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Blake's loss results in Bishop McLaughlin's gain

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Wed. August 29, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

SPRING HILL — Micheal Burns stands in front of his new team, with blue and gold lockers in front of him and a dry-erase marker in his hand.

“Listen up,” he says.

Bishop McLaughlin’s football team doesn’t just listen to the one-time, short-time head coach at Blake. The Hurricanes join in the process, throwing out colors to name plays in the newest formation to their new offense.

The participatory chalk-talk discussion is one of many additions Burns has borrowed from his past to bring to the program he wants to help lead to a second straight postseason appearance in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference.

“We want to empower our team as much as possible so they can have ownership in their program …” Burns said Tuesday afternoon in the coaches’ office. “We’ll go with what they can learn, not what we’re trying to shove down their throats.”

Burns’ ideas haven’t always been met with such optimism.

He accepted a position as Blake’s head coach in February. Three months later, the Florida A&M graduate resigned, citing a difference in philosophies. Burns planned to move back to Orlando with his wife but instead decided to apply to become Bishop McLaughlin’s offensive coordinator.

“Honestly through the grace of God,” said Burns, 40.

Burns has already made an imprint on his new school. Second-year coach Derrick Alexander credits his new staff for roaming the hallways to help drum up interest in the program.

The Hurricanes’ roster has swelled from 29 last season to 44 this fall, including two other borrowed pieces, transfers Sammy Sullivan (Sunlake) and Gabe Gerth (Steinbrenner).

“He’s a very charismatic guy. …” Alexander, a former FSU standout, said of his assistant. “He’s very exuberant. I think the kids are excited about that.”

The Hurricanes are also excited about their new offense. Bishop’s balanced attack featured 247 rushes and 224 passes last fall during a 4-6 season.

Burns has scrapped last year’s power-I offense and implemented a fun-and-gun, pass-heavy spread system.

“We changed it completely,” junior quarterback RJ Perciavalle said.

The Hurricanes’ personnel seems like a good fit for Burns’ spread.

Perciavalle is the North Suncoast’s top returning passer after throwing for 1,820 yards last fall during his first season as a starter. The Hurricanes’ line has talent, including sophomore William Beatty and senior Zack Lockhart. But with no linemen taller than 6-foot-2 or heavier than 256 pounds, they’re better suited to pass blocking.

Bishop McLaughlin makes up for a lack of size with depth at receiver. Alexander raves about gritty senior Austin Meyers, a 5-10 speedster whose 538 receiving yards last fall trail only Pasco star Janarion Grant among the North Suncoast’s returning players.

“I feel comfortable throwing to everybody, and I feel like we have a lot of weapons,” Perciavalle said.

The Hurricanes hope Burns’ system will aid an offense that struggled early but picked up later in the season. Bishop failed to score more than 14 points in three of its first four games but averaged 37 points after that to secure its first trip to the playoffs.

“We are actually truly blessed to have a plethora of receivers and kids who are really cerebral,” Burns said. “They picked up the offense, and they’ve just been running it.”

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

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