By PETE YOUNG
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ron Mathis doesn't say a word, but his nod, smile and beaming look of confidence answer the question: You're darn right our offense will be better than last season.
The evidence is contrary. Gibbs lost leading rusher and scorer Fred Middlebrooks, four leading receivers, including Cedric King, and the county's best line tandem in Mike Lynche and Dusty Keseleski. However, the Gladiators' wide-open, spread attack that rang up 213 passing yards a game last season returns an essential component: the triggerman.
As a junior last season, Mathis led Gibbs, which had five consecutive losing seasons, into the playoffs. Able replacements are ready to step up at the other skill positions. The line and the defense are the concerns.
Motivating the Gladiators is the bitter end to last season. The clock, which should have been stopped, was allowed to run out -- with Gibbs in scoring position -- at the end of the Gladiators' 20-18 loss at Haines City in the first round of the playoffs.
"We've talked a lot about that game, but it's in the past," coach Al Davis said. "We're trying to build on last season and make it back to the playoffs."
THROUGH THE AIR: Mathis (5 feet 11, 175), who is being recruited by Albany (Ga.) State and Troy State, among others, has mastered offensive coordinator Dave Cleppe's spread attack.
Though many top receivers graduated, Mathis should have equally capable targets this season. Senior DeAngelo Woodie is a superior athlete, and seniors Chris Davis and Adam Randall, who didn't play last season, are speed receivers who made multiple big plays in the spring win over Pinellas Park.
Mathis is a pure pocket passer. But he's mobile enough to escape the rush, which he might need to do frequently while the rebuilt line jells.
ON THE GROUND: Fullback Jovon Jackson (5-10, 210) is hard to tackle and well-rounded. He also is a good receiver and blocker. He'll operate as the lone back and should get almost all of the carries.
Last season, he rushed for 453 yards on 75 carries (6.0 average) and scored seven touchdowns.
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! QUES-TIONS! QUES-TIONS! Aside from senior do-it-all Ominigho Imeokparia (6-1, 210) -- who has recovered so well from a season-ending knee ligament tear last year that Davis said, "He'll line up wherever he wants, end, tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker." -- Gibbs has holes to fill almost everywhere.
The biggest were left by Lynche and Keseleski. Davis said junior Siaosi Uhatafe (6-1, 205) and senior Corey White (6-2, 230) have looked strong. If the defense can be mediocre and not turn games into shootouts, the offense could carry Gibbs to the playoffs.
JUST FOR KICKS: Woodie is the punter, and he's competing with LaMarkus Ward at placekicker. Gibbs routinely eschews extra points for two-point conversions. Woodie and Davis are the leading candidates to return kicks.
COACH: Al Davis, 11th season (31-73)
ASSISTANTS: Dave Cleppe, John Edwards, Anthony Givins, Maurice Herring, Charles Jackson, Eugene McGrew, Fred Noble, Javan Turner, Carl Watts, Rod Williams.
COLORS: Blue and gold
STADIUM: Newton-Williams Memorial Stadium, 850 34th St. S, St. Petersburg
CLASS: 5A, District 8
ROUND OF 32: 1994 (5A), 2000 (3A)
ROUND OF 16: 1993 (4A)