The Cowboys have a new coach and are without three of their top players from last year.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
TAMPA -- It was two weeks before Gaither's first game of the season, and coach Bob Gries said he saw no difference between this year and any other year.
"It's just like it always is this time of year," Gries said. "I think we're looking fine."
Well, maybe not exactly like always.
After all, the Cowboys are without Lydell Ross, the county's all-time leading rusher, Kenny Huebner, who recorded 28 sacks last season, and Cesar Paz, one of their top offensive linemen.
The offense is different, and the coaching staff is completely revamped, starting with Gries, who has never coached high school football before.
Although that could be the most normal thing at Gaither, which has seen four coaches in the past four years.
"The kids don't care about that," Gries said. "The kids just want to play football."
One of the first things Gries did when he took over the reins of a team that advanced to the region final last season was surround himself with experience.
From former pro players (Tony Chickillo, who played for the Chargers) to ex-college coaches (Allen Johnson, who coached at Texas A&M) to high school legends (Bob Spicer, one of the top coaches in Ohio), the players will not be short of resources. "Our coaching staff is absolutely superb. It's a fantastic staff," Gries said. "I would put this staff up against any coaching staff from Arena Football to college to any level of football. They've played at all levels, coached at college. It's a real benefit for the boys to have real expertise like this.
"With no disrespect to the coaches who were here before, these coaches are on a far more superior level. They're able to teach the young men skills and techniques they haven't been taught before. I have high hopes that we're going to play much, much better football."
If it seems like Gries is jumping into his new job head first, you're right.
He expects to win this season despite playing in a district that includes Chamberlain and perennial power Hillsborough. And he doesn't believe there will be a drop-off in talent despite the loss of one of the most potent offensive weapons in the state. "Lydell was a great player, but when you had Lydell, you had a one-dimensional offense. We don't believe in doing that," Gries said. "We believe in getting the ball to a lot of different people, running and passing. We're going to be there for all 10 games. And we're going to be ready.
"We're expecting to win. I've watched a lot of the teams on tape, and we know they're all good teams."
OFFENSE: Phillip Beauchamp is back at quarterback for the third season, and he will get the chance to throw the ball more than ever. Gries likes his arm and his composure and said the senior will have multiple formations at his disposal.
Maurice Cobb and Craig Bullara are ready to bound out of Ross' shadow and take care of the running game.
Sophomore Doc Marshall also will see ample playing time at running back, and defensive lineman John Fitzgerald will be enlisted as a fullback on occasion.
Craig Barber and Corey Brown will be the two main receivers.
DEFENSE: Defense should be the Cowboys' strong point as Gries returns more players on this side of the ball than on offense. The defensive formation will change depending on what type of offense their opponents run.
Gaither will be buoyed by the transfer of James Moore, a linebacker from Armwood.
"We have a pretty good, veteran defense," Gries said. "There's a few new people. We're going to do a lot of different things."
SPECIAL TEAMS: This was last on the list of things Gries was going to worry about. Although he said Travis Bourguignon, a successful Cowboy soccer player, will handle all the placekicking duties.
"He's outstanding," said Gries, who hadn't settled on a punter yet.
COACH: Bob Gries, first season
ASSISTANTS: Tony Chickillo, Allen Johnson, Bob Spicer, Chris Vlasic
COLORS: Navy blue, silver, gray and white
STADIUM: Cowboy Stadium, 16200 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa
CLASS: 5A, District 6
PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1985, 1994, 1999, 2000
LAST APPEARANCE: Beat Boca Raton Spanish River 33-3, beat Delray Beach Atlantic 34-25, lost to Melbourne Palm Bay 28-7
SEPT. 14, CHAMBERLAIN: The Battle for the Big Mac continues, and it's going to be a doozy. The Chiefs and Cowboys are back in the same district. This gives the game more meaning than the past few years, when only bragging rights were at stake. It's normally played on the final week of the season, but fans get an early treat this season.