CLEARWATER — After beating Seminole and Osceola the first two weeks, Clearwater is one of just four county public school teams to start the season 2-0. Fast starts are nothing new to the Tornadoes. This is the third time in the past four seasons they have won their first two games.
The difference now is in the expectation.
“I think last year we were sort of shocked that we won so quickly,” quarterback Ryan Hagen said. “Now we’ve come together more as a team, and we all feel like this where we should be.”
The way the Tornadoes are winning also has changed, at least when it comes to offense.
This spring, Clearwater installed the spread option, a backyard fire drill of an offense that features a wild-eyed scrambling quarterback who constantly tosses the ball around to a gang of receivers.
“I had a big smile on my face when I found out what we were going to be doing on offense,” Hagen said. “Any quarterback loves throwing the ball.”
Last year, Hagen’s first as a starter, the Tornadoes stuck to a basic philosophy of establishing the run, avoiding mistakes and taking what the defense gave them.
So for a team built on pounding the ball, having a quarterback constantly throw downfield took some getting used to. But Clearwater knew the forward pass was going to be an attractive option because it no longer had the luxury of handing off to a bevy of backs, including Jeremiah George, the St. Petersburg Times’ 2009 defensive player of the year who graduated.
With the top three rushers from last year gone, the Tornadoes decided to take advantage of what they had: a quarterback. Hagen did well in his first year, showing the natural mobility, toughness and leadership qualities required to run a top-notch offense.
And he continued to progress in the summer.
There are others who have come together to form a formidable attack. Most of the offensive line returns, and there are plenty of targets in the passing game.
But Hagen is the one makes it go. He has given the green light to move the chains with his feet or his arm. Should a defense dare to blitz, Hagen can pitch the ball, take it up the middle or launch it long — all out of the shotgun.
“There are so many options for moving the ball,” he said.
The offense has often produced big results.
In the opening week, Hagen threw for more than 250 yards and led a scoring drive in the final minutes for a come-from-behind win against Seminole. Last week against Osceola, Hagen rushed and threw for more than 100 yards.
“We have the offense where we can move quickly and score,” Hagen said.
But Clearwater knows early-season wins only go so far. Last year, the Tornadoes started 3-0 but won just two of their final seven games.
“We want to win early to gain confidence, but our main goal is to win district games,” Hagen said. “We have to do it when it matters most.”