Dale Foster never realized how much he missed football until it was taken away from him.
After a freshman season on Pinellas Park’s junior varsity, Foster was told he couldn’t join the varsity for the final few games because his grade-point average was too low.
“I was kind of like everyone else and didn’t take high school seriously,” Foster said. “But I found out football was a big deal to me. It’s my life right now. I didn’t like being without it.”
Foster said he was scared straight. As a sophomore, he worked to get his grades up. And he saw results by the end of last school year, earning a 3.5 GPA. He is in Pinellas Park’s first responder program and said he would like to study criminology in college and become either a law enforcement officer or a fireman.
But for now, he is hoping to be the Patriots’ next big running back.
While on the junior varsity, he was nearly unstoppable. He carried the ball 16 times last season, scoring on 14 of them. He also had two kickoff returns for a touchdown and a punt return.
“Maybe I need a new junior varsity coach if he only carried it 16 times,” Pinellas Park varsity coach Kenny Crawford joked.
Foster (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) also played on defense, but he’ll stick to carrying the ball in Pinellas Park’s wing-T offense. The Patriots’ top running backs from 2014, Oscee Calhoun and Marcelus Ware, have graduated. So, too, did backs Kal-El Williams, Donte Maxson and Jalil Crapps.
That opens the door for Foster, a junior. He could be one of Pinellas County’s best backs that no one has heard of.
“I’m very motivated,” said Foster, who also ran the 100 and 200 meters and participated in the long jump with the track team. “Coach Crawford has been telling me that I need to step up on offense. I’m ready.
“I ran wing-T since Little League so I’ve got it down. It’s just common sense. I’m not all about that shaking stuff. If I see a hole I’m bursting through it, and then try to catch me.”
While Pinellas Park hopes to continue its offensive success with an untested junior like Foster, other area schools are also hoping for contributions from players who have no varsity football experience.
• • •
Most of his life, Ricardo Clouden only cared about basketball. That didn’t change when he got to Lennard a year ago and became a starting guard for the Longhorns as a freshman.
In the offseason, however, Lennard football coach Keith Chattin put a bug in the 6-foot-4, 190-pound athlete’s ear about playing football, and Clouden jumped at the chance.
Clouden said he went to a few football games and was impressed by what he saw. The crowds were big — bigger than anything he saw at a Lennard basketball game — and the Longhorns had their best season in program history, finishing 8-2 overall, 6-2 in a tough district.
Clouden had an itch to get out there himself.
“I knew it was going to be pretty successful this year,” he said. “And I wanted to be a part of that. That made a big influence on my decision.”
Even though he has yet to play in a game — Clouden missed the spring jamboree with a broken collar bone — the two-way athlete can’t wait to start competing. He said football already has helped his work ethic athletically, and he’s sure that the extra time spent in the weight room will come in handy when it’s time to take the court again this winter.
But until then, Chattin’s got big plans for his new wide receiver.
Before this year, Clouden’s only football experience was when he quarterbacked the Tampa Bandits as a first-grader. And though that was almost a decade ago, Clouden still has natural ability, Chattin said.
Chattin plans to start Clouden as a slot receiver, counting on him to help make up for the loss of Diontae Johnson, who accounted for 1,017 yards receiving last year.
Clouden is up to the challenge.
“The season and catching touchdowns, really,” Clouden said, “that’s what I’m most excited for.”
Clouden said transitioning from one sport to another has been an adjustment. Perhaps no one knows that better than Bishop McLaughlin football/baseball coach Jeff Swymer.
• • •
The Hurricanes struggled through a 2-8 season in 2014 with a roster comprised of just over 20 players. When Swymer, the Hurricanes’ baseball coach, agreed to take over football duties, too, he only did so after getting assurances from some of his baseball players that they would also play football.
“I wasn’t going to do it unless they wanted to join me,” said Swymer, who led the baseball team to the state semifinals last spring.
That means the Hurricanes’ roster is full of first-time players. One of them is sophomore Cam Diaz. Diaz, the younger brother of baseball player Dominic Diaz, played football growing up but did not try out last season. When Swymer asked the baseball team if anyone wanted to cross over, he decided to put on the pads again.
“I’d been thinking about it for a while and a lot of my classmates were asking me why I didn’t come out,” Diaz said. “So I decided to give it a shot. It’s going to be a lot of hard work but I’m super excited about getting started.”
Diaz is a second baseman on the baseball team. He played in 11 games as a freshman and got 12 at-bats. His role is expected to increase as a sophomore. On the football team, he will play wide receiver and linebacker. Diaz (5-11, 160) has been working out all summer, trying to get bigger in order to withstand his first season on the gridiron.
“I kind of like playing linebacker better,” Diaz said. “I think I like hitting better than getting hit.”
Staff writer Kelly Parsons contributed to this report.