By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
SEMINOLE -- Osceola coach George Palmer said this year's team is the most talented he has had in years.
Everyone returns at the skill positions, including Jason Teague, one of the county's leading rushers. Top lineman Tom Ryan is back, too.
Here's the scary thought. Despite the talent, Palmer said it wouldn't have been enough to compete in Class 3A, District 8, which includes Blake, Sarasota Booker, Jesuit, Palmetto, Robinson and Bradenton Southeast.
Those six went a combined 41-19 last season, and five made the playoffs. Osceola would have been the only school to have had a losing record (4-6).
So faced with the prospect of playing so many tough, out-of-county teams, Osceola opted for an independent schedule. Instead, the Warriors will play only Pinellas teams and won't be eligible for the playoffs.
Part of the reason it would have been difficult to compete is depth. The Warriors don't have it. But competition was not the only obstacle.
Osceola was the only public school in the county not in an all-Pinellas district. Palmer said the extra travel could have hurt attendance and some rivalries would have been jeopardized with only four games left to schedule county opponents.
Osceola lost an appeal to move up to Class 4A or 5A and join other Pinellas schools.
"It's not the way we wanted things to work out," Palmer said. "Our kids enjoy playing the in-county teams, playing against kids they know. I think each will be important to us, in a way, because we can't make the playoffs."
THROUGH THE AIR: Leroy Hayes returns at quarterback, the first time Palmer has had a returning starter at the position in more than five seasons.
Eustis Webster, who played in the backfield last season, moves to tight end. The receivers are Ken Jaraslaski and Karl Lopez.
ON THE GROUND: Teague was the county's third-leading rusher last season with 1,342 yards and has ranked in the top five in each of the past three years. That should continue.
Chris Gerber, out with a shoulder injury last season, returns as a fullback and will share time with Allan Jackson. Tondrid Brown is the wingback.
"I feel our backfield is as solid as it's ever been," Palmer said.
The offensive line is solid, too, led by Ryan. A senior tackle, Ryan spent most of the summer in the weight room bulking up after wrestling at 215 pounds. He now weighs 251.
Others on the line are: Greg Serota, Danny Smalley, Josh Langdon, Christian Bechtold and Ross Gerber.
DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE! With little depth, Palmer must use six of his offensive starters on defense.
The biggest concern is Teague, who also is a top defender. Teague will play linebacker, and Palmer said he will hope he doesn't get too worn down.
JUST FOR KICKS: Serota, a soccer player, will kick. Matt Gille, younger brother of former girls soccer standout Kat Gille, will punt.
COACH: George Palmer, 12th season (58-57)
ASSISTANTS: Scott Campbell, Matt DeSantis, Mike Kloehn, Darryl Martin, Mike O'Hanlan, Tim Rachford, Ken Richie
COLORS: Orange and royal blue
STADIUM: Warrior Stadium, 9751 98th St. N., Seminole
ROUND OF 32: 1994 (4A)
ROUND OF 16: 1990 (4A), 1993 (3A)