TAMPA — If there’s a category in which the Leto Falcons lead the county every year around this time, it’s optimism.
This May is no exception. The collective spirit at Leto, winless on the field the past two years, again seems to be hitting higher altitudes than the jets taking off from nearby Tampa International Airport.
Only this spring, reasons for the hope are tangible.
New faces — and facilities — abound. Coach Matt Kitchie said 46 players showed up for Wednesday’s opening day of spring practice, 29 more than in 2011. Soon, they’ll congregate in a new football-only complex featuring offices, meeting rooms and laundry space.
And in terms of assistants, Kitchie had as good a recruiting year as any coach around.
The new assistants include ex-Tampa Bay Tech offensive coordinator Mo Harris and former Gaither and UMass WR/DB Torrey Essalomi. Harris oversaw a Titans offense that averaged nearly 340 yards and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2011.
“There is room for improvement,” said Harris, who left the Titans after one season due to what he called a philosophical conflict with coach Jayson Roberts. “Anywhere there’s room for improvement there’s hope.”
Kitchie, who will coordinate the offense while Harris coaches running backs, again will employ a spread attack that he expects to be dramatically upgraded at quarterback and receiver. The proverbial bell cow, however, is 6-foot-2, 195-pound rising senior TB Andre Simpson.
Harris, the running backs coach at Plant during the James Wilder era, said Simpson (799 rushing yards in ’11) could play for the Panthers.
“He would play multiple positions and he would be similar to James Wilder,” said Harris, himself a former star tailback at Jesuit and Hillsborough.
“I don’t know if he works as hard as James in the weight room because I haven’t been able to get here for the weight room workouts, but on the field he listens and that’s what it takes to be good.”
Dominiq in for Deuce
While it remains to be seen whether Dominiq Sicardo can effectively fill Carrollwood Day’s quarterback void created by Deuce Gruden’s graduation, he’s already a huge upgrade from a vertical standpoint.
Sicardo, who dazzled when thrust into emergency duty during a seven-on-seven tournament last summer, is 6-foot-4. Gruden, who signed with Lafayette, was 5-foot-6 in cleats.
“He’s doing pretty good so far, but we’ve got some depth in the running back position,” Coach Lane McLaughlin said. “We’ve got three kids that can run the ball.”
Among them: rising senior Robert Davis, who enters the 2012 season 1,966 yards shy of Hillsborough County’s career rushing title.
“We actually have BCS teams watching us now,” said McLaughlin, whose fifth-year program has been visited this week by coaches from — among other colleges — Missouri, Miami, USF and UMass