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Aquinas cautious of being burned

The Raiders will have history - not to mention a balanced offense - on their side tonight when they face Jefferson.

By EMILY NIPPS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001


TAMPA -- In the 25 years George Smith has been the head coach at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, he has seen his share of team personalities.

Some teams have been feisty, some cocky, some quiet. There was one team that graduated former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin and another that sent two players to Brown University and five others to Division I.

There was his first team in 1975, which was happy with a 6-4 season, and his last team, which was crushed by its triple-overtime loss in the 2000 title game.

Then, of course, there's his 1992, '97 and '99 state champions.

The personality of the 2001 Raiders?

"Well, they work hard," Smith said. "We're not real big, and we've played some teams on our schedule that weren't too good."

His comments about this year's team are modest, to say the least. As most coaches are, he was guarded and careful about what he revealed heading into tonight's Class 4A semifinal at Jefferson at 7:30.

"(The Dragons) are big, physical kids," Smith said. "Very, very well coached, and they have a lot of weapons.

"We'll just have to hang in there and not make a bunch of mistakes. Jefferson's offense can burn you."

Meanwhile, at Thursday's practice, the Dragons were getting a head start. Coach Mike Simmonds dangled a national poll (Aquinas is listed No. 4) in front of his players, set it on fire and let it burn to ashes on the field.

It wasn't a mean-spirited gesture, but a way of showing his players that when the teams meet, the poll means nothing.

"When this poll comes out next Tuesday," he said, "it will say "Lost to Tampa Jefferson' next to it."

The Dragons hooted and cheered.

"We relish the chance to play against them," Simmonds said. "We feel fortunate to have them in our own backyard. It'll be a great challenge for us."

Simmonds, like Smith, didn't want to give too much information away. Some things, Smith said, are a given.

Such as Raiders senior quarterback Danny Shula, whom Smith only reveals is "very, very intelligent." Shula, along with linebacker and younger brother Chris, are the sons of former Cincinnati Bengals coach David Shula and grandsons of former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula.

Smith wouldn't elaborate on the Raiders' balanced running and passing game and he wouldn't go into detail about the five returning starters on defense.

He wasn't trying to hide anything. He just wanted to let his players do the talking for him at the game.

"There are no secrets," Smith said.

"We work hard, and I'm sure other coaches will say their kids work hard. At this point, everybody's got good players."

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