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LARGO — They are not on the field that much, maybe a combined total of two minutes. When they trot on, fans usually head for the concession stand.
Fans should watch carefully, however, when Largo’s special teams get their turn. The Packers’ ability to punt, place kick and return and cover kicks is a big reason they are 8-2 and hosting Hillsborough in Friday’s Class 6A region quarterfinals.
This season, Largo has scored seven touchdowns on special teams, nine if you count the two scored against Clearwater in the preseason. And the Packers have done so in a variety of ways. They have blocked two punts for touchdowns, returned a punt for a touchdown and scored four times on kickoff returns.
Largo does more than just brush up on the kicking game in mop-up duty in practice. There is a studious approach to the coverage of kickoffs and punts that has resulted in some game-changing plays. In fact, the Packers view special teams as one-third of the game plan and try to find special teams players who are the most skilled athletes on the field.
“We do special teams every day and we probably spend about 25-30 minutes on it in each practice,” Largo special teams coach Drew Heuertz said. “And our philosophy is to play the best players, even if they’re starters.”
The player who has impacted the Packers’ special teams the most is Derrick Doss. A starting running back and linebacker, Doss also is the team’s primary kick returner. He has accounted for five of Largo’s seven special teams touchdowns, all on kick returns.
“I love special teams,” Doss said. “I love having the ball in my hands and having everyone blocking just for me.”
During the calm before the chaos, Doss stands near the goal line, his teammates aligned like chess pieces up the field.
The opposing kicker raises his arm, steps forward and puts foot to ball. At that moment, the possibilities seem endless. Fans accustomed to Doss’ electric supply of kick returns hold their breath.
Sometimes, Doss dashes through dizzied defenders. Other times, he squirts through the wedge untouched. Nearly every time, he cuts back toward a sliver of daylight and slides through.
Doss starts each return with the same thought: “I want to score a touchdown.”
He has been prolific at it. Doss scored four touchdowns on kickoff returns and another on a punt return. Against Boca Ciega in a key district game, he had 281 yards in returns.
Doss also was a gunner on the punts and kickoffs but had to relinquish that role after becoming more of a primary ball carrier once Jarvis Stewart went down with an injury.
“We had to give Derrick a break at some point in the game,” Heuertz said. “He can do everything on special teams. He even is the backup punter. But we have a lot of great athletes on special teams. I really think this is one of the best special teams units we’ve had here.”