By JOHN SCHWARB
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
EAST LAKE -- No other north county school graduated as much talent as East Lake.
The Eagles suited up for spring practice without playmaking quarterback Chris Thomas (now at Appalachian State), big tight end Bobby Williamson (Clemson) and dominating lineman Matt Meinrod (Florida State) but hardly missed a step.
They blasted Clearwater Central Catholic 54-10.
Outside of the big three, practically the entire team returns, and optimism reigns to improve on a 5-6 season that ended with three consecutive losses, including a 56-14 drubbing at Venice in the first round of the playoffs.
"We don't want to repeat that. That's not our goal at all," East Lake coach Tom Keeler said. "We feel like we have the potential to go a long ways."
East Lake will benefit greatly from its new district with Hillsborough and Chamberlain gone. Class 5A, District 7 includes Clearwater, Palm Harbor U. and Pinellas Park, so the chances for a third playoff appearance in six years under Keeler appear solid.
In a scheduling quirk, East Lake hosts Tarpon Springs in the season finale. The rivals opened against each other the past two years. The game also will be East Lake's homecoming.
THROUGH THE AIR: He will not juke defenders out of their shoes like Chris Thomas did, but Keeler said Dan Gale can run the option just as efficiently. The junior has 4.6-second speed in the 40.
Senior Mike Deatrick backs up Gale and also is a proficient runner. The two combined for 180 yards on 12 carries from the quarterback spot in the spring game.
The wide receiver corps includes plenty of speed with D.J. Brooks, Alex Bouldrick and Tyler Morton. Mike Andrews will line up at tight end.
ON THE GROUND: East Lake is spoiled with Mike Wynn (684 yards, seven touchdowns last year) returning at running back and Jamar Jackson (678 yards, eight touchdowns) returning at fullback. And there is experience behind them in Terry Woulard and Nate Huegal.
But unlike previous years, there will not be a hulking offensive line. Tackle Rodney Meyer is the heaviest at 240 pounds, and guard Mike Stuhl is a 210-pounder. But David Arata, Greg Boen and Brian Latanzio tip the scales at under 200 pounds.
"They're a lot faster. We're going to be quick-hitting," Keeler said. "We're going to do a lot more combo blocks and scheming up front."
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! Andrews is the only returning starter on the line, but everyone behind him is a familiar face. Stuhl, Jackson and Jeff Kazle are among the linebackers, and Brooks and Bouldrick have speed at cornerback.
JUST FOR KICKS: Last year's kicker moved, but uncertainty was pacified with Nick Akins' performance in the spring. Akins, a soccer player who had never kicked a football before, booted five of eight kickoffs to the end zone. Morton returns to punt.
COACH: Tom Keeler, sixth season (33-21)
ASSISTANTS: Jim Burgeson, Tommy Giordano, Darius Holtzclaw, Willie Hopkins, Bob Hudson, Jamie Joyner, Brad Maisner, Brad Ratliff
COLORS: Royal blue and white
STADIUM: East Lake Stadium, 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, East Lake
CLASS: 5A, District 7
ROUND OF 32: 1994 (5A), 1997 (6A), 2000 (5A)
ROUND OF 16: 1995 (6A)