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ST. PETERSBURG — All the hoopla surrounded Lakewood’s Anthony Lawrence, the coach with the big-time college background who had a legacy to follow.
In the spring Lawrence was hired to replace the legendary Dan Wright, who retired as the county’s all-time leader in wins with 674.
Lawrence, who starred for the Spartans from 1985-88 before playing at Alabama and Miami, made his debut Wednesday night. He became the first coach besides Wright to lead Lakewood since 1976. The debut was a successful one as the Spartans led most of the way in a 61-40 victory over Northeast.
“I played for Dan and he was my mentor,” Lawrence said. “I was taking over and I had that lingering the whole time. There were some nerves. But this was a good win for us.”
Wright was not in attendance, but Lawrence said he talked to his former coach last week about the upcoming season.
“Dan and I are still close, and I try to talk to him as much as possible,” Lawrence said. “We just went over some things. Before the game, I was sitting in his chair trying to think of what he would do. I’m sure I’ll see him this week.”
Lawrence did not replace the staples of what has made Lakewood a successful program. The Spartans still had a roster deep in athletic talent. They still played stifling defense and were up-tempo on offense.
“The whole team is full of athletes,” Lawrence said. “The biggest thing I want from us is to use our athleticism to play better defense all season.”
Lakewood had to shake off the rust after not scheduling a game until the third week of the regular season. After clinging to a 17-16 lead after the first quarter, the Spartans started to pull away in the second quarter, outscoring the Vikings 16-7 to go into halftime with a 33-23 lead.
Northeast cut the deficit to six twice in the second half but was not able to get any closer. Jared Gregory led Lakewood with 20 points. Adam Barker had a team-high 12 points for the Vikings.
“I think we got to the point where we were tired of practicing and ready to play,” Lawrence said. “It was good to get this one out of the way.”