Tarpon Springs' triple threat powers offense

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Thu. September 15, 2011 | Bob Putnam | Email

Tarpon Springs' triple threat powers offense

TARPON SPRINGS — Dondre Daley is a 6-foot-2, 189-pound receiver who runs as fast as he can, as far as he can, stretching defenses like rubber bands.

Runaldo Wright is 6-3 and 190 pounds, athletic enough to out-jump defenders and wily enough to use his large frame over the middle in tight corners.

Kenyatta Merriex is just 5-10, 165, but he is the shrewdest, shiftiest and most elusive receiver of the bunch.

Together, this trio has helped fuel Tarpon Springs’ high-octane offense, which is averaging 267 yards passing and 46 points per game through two weeks.

What strikes fear in most opponents is the Spongers’ ability to score from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Louis Pappas can unleash a pass, his receivers gain separation from defenders, smoothly running underneath it to make the catch.

For a cornerback, there is little more frustrating than being in pursuit too often and seeing only the back of a Spongers receiver streaking downfield with the ball in his hands.

“We’ve got receivers who can make plays and a quarterback who can get them the ball,” coach Atif Austin said. “Having three guys who can all catch the ball helps because it’s hard for a team to key on just one.”

The diversity of the Spongers’ passing attack shows in the statistics. In the season-opening win over Dunedin, Merriex had nine receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, Daley had three receiving touchdowns, threw for another and blocked a punt for a score against Clearwater.

All three receivers have at least five receptions and at least one touchdown this season. Daley and Merriex are averaging more than 20 yards per reception.

“It’s basically pick your poison,” said Wright, a junior. “If you focus one guy, you’re going to leave one of us open and we’ll have a big game.”

Last year, Tarpon Springs already had a strong passing game. Pappas led the county with more than 1,700 yards, and Merriex and Wright each gained more than 500.

This summer, Daley transferred from Anclote, giving the Spongers’ passing game an added dimension. Daley, a senior ranked 83rd among all players in the state by FlaVarsity.com, put up big numbers last year with 353 yards receiving.

Thanks to his 4.4 speed, spectacular vertical leap, great hands and football smarts that nicely complement his physical skills, Daley has become a formidable weapon, particularly when it comes to finding the end zone. Of his five receptions, four have been for scores.

Daley excels because he is good, but also because Tarpon Springs has an abundance of talent and a system in which its receivers thrive.

“I’m just trying to do my best to help us win,” Daley said. “Everybody wants to get the ball and make big plays, but we all don’t mind spreading the ball around.”

The problem for defenses is putting too much effort into stopping Daley and allowing the other receivers to wreak havoc.

The problem for the Spongers is trying to make everyone happy when there’s only one ball to go around. But Austin said that shouldn’t be a concern as long as the receivers are focused on the most important statistic of all: wins.

“If you’re winning, you’re not really caring about your individual numbers,” Austin said. “I think we have guys that understand that, too.”

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