Changes everywhere and more depth might mean more success, says coach Keith Newton.
By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
NEW PORT RICHEY -- After a 1-9 season in which the Buccaneers lost their last six games by 42, 43, 37, 43, 28 and 34 points, something had to change.
Instead, just about everything did.
Gulf might lead the county in "starters who did not play varsity ball last year." Don't mistake that for youth or inexperience. Truth is, Bucs coach Keith Newton has added enough transfers and kids who just weren't interested to a team he thinks will be better than its predecessor.
It should also be deeper. With a coaching staff dominated by former Buc players able to lure prospects to the field, last year's battle to bring back the excitement at Gulf draws closer to fruition in 2001.
There are a dozen more players on the roster this year. As a result, injuries won't have quite the effect thanks to team depth, and players appear enthused about turning around a Bucs program that has never made the playoffs.
"This is the biggest squad we've had since I've been here," said Newton, entering his sixth season at Gulf. "Last year I actually felt pretty good coming out of camp but against Countryside (Game 2) we lost so many starters with injuries. Last year there was no depth though. This year we have backups and good backups."
By persuading a wrestler or two such as defensive back Keith Delgado and noseguard Trent Kennison to come out; by landing transfer defensive ends such as Clifton McLeod and Preston Mings; and by attracting quarterback Jeff Blanchette, who played Police Athletic League football last year, Newton and his staff have revamped and strengthened the Bucs.
"We have five to 10 studs that didn't even play football last year," exudes defensive coordinator Shaun Wiemer.
There is, however, no substitute for experience, so forgive Newton for not doing cartwheels. But clearly, he is excited about his team's prospects.
"Most of the new guys are fitting in pretty good," Newton said. "Overall I see us in the middle of the pack until I see how fast our inexperience catches up to us."
Though Gulf lost quarterback Paul Krisanda and top running back Sidney Gibbs, it looks strong in the backfield. Blanchette has been impressive and showed a great handle for the offense in the spring. Leading rusher Bubba Violante (281 yards) is back. He'll be joined by Texas transfer Mings, senior Kennison, Fernando Rodriguez and Kyle Holt. It's an inexperienced group but Newton thinks an upgrade over last year.
"If that group gels as well as they came along in the spring ..," Newton said.
Second-leading receiver Ryan Kaller (13 catches, 272 yards) is back, and tight end McLeod is solid.
The offensive line mirrors the rest of the team: while seniors Corey Hagar and Mike Emmons are returning starters at tackles, center Paul Guglietta last played in 1999 on junior varsity, guard Scott Burke was ineligible last year and guard Derrick Yopp saw little action.
But all of them were in on spring drills, an encouraging note for Newton, who said 95 percent of the players who practiced in May are on the roster now.
Defensively, the team needs to improve after giving up 48 points or more in four of its losses. To that end, the team has tried to put more speed at cornerback, and last year's slower defensive ends have moved to tackle, replaced by the faster Mings and McLeod. Violante and Burke are solid linebackers and big hitters, and Kaller, a do-everything player, returns as one of the safeties.
It was Kaller's two interceptions returned for touchdowns that gave Gulf its lone win last year, against Springstead. He also serves as kicker.
With the new districts and modified schedules, Newton's prediction of his team finishing in the middle of the pack might be just right..
"The schedule seems to be more in our favor this year," Wiemer said.
"We're trying to get the excitement and the discipline back. It's a totally different feeling this year. The attitude just seems more positive."
COLORS: Green and white
CLASS: Class 3A, District 7
PLAYOFF HISTORY: None
HEAD COACH: Keith Newton (26-75, 11th season)
ASSISTANTS: Mike Smith, Shaun Wiemer, Travis DeWalt, Mike Quarto, Sean Davis, Jason Birt, Dan Fagan
DIRECTIONS: DES LITTLE STADIUM: 5355 School Road, New Port Richey. From the west, take U.S. 19 to S.R. 54 and turn east. Go 3 miles to Madison Avenue, turn north and the school is 15/8 miles on the left. From the east, take U.S. 41 or Interstate 75 to S.R. 54, head west to Madison and turn north.