By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- With the sugarcoating removed, things looked pretty embarrassing for Northside Christian at times last season.
Coming off of a 5-4 campaign, the Mustangs fell to 2-8. And not a "good" 2-8.
There was a 69-0 loss to Admiral Farragut, which was matched by a 69-0 dumping by Fort Meade. There also was a 56-14 loss to Temple Heights. All of which came after a 2-1 start.
Okay, state runner-up Fort Meade destroyed everyone in the district, and Farragut had its dream season last year. Still, things were tough for the Mustangs. With a roster of about 17 players, Northside wore down as the season progressed.
Coach Bob Dare promises things will improve. The numbers are up slightly, to 20 players. And while eight or nine still will play both ways, Dare said the team is better.
"We return a good nucleus from last year," Dare said. "We're bigger, stronger and faster. We're just not that much deeper. We will be more competitive. I know that."
Thankfully, powerhouse Fort Meade is no longer in the district, which gives the Mustangs -- and everybody else -- a chance.
"We got pushed around last season. In some games, we weren't competitive," Dare said. "This year, we're going to try to push back. We're trying to turn it around and surprise some people.
"I am optimistic."
THROUGH THE AIR: Departed quarterback Bobby Long battled injuries throughout last season that contributed to the lethargic offense. Junior David Dare, the coach's son, takes over.
"We're definitely looking to spread the field more," coach Dare said. "We've got more team speed, and we want to use it. We're shooting for 50-50 (run-pass balance)."
The top targets for David Dare, who has started at safety since he was a freshman, are sophomore P.K. Keller, senior Brandon Hartz, sophomore Todd Wilkerson and senior Nick Allen.
ON THE GROUND: The top three rushers from last season, 6-foot, 205-pound senior Matt Daniels, 5-9, 185-pound senior Ryan Gabrici and junior Lauren Ciovacco, are back, and Dare said they are improved.
Leading the way on the line are juniors Brian Rose (5-10, 180) and Jason Kruck (5-9, 220).
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! It's a little bigger, and Dare said it also is a little tougher. Don't expect any 60-plus point games this season.
But there's no rest for the weary with only 20 players. Gabrici and Daniels also will play defensive end, and Kruck and Rose will join them on the line.
Ciovacco will play inside linebacker alongside Jared Cole, who doubles as the center. Hartz and Dare will pull double-duty in the secondary along with some of the other receivers.
Basketball player Lance Skipper will play somewhere.
JUST FOR KICKS: Daniels and Keller return to kick and punt, respectively.
COACH: Bob Dare, 13th season of second term (67-52 in second term, 73-58 overall)
ASSISTANTS: Mark Ackerman, Darrell Don, Rich Kelly, Chris Wilmington
COLORS: Royal blue and white
STADIUM: Brandes-Russell Field, 7777 62nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg
CLASS: A, District 8
ROUND OF 32: 1997 (2A)
ROUND OF 16: 1996 (2A)
QUARTERFINALS: 1989 (A)
SEMIFINALS: 1986 (A)