RIVERVIEW — The sandpaper growl, filtered through a New England accent, still resonates. The mastery of blitzes and 4-4 alignments still stymies offensive coordinators. The menacing, maniacal gaze still can buckle knees on game nights.
"It's like he's playing football once again," Spoto two-way senior Jamar Burns said.
In short, Cap's still got it.
Somewhere, a detractor in Dade City is biting his tongue.
Three seasons after his unceremonious exit from Pasco High, where his final two teams produced five total victories, Dale Caparaso is authoring his own redemptive story at Spoto. Friday night, the Spartans (5-0) are expected to notch their fifth — fifth — shutout of the season in their Homecoming game against winless Dixie Hollins. They have allowed one touchdown all season.
And that was on a blown coverage for which Cap takes full responsibility.
"You know, it surprises me quite a bit," said Caparaso, in his second season as Spartans coach. "I've coached for 30 years. I don't think in the first half of a football season we've ever done this.
"It's one of those things, I think, that has just kind of snowballed. The good, solid defense started early, the expectations grew and I think our kids now expect to be a dominant defense."
Backtrack three autumns, and Cap was mired in arguably the most miserable stretch of his coaching life. He had arrived at Pasco from Bellingham (Mass.) High in 2003 with four state titles and all the subtlety of an oil-deprived chain saw. His first two Pirates teams reached the playoffs, totaling 15 wins. Then, the program became unhinged.
Discipline lagged. Losses mounted. Support waned. Those who observed Cap on the sidelines might have assumed he was offensive and defensive coordinator. Through it all, Cap never lost his touch, his passion or his coaching acumen. He simply lost his way. Or so he suggests.
"I think if there's a bigger difference between myself at Pasco and myself here at Spoto, I'd say I'm probably much more of a disciplinarian the last two years here than I was over there, probably because we weren't successful the last two years," Caparaso said.
If the circulation of his resume was any sign, the Pasco experience soured Cap on coaching for, oh, about 15 seconds. Before being hired by Spoto in June 2008, he estimates he applied for more than a half-dozen head coaching jobs (including the King job twice) and landed a gig as Brandon's defensive coordinator in 2007.
That Eagles team won seven games, shut out three opponents and made the playoffs. In the 15 games since, Brandon has won five.
"I think the experience of going to Brandon kind of re-opened my eyes," said Caparaso, who led Spoto to a playoff berth last season despite being forced to forfeit three wins for using an ineligible player.
"I demand a lot more from our assistant coaches because of what I think I provided over there as an assistant coach. So I think that changed a little bit. I know our assistant coaches would tell you that what I require as an assistant coach is pretty intense and pretty tough. But I think that's the difference …and that was part of the problem when I was at Pasco those last two years."
These days, the Spartans, whose lack of overall size is offset by boundless athleticism, segue between four-, five- and six-man fronts over the course of a game. Practices got so intense last week, three offensive linemen were injured. And they blitz. A lot.
"We blitz and we hit," said junior linebacker Rodney Williams, who leads the team in tackles and attention from Division I scouts. "We've got a good defense. It ain't no by-the-grace-of-God or nothing like that. We expect to shut out everybody on the schedule."
Those who cross Cap face cut-and-dried consequences. Punishments, depending on the nature and degree of the infraction, can result in a "Burma" (a series of 50- and 100-yard crab walks and sprints) or a benching.
"Things that I require in practice — as far as being late or being on time, missing practices, behavior in the classroom — all that stuff I have significantly changed (since) I was at Pasco," Cap said.
Yet it's clear he has endeared himself to this group. Coffee and doughnuts await the players in the locker room on Saturday mornings. And all, it seems, have been taken for a ride in the bay on Cap's 22-foot catamaran.
"He's like another dad," Burns said.
Flourishing with a whole new family.
Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected]