By CAREY FREEMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
Each August, one of my annual rites is to peruse through old editions of the Times football tab.
The hope is that I'll find a new perspective to add to this year's edition. Also, it's always interesting to see how one has progressed -- or regressed -- as a writer.
At the very least, it's always an interesting glimpse into the past. This year, I couldn't help but stumble over my first predictions column, written in August 1996.
What jumped out at me wasn't the team I picked to win the district that year, but the one I didn't.
Little did I know the Pirates would be anything but an also-ran that year. Little did I know 1996 would be the first season of a run that is the most successful in Citrus County history.
Looking back, the prediction seems rather silly. But hey, everybody is entitled to make a few mistakes, right?
Well, history has taught this reporter not to make that mistake again. And with 22 seniors back for 2001, I'd have to be an idiot not to pick the Pirates, right?
You'll no doubt hear a lot about Crystal River as it seeks to add to its unprecedented streak of five consecutive district titles. But I'm not writing this to tell you about what's going to happen (I'll leave that to my partner, Keith). I'm trying to shed a little light on an accomplishment that might never be repeated in Citrus County.
I mean, who would have even given it a second thought after Crystal River's 5-5 season in 1995? And who could have predicted this kind of domination?
A look at the numbers within the streak gives more insight into just how dominant this big fish has been in the small pond we call Citrus County.
Overall, Crystal River is 50-9 since 1996, including a 45-4 mark in the regular season. It has outscored its opponents by an average of 32-11 during that time, advancing past the first round of the playoffs four times.
However, if you think those numbers are impressive, just look at what the Pirates have done to their district competition.
Crystal River has lost only one district game since 1996 and has posted an eye-popping 22-1 mark against district foes during that same span. The only setback was a 35-21 loss at Central in 1999 in a game marked by the suspension of star running back Nate Madison just a day before.
Taking it a bit further, consider that the Pirates' margin of victory during its steak is an overwhelming 36-9. That's a difference of more than three touchdowns and a field goal.
Like everyone else, Crystal River has its share of question marks every year. But unlike the rest, it always seems to find the answer.
The key, of course, is consistency. A consistent game plan and consistent coaching lead to consistent results. The Pirates readily admit their system -- about six plays total -- is as simple as it gets.
That simplicity, though, is part of what makes it so successful. Other factors include some pretty good instruction from the coaches and a tradition passed from one class to the next.
But by keeping it simple, Crystal River keeps it consistent. And by maintaining consistency, the Pirates eliminate mistakes. By eliminating mistakes, Crystal River wins games.
The formula was laid down in 1996 and this class, which features 22 seniors, might be the most successful of all at sticking to it. With three district titles to its credit, it has the opportunity to claim its fourth. This class might also have the talent to make a run deep into the state playoffs.
"This class right here is a great bunch of kids," former coach Earl Bramlett said. "The other guys set the tone and these guys have carried it on. But winners do that. This group is not selfish and they are concerned with the success of the team and their teammates."
So, if you are expecting me to pick against the Pirates this year, think again.
It might have taken five years, but I've learned my lesson.