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East Lake High's senior leaders return to the gridiron, ready to lead

EAST LAKE

Tyler Higbee is being watched.

So is Chris Leppinen, Cameron Mitchell, Drew McGuinness, Rocco Roefaro, Michael Sloat and Logan Williamson.

Seniors on East Lake High's varsity football team and the only regular starters from last year, they are the players who will set the tone for a squad that is young on playing time.

And while tonight's 7:30 season opener against St. Petersburg High will be a first for many of the players, senior leadership will been crucial both on and beyond the gridiron.

"When you have younger kids and it's their first time on varsity, both on and off the field, they are looking up to these senior leaders and watching everything they do," said Bob Hudson, who is heading into his eighth season as East Lake's head coach.

"These leaders who have been in our program for four years, they have to be the glue that holds things together. A good program and a good team, they fight to keep getting better no matter if things are good or bad and these seniors will be key to that fight."

The Eagles finished with a 7-4 record last season and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Tampa Bay Tech. They also lost a slew of seniors. At the beginning of last season, more than half of the nearly 50 players were seniors. The remainder of the players were juniors.

Williamson, 17, and a returning lineman, said after last year's playoff loss, he knew his leadership would be needed.

"The young players follow everything that the older players do," said Williamson, a senior. "When I was a freshman and sophomore, I did. I'm just trying to set a good example and I know they will follow my footsteps."

Williamson said it's easy to spot.

"You see it all the time, especially in the weight room," he said. "You go around and pick up a couple of weights and they see you. The freshmen and sophomores will do the same thing. It's a chain reaction."

Higbee, a 17-year-old wide receiver, said it's an added pressure to have the younger players modeling their behavior after you. But that's part of being a leader.

"We just have to lead by example and we have to make sure they are on the right track," Higbee said. "Whether it's on the field, off the field, in the weight room or with our schoolwork, we have to lead by example."

Mitchell, 17, and the team's kicker and punter, said providing leadership off the field is crucial.

"Everyone looks up to the seniors and how they behave in school," Mitchell said. "You just have to have that discipline so that you can be successful and the younger players will see it."

During the school day, seniors are in classes with freshmen and sophomores and the varsity players are in classes with junior varsity players. Every Friday, player grade sheets have to be checked by the coaches to ensure they're performing up to standard in their classes.

The seniors know that at every moment, they are being watched and must provide positive leadership. But Drew McGuinness, a free safety, said "that's what football is," providing leadership.

"Football sets you up to be successful in life," McGuinness said. "You work together and you have to do your job or it's not going to go your way. In the real world, it's the same way. I've got to do my job or I'm not going to provide for my family or be able to do anything. That's what football is. You have to do your job, and this year part our job is providing leadership."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174

About this series

This is the first story in a series called "Beyond the gridiron," in which reporter Demorris A. Lee takes a look at East Lake High's football program from different perspectives.

This week, we feature the returning starting seniors.

This week's game

St. Petersburg High at East Lake, 7:30 tonight.

Follow all the action at tampabay.com/hometeam and watch it on Friday Night Rewind.

East Lake High's senior leaders return to the gridiron, ready to lead 09/02/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:07pm]

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