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By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


Land O'Lakes fullback/linebacker Jason Carpenter

LAND O'LAKES -- Forget all the strategy. The techniques. The matchups. The game plans. All that complicated, jargon-filled, coach-speak.

Sometimes, football just comes down to this:

Guys knocking each other senseless, play after play after play, and liking it. A lot.

Jason Carpenter is definitely one of those guys. But Land O'Lakes' hybrid fullback and linebacker has a slew of responsibilities that involve more than just taking an opposing player off his feet.

Or does he? On offense he is tailback Godfrey Pestana's leading blocker, and his blocks can spring Pestana for long gains. He also has to pass block, and has been called on to plow the ball up the middle.

On defense he is the "mike" linebacker in the Gators' 4-4 scheme. He lines up across from the tight end, or on the strong side. He has to drop back into pass coverage, or he is sent on a blitz after the quarterback, or on a stunt, blitzing the running back. He also calls the defensive signals in the huddle.

But deep down inside, he's just Jason Carpenter, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior and a four-sport letterman who likes to knock opposing players down. A lot.

"I just like to hit people," he said. "I just like to be aggressive, whether it's football, wrestling, weightlifting or track. I like to be aggressive."

Carpenter was certainly that in last week's 20-15 win over Pasco. It was his best all-around effort of the season, as he made four tackles, two assists, a key third-quarter interception and rushed four times for 32 yards.

It was the kind of game the coaching staff has been hoping to see from Carpenter in 2000.

"Jason, last year and this year, it's both taken three or four games for him to start coming along, to play the kind of football the kid can play," coach John Benedetto said. "I thought he played well on both sides of the ball against Pasco. He moved the ball well, had key tackles and made a key interception.

"He's finally playing the way we want him to play."

Talk to the coaches, and as much as they like Carpenter, they won't hesitate to push him, or critique him. Carpenter said that just like his team, his play is definitely on the upswing this season.

"It started out a little slow, but it's picking up at the end of the season," he said. "The team is starting to jell, a little later than we hoped. I wish we could have beaten Countryside and Central. Those were our two biggest games, but we fell apart a little bit at the end.

"We came back in the second half of Pasco and beat them. We still have a lot of work to do."

Carpenter's work, though, never ends.

"He's a leader out there on defense," defensive coordinator Al Claggett said. "He's a good, solid tackler. He has a lot of experience."

Carpenter has also been blocking for his pal, Pestana, since they played together in the eighth grade at Pine View Middle School. This is their final season together.

"He's very important," Pestana said. "If it wasn't for him or the linemen, I don't think you would see all those yards posted up."

Said Carpenter: "I think when I make a good block, and Godfrey is following me he'll have a great run, and when I don't make a good block, I think Godfrey will still make something happen, but not as much.

"If I put my guy on the ground, Godfrey will make a big play."

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