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Falcons seek wins after big drop-off

Leto will have a young lineup as it tries to rebound from a season in which everything went wrong.

By ROD GIPSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001


Leto will have a young lineup as it tries to rebound from a season in which everything went wrong.

TAMPA -- It all seemed so easy during the first two years.

Andy Martin came to Leto in 1998 and immediately infused the program with energy. He won 15 games, and a district title and delivered the Falcons' first playoff berth since 1993. But the well ran dry.

Leto fell hard last season, going 0-10. But it was not as simple as it looked from the outside.

Injuries, academic casualties and inexperience combined to have a hand in the depths the Falcons sank to. A team with just five seniors had to deal with a depleted bench, a byproduct of a roster that shrank during the year.

Leto struggled on both sides of the ball, scoring just 45 points all season. The Falcons were shut out five times while the defense allowed an average of 31 points per game.

"We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing for us last season," Martin said. "But we learned a lot as a team. We were disappointed then, but now the kids are motivated.

"They've been motivated all summer in the weight room and in the classroom, making sure they would be eligible."

That should leave Martin with a hungry group of younger players almost guaranteed of not repeating its winless season. But at the same time, the Falcons must deal with a new and tougher district.

Leto moves from Class 4A, District 8 to 5A-6, joining Chamberlain, Gaither, Hillsborough, King, Wharton and first-year (and new neighborhood rival) Alonso. Leto might have its way with the Ravens, but in the Chiefs, Cowboys, Terriers and Lions, Leto will face playoff teams from last season.

"We're excited about it," Martin said. "It's similar to the district we won in '98. Each week will be a challenge, and we'll find out how good we are."

OFFENSE: Martin's Wing-T offense returns for a fourth season with a mostly new cast.

Junior quarterback Joey Bailey will direct the offense. After mostly playing running back a season ago, Bailey took over calling the signals for the last four games.

He played well enough to nail down the job, mainly because of a 13-completion outing against King.

Senior Travis Alexander returns at wingback while running back Walter Tate returns from ineligibility to handle the bulk of the carries.

Bailey will have tall targets in junior receivers Kevin Lin and Jayson Jesula, both 5 feet 11.

DEFENSE: Several Falcons will pull double duty, including defensive lineman Gilbert Perez.

A 6-3, 280-pounder, Perez is a three-year starter and Division I prospect. He'll be joined on the defensive line by Ricky Davis while newly eligible Colby Walker will anchor the linebackers.

Lin and Jesula will handle the cornerback slots in a secondary in which several players might see time.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Edisson Cantor, a soccer standout, joins the team as the punter and kicker.

LETO FALCONS AT A GLANCE

COACH: Andy Martin, fourth season (15-18) ASSISTANTS: Bruno Frauenfeld, Denny Haywood, Scott Hoffman, Tom Martin, Kent Underwood

COLORS: Gold, red and white

STADIUM: Falcon Stadium, 4409 W Sligh Ave., Tampa

CLASS: 5A, District 6

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1991, 1993, 1998, 1999

LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Lake Region 41-8, lost to Auburndale 28-0

THE BIG GAME

OCT. 12, ALONSO: Leto had a rough 2000, finishing winless. This is the night it could snap what would be a 17-game losing streak. Not only are the Ravens the new kids on the block, they draw students from what used to be Leto's district. There's nothing quite like stopping a skid against a backyard rival.

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