By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
LARGO -- Largo won the hard way last season, surviving several close games down the stretch to finish 7-3 and make the playoffs as a district runner-up.
This season, Largo will try to repeat that accomplishment the hard way, replacing all but two starters on defense and five on offense.
Having so many new starters is not how Largo wants to start play in Class 4A, District 9, which features two other 2000 playoff teams in Countryside and Tarpon Springs.
But not all is lost. The Packers have 16 seniors, and there are 40 players on the roster, up from 28 last season.
"Making the playoffs was a start for us," said coach Rick Rodriguez, in his second year at Largo. "We're starting to get some enthusiasm with the program, and that helps when you're trying to build things."
THROUGH THE AIR: Marcus Paschal, a left-armed quarterback who can move, is the catalyst for the passing game. He has capable targets in receivers Leonard Long and David Riley and tight end Derek Swinsky.
ON THE GROUND: Jessie Bennett and Jason Laurence, both juniors, will get the bulk of the carries as the tailbacks.
"It's real close between those two," Rodriguez said.
Bennett and Laurence will follow the lead blocks of fullback Zach Kepner, a senior.
The backs would be wise to run behind Dan Veenstra, a 6-foot-4, 282-pound senior who has offers from Kansas, Central Florida and Memphis. Others on the line are Cameron Horton, a 6-5, 335-pounder who transferred from Indian Rocks Christian, Seth Williams and Paul Mueller.
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! Williams, Veenstra, Darryl Walls and Fred Marshall form the defensive line. Laurence, Kepner and Mike Myers are the linebackers.
In the defensive backfield are Riley, Long Bennett and Paschal.
JUST FOR KICKS: Brandon Mai was one of the most valuable players on the team last season. He won two games with field goals and kicked the decisive extra point in another.
Rodriguez also raves about Mai's punting, which he said usually pins opponents deep.
COACH: Rick Rodriguez, second season (7-4)
ASSISTANTS: Greg Cerrato, Chris Daniels, Jim Daugherty, Bob Hagan, Mike Hedge, Neil Kiernan, Eric Wahlbeck, Eric Wilson
COLORS: Light gold and royal blue
STADIUM: Packer Stadium, 410 Missouri Ave., Largo
CLASS: 4A, District 9
ROUND OF 32: 1995 (5A), 2000 (4A)
ROUND OF 16: 1975 (4A), 1977 (4A), 1985 (5A)
QUARTERFINALS: 1974 (4A), 1991 (4A)