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Falcons look to build on last season

After a 5-5 debut, Riverhills Christian, with only 17 players, will play a district schedule.

By BILL BLITMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001


After a 5-5 debut, Riverhills Christian, with only 17 players, will play a district schedule.

TAMPA -- With an enrollment of only 32, Riverhills Christian is the smallest school in the state to field a team.

But the Falcons also are a team without a field. Without the financial support of the school board, the team must raise its own money to play its games at the Dover Cowboy Complex.

And although that seems like a tough challenge, coach Mark Howlett does not foresee it as a problem for his players, all 17 of them.

"We've prepared the team to play football on Friday nights," he said. "If it is home or away, I don't think that really matters at our level of high school football.

"On our level, when you draw anywhere from 50 to 70 people a game, it does not really create a 12th man. They will be ready to play at home or on the road."

In their inaugural season, the Falcons started 0-4 and lost their starting quarterback for disciplinary reasons before rebounding to finish 5-5.

However, joining Class A, District 7 means the Falcons will face established programs like Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic and small-school power Fort Meade.

"I believe that we can win a few games," Howlett said. "We are going in small and playing young. We are not backing down from any challenges. We are playing some teams that we should outplay (or be) evenly drawn with us. You don't get any better unless you face teams at the next level."

Last season, the Falcons focused their attack around the athletic talents of Julius Smith.

But this year, Howlett said he would no longer be the focal point of the offense and defense.

"We don't want to be a one-dimensional team," he said. "We want to be a balanced attack.

"If (Julius) gets double- and triple-teamed, we want other guys to step up."

OFFENSE: With only 17 players, there is sure to be a lot of experimentation. The offensive line does have two returning starters, including Alonzo Rogers.

"The front four or five guys will be going both ways except for one player," Howlett said. "We are going to have to be strategic in our breaks to give everyone a rest."

Junior quarterback Albert Daniels is new to the team and will learn the system while sophomore Luke Easterling sees the majority of the snaps at the beginning of the year. "I will be flip-flopping (quarterbacks) like Steve Spurrier," Howlett said. The two running backs and two receivers saw playing time last year but are new to their positions. DEFENSE: With two returning players on the defensive line, Rogers will move from tackle to end to help the thin group utilize its speed.

A bright spot is the defensive backs, where Howlett believes it has some more speed.

"Teams that throw on us will play into our hands," he said. "Those are the teams that we will be able to play with.

"I am allowing the defensive backs to cover their men and step up to help stop the run. With our linemen going both ways, we will need them to help."

SPECIAL TEAMS: The placekicking job is still open, but several players have been working on their kicking. Although he doesn't foresee any 50-yard field goals, Howlett said the team should be able to make extra points and short field goals.

RIVERHILLS CHRISTIAN FALCONS AT A GLANCE

COACH: Mark Howlett, second season (5-5)

ASSISTANTS: Conrad Foss

COLORS: Royal silver and white

STADIUM: Dover Cowboy Complex, 2710 Gallagher Road, Dover

CLASS: A, District 7

PLAYOFF HISTORY: None

THE BIG GAME

OCT. 5, TEMPLE HEIGHTS: Riverhills made its debut in 11-man football last season, playing against teams like Orlando Master's Academy and Orlando West Oaks. A little legitimacy will be added to the program this year as the Falcons take on the county's other small-school team, Temple Heights. This is a game that could lead to a big rivalry in the future.

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