Last year, Largo lost Jarvis Stewart for the final two games after the senior running back was charged with lewd and lascivious battery. Even though Stewart was one of the Tampa Bay area's leading rushers at the time (1,146 yards, 15 touchdowns), the Packers seemed unfazed. John Clark was there and he was ready.
Clark rushed for 125 yards in the regular-season finale against Countryside, then followed that up by scoring a touchdown in the region quarterfinal against Jefferson.
With Stewart gone, Clark has become more than a replacement. The rising senior is a full-time starter who has the ability to put up the same kind of numbers as his predecessor.
"I learned a lot from Jarvis and from getting some playing at the end of last season," Clark said. "I know I'm ready, and confident I'll do well."
New coach Marcus Paschal still plans to run the spread, but he wants to run the ball as much as possible, which should include plenty of carries for Clark.
"John's a strong runner and showed he was more than capable of carrying the load last year," Paschal said. "We're definitely counting on him."
Adaptability a premium
The offense Calvary Christian unveils for Thursday's spring game against Miami Westminster Christian will change dramatically once the regular season starts in August. Coach Todd Yoder prefers to have a multifaceted attack that can change weekly depending on the opponent.
But the reason Yoder is suggesting the offense will be different in three months has more to do with personnel. Quarterback Jack Sheehan and fullback/linebacker Stephon Williams, both St. Petersburg Catholic transfers, are unable to play in the spring game because they arrived after the second semester.
"I like to utilize what we have and play to our strengths," Yoder said. "And we'll look a lot different once we have everybody that can be out there for a game."
Jeremy Wood and Reilly Rowan will share reps at quarterback Thursday. Wood, the team's top returning rusher, is a versatile weapon who can play just about any skill position. Williams can be used as a fullback, tight end or halfback. The top three receivers — Wesley Vollmer, Sedale Hudson and Graham Hoffman — all return as well.
"We have the luxury of guys that can move around in different spots," Yoder said. "We also have a veteran offensive line with four of our starters back. This is probably the best team we've had here."
Thursday's matchup could be tough. Westminster Christian lost 7-0 to Clearwater Central Catholic last year in the Class 3A state semifinals. Tim Irvin, son of Warriors coach Sedrick Irvin, is a four-star recruit considered the 17th best athlete in the nation in a composite of rankings by several recruiting services.
"We had to scramble to pick up a spring game," Yoder said. "I found out pretty quick how good these guys are. There's a lot of speed over there. We just have to hope we can contain it as much as we can."
Wanted: football players
Steve Dudley is learning quickly that he has to be more of a recruiter than a coach in his new gig at Shorecrest. The Chargers have struggled with depth in recent years and opted to play an independent schedule in the fall mainly due to a lack of varsity players.
"We had a total of 25 sign up," Dudley said. "The most we've had at a practice is 23. We had one practice where we had only eight. I expect us to have 20 players for the spring game (at home Thursday, vs. Canterbury). The numbers haven't been very impressive."
Added Dudley, who previously coached at St. Petersburg Catholic and Canterbury: "I'm still trying to figure out how things roll here at Shorecrest. I hope we can get more players. During the spring it's more like football light. There's not much conditioning. There's more teaching. You end with a nice little spring game. It's going to be different in the fall when we're using real bullets.''
East Lake offensive lineman Julian Santos' recruiting stock has increased significantly in the past week. The rising junior (6-4, 290), who is replacing Mason Cole (Michigan) at left tackle, picked up an offer from UCF on Monday, Eagles coach Bob Hudson said. The Knights' offer was Santos' first from a state school. Last week, he received his first offers from Kentucky and Massachusetts.