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Rams must respond to offseason tragedy

The death of quarterback James Priest in a car crash is never far from anyone's mind.

By STEVE LEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001


The death of quarterback James Priest in a car crash is never far from anyone's mind.

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Inspired or devastated. Ridgewood will find out how the team will be affected by the loss of James Priest once the season starts.

The late Priest's Roman numeral VII can be seen on T-shirts worn by players and coaches at any given practice. That symbol, as well as a No. 7 sticker on the back of players' helmets, are remembrances of Priest, a promising quarterback who died in a car crash in April.

"The team and the coaches are still trying to deal with the death," Ridgewood coach Wayne Parzik said. "We've embraced it. He was a member of the family and he's still with us."

Jon Emminger, who at 6-foot-5 lined up at tight end last season, and Kale Durocher are expected to share time at quarterback this season. Both also are expected to play defense with Emminger playing on the line and Durocher in the secondary.

"Emminger's bigger, but Kale's a little smoother," said Parzik, adding that the 5-7 passer is "a little more fluid in his movement."

Primary targets will be Nick Blakeney, the versatile Durocher and tight ends Brandon Bittiker and Jason Krupinski.

The quarterback duel is indicative of the Rams' backfield depth.

The running back position will have to be deep with fullback Adamm Oliver, Robbie Coghlan, Brandon Presley, Rod Boutin and newcomer Sean Jester as the top candidates to replace Mike Cassagnol and Mario Policastri, who combined for 1,254 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns as seniors.

Oliver actually started some last year at fullback after quarterback injuries forced Policastri to become the team's signal-caller while Cassagnol shifted to tailback. Oliver wound up with 278 rushing yards.

"He's going to be a horse in that backfield," Parzik said of Oliver, who at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds will also play on the defensive line. "He runs the ball hard every time."

The backs will run behind a formidable line led by center Chase Decubellis, guard Bobby Shields and Krupinski.

"I wouldn't trade those three guys for anybody in the county," Parzik said. "I don't care who you offer me."

Bryan Presley, who along with Jester was one of the biggest surprises in camp, Drew Graziaplene, Josh Stamps and Paul Spaulding round out the line.

Durocher stays in the game on fourth down as Ridgewood's punter and kicker.

Carlos Mendoza, the county's second-leading tackler last season with 67 and 48 assists, will be joined at inside linebacker by Krupinski, who last year had 4.5 sacks as a defensive end.

The top lineman on defense returns in Oliver, who is coming off a 50-tackle, 9-sack season.

Jester, Shields, Decubellis and Brian McComiskey are the other defensive linemen.

Boutin, a strong safety, provides senior leadership as well as strong numbers. Last year, Boutin had 41 tackles, 29 assists and an interception.

John Perry and Blakeney are the cornerbacks and Coghlan is the free safety. The reserves are Jester, Jason Balk and Mike Faulkner.

With only 26 players on the roster, the backfield appears to be the only area where the Rams have any depth.

"These players are good enough to win ballgames if we don't have injuries," Parzik said.

AT A GLANCE

COLORS: Blue and orange

CLASS: Class 4A, District 6

PLAYOFF HISTORY: None

HEAD COACH: Wayne Parzik

ASSISTANTS: John Louma, Troy Cornwell, Tom Valenta, Pete Marron, Mike Donnelly, Chris Taylor, Jason Szymanski

DIRECTIONS RAMS BOOSTER STADIUM: From the west, take U.S. 19 to Ridge Road and turn east. Travel 3 miles to Regency Park Boulevard and turn south. Travel one-half mile to Orchid Lake Road and turn east. School is 1 mile on the right. From the east, take S.R. 52 west to Little Road and turn south. Travel 4 miles to Ridge Road and turn west. Travel 21/2 miles to Regency Park and turn south. Travel one-half mile to Orchid Lake Road and turn east. School is 1 mile on right.

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