dukes, McCullough and Ben Abernethy lead a veteran crew and are joined by Brown, Tommy Reed, Wayne Ferrell and C.J. Mendez.
Garcia said his secondary could be as good or better than the '99 squad that was considered one of the best in the state.
Johnson, who had eight interceptions last year, returns at safety.
He's joined by Vernon Daniels, already a veteran in his sophomore year, and John Holley.
Wood, Briggs and Marques Trigg will cover the corners along with speedy freshman Stephan Knight.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Andrew Colborne is adding punting to his duties this year, and Garcia believes he has another top talent here. Wood, Johnson and Murdock provide breakaway ability on returns.
COACH: Earl Garcia, ninth season (79-15, 112-52 in 16th season overall)
ASSISTANTS: Miles Bilinski, Frank Emanuel, Dean Eychner, Johnny Green, Vernon Henderson, Steve Longfellow, Chuck McLeod, J.R. Reed, Charles Roberts, Ken Russell
COLORS: Red, black and white
STADIUM: Marcelino "Chelo" Huerta Field, 5000 Central Ave., Tampa
CLASS: 5A, District 6
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1968, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000
LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Punta Gorda Charlotte 45-27, lost to Bradenton Manatee 28-20
OCT. 26, CHAMBERLAIN: Any time you get Earl Garcia and Billy Turner on the same field, it's going to be a good game. When there's a chance the game will have playoff implications, it is that much bigger. This being the last district game of the season for Hillsborough means nothing will be left on the table.