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HomeTeam Huddle: Leto hopes for consistency at QB with Berry

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Mon. May 4, 2015 | Kelly Parsons

HomeTeam Huddle: Leto hopes for consistency at QB with Berry

TAMPA — Three years ago, they made a deal.

Alik Berry had never played football in his life, but when he began at Leto as a freshman, he decided to give the sport a try. He would stick with it, Berry said, if his mother, Diana Cook, quit smoking.

Now, the rising senior is proud to say both have held up their ends of the bargain. And few people are happier about that than Leto coach Matt Kitchie.

Berry will be one of just four returning starters for the Falcons in the fall. But instead of just playing safety —  a position in which he recorded 65 tackles, four defended passes and two recovered fumbles last year — he’s adding a new role to his repertoire: quarterback.

The idea of having one consistent presence in that role isn’t something Kitchie has been familiar with in his four years at Leto. Last year the Falcons started four players under center throughout the course of the season. 

Because of Leto’s lack of depth, Berry (5-foot-11, 175) will have to play both sides of the ball, a task most quarterbacks in the area don’t face. It’s a challenge, though, Kitchie is confident Berry is ready for. 

“That’s where not having depth has been an issue. Alik will be our quarterback, but he’ll also be playing defensive back,” Kitchie said. “He’s the guy to do it.”

Since there’s no competition for the job, Berry has gotten right to work learning the fundamentals of the position. The biggest thing he’s trying to master, Berry said, is the timing.

“It has its ups and downs. There’s a lot of mistakes to work on, but then again it’s also my first time. I’m not one to get frustrated so easily,” he said of his preparation. “If I make a mistake, I’m going to brush it off and continue with the next play. …I’m going to practice day in day out until I get it right.”

Quarterback play hasn’t necessarily been a strong suit for Leto lately. Last season, five Falcons combined for 808 passing yards and three touchdowns. Kitchie hopes that with consistency in that spot will come results. 

And though Berry wants to be the best he can be as the offensive leader of his team, he refuses to decide his personal success on wins and losses.

“My goal is to do better than last year,” Berry said. “Even if you don’t win, all I know is I’ll be satisfied If I know I improved on something.”

Ravens committed to the run 

If there’s one thing the departure of three-star quarterback Chris Oladokun has done to the Ravens, it’s caused them to develop a new respect for the run. 

And as far as coach Brian Emanuel is concerned, that’s a great thing.

Oladokun is known for his strong arm, and the rising senior threw for 3,646 yards and 32 touchdowns in two years as the Ravens’ starter. Last year, though, a somewhat inexperienced offensive line made his job a little tougher, and Alonso wasn’t nearly as successful in its aerial attack. Oladokun ended last season with eight interceptions and nine touchdowns, compared with 23 touchdowns and three interceptions the year before. 

Emanuel said he thinks having a player like Oladokun caused the Ravens to lean on him, and the passing game, too much. Now that he’s gone, Emanuel plans to adjust the Ravens’ offensive strategy.

“I think high school wise, you’ve got to run the ball. When you look at the Armwoods and you look at the Plants …if you look at their breakdown, I don’t know if you win as much as you’d like to if you’re just spraying the ball around,” Emanuel said. “Obviously he’s a phenomenal quarterback, Chris is, but I think it’s going to take us back to our roots a little bit.”

And Emanuel thinks he has the right weapons to do just that. 

Rising senior tailback Josh Elias, who rushed for 153 yards on 41 carries last season, could have a breakout year, Emanuel said. And as far as quarterbacks are concerned, rising sophomore Alex Laccabue will likely line up under center most of the time, but Emanuel plans to incorporate rising sophomore Jaylen Striker, whom he calls an option-type quarterback, into some of the packages.

“He’s a kid who isn’t a pocket passer like Chris and like Alex, but we’re going to do some things to get him the ball,” Emanuel said of Striker. “He’s really an exciting athlete.”

Young, but on the rise 

Though Leto coach Kitchie said the team usually dressed only 24 each week last season, there were 31 Falcons on the roster. Nineteen were seniors. 

Of the 30 kids Kitchie has had in spring practice so far, 16 are rising sophomores, and the Falcons aren’t returning a single player who had triple-digit yards in offense last season. Still, Kitchie isn’t panicking. 

Most of his young kids have been through a year of JV football, he said. They’ve already built a foundation in the Leto program. Now, it’s just about building on that. 

“It’s not really, ‘Oh my god what are we going to do?’ ” Kitchie said. “It’s just like, okay, we might take some lumps this year because we’re playing freshmen. But they’ll be sophomores, and then they’ll be juniors.”

With youth, Kitchie said, comes hope for the future, and Kitchie thinks his team has turned a corner when it comes to the classroom and expectations of Leto football. And though the wins in recent years have been few and far between — the Falcons’ 18-15 victory against Middleton last season was the school’s first on the field in five years — that hasn’t been for a lack of effort on his players’ parts. 

“I’ve been here four years. To say they were easy wouldn’t be true. It’s been difficult. But the kids are so great,” he said. “Maybe they’re not as good football players as Armwood, but they’re still trying just as hard.”

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