Citrus' best players also happen to be best friends.
By KEITH NIEBUHR
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
INVERNESS -- Citrus players Derek Cline, Charles Edward Staten and Justin Taylor are not brothers, but they might as well be. For as long as each can remember, they have been inseparable.
"We've been friends forever," Cline said. "When I first met them, I knew we'd be friends for a long time. There's a connection between us."
Taylor and Staten met in the second grade. Not long after, the duo befriended Cline, who played in the same junior basketball league.
"I'll never forget it," Staten said. "When Justin moved here, I chased him down on my bike. He was riding a little pink bike around. I think it was his grandmother's. He was the only other kid in the neighborhood. And my mom and Derek's mom worked at the middle school together. We all enjoyed the same things."
What the senior trio enjoys most is football, and they are perhaps the three best players Citrus has. Coaches expect each to play in college.
"They're all very smart players, students of the game," Citrus coach Larry Bishop said. "Some kids watch games and watch where the quarterback is. But we've had conversations and watched games together and they pick out their position and watch that position. They want to learn the intricacies of the game."
Each is a two-way standout.
Taylor, a four-year starter and the comedian of the group, plays z-back -- a combination of fullback and tight end -- and inside linebacker. At 6 feet 3, 225 pounds, he is one of the Hurricanes' biggest and strongest players. In 2000, he was a Times All-Citrus/Hernando honorable mention pick.
"Justin's got a really good game," Cline said. "I like the way he reads plays. He'll tell me before the play, 'Okay, this is going to be a trap.' You can always count on him."
During the past year, Taylor improved his bench press from 260 to 310 pounds. Four years ago, he could lift 185 pounds.
"The senior year is your last hurrah," Taylor said. "You want to do everything you can to be the best player you can be. You don't want the same honors. Last year, my goal was to be all-conference and I got that. Now, I want something higher, like all-state."
Cline, a three-year starter, is a bruising 6-3, 195-pounder who starts at fullback and inside linebacker. He's thought to be Citrus' most powerful hitter. He's also one of its better blockers.
"Derek is hard-core," Staten said. "He's always lighting somebody up and giving people headaches. He's a hard hitter."
The 6-3, 200-pound Staten, or "Chuck" as he is known to friends, also is a three-year starter. He plays tight end and defensive end, and like Taylor and Cline, is expected to have an all-area kind of season. Staten severely injured his knee last fall and missed several games. When he was out, Cline said it was as if the team was "missing a leg."
Staten's recovery went better than expected.
"His work ethic can't be surpassed," Bishop said. "He tore his (anterior cruciate ligament) and doctors weren't expecting him to come back until the end of the summer. And he played in the spring game."
Leadership is another quality each has.
"They holler at other players, but they don't expect things that they won't do themselves," Bishop said. "They're always setting that tone."
Three friends. One heartbeat.
"We're brothers out there on the field and we're brothers when we walk off," Cline said.