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Spring football games offer insight for fall strategy

Land O’Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford (5) hands off during Friday’s spring game against Wiregrass Ranch. Weatherford and the Gators appear to have a potent offense in place for fall.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Land O’Lakes quarterback Stevie Weatherford (5) hands off during Friday’s spring game against Wiregrass Ranch. Weatherford and the Gators appear to have a potent offense in place for fall.

Pasco County enjoyed the return of spring football for the first time in 19 years.

Why was it so important? The games provided teams an opportunity to put the players they anticipate will start in the fall against an opponent. Now they have a true sense of what needs tinkering throughout the summer months.

The Land O'Lakes-Wiregrass Ranch matchup was a good example. The Gators rolled to a 42-0 win in just two quarters before administrators canceled the second half with storm clouds advancing over an already soggy field.

Bulls coach Jeremy Shobe shrugged off the loss, saying many problems were correctable. Had it not been for an intrasquad game days earlier, players might have walked away feeling as if spring had been a big waste.

But because of the game, the Gators got to see how their scripted plays looked against an opposing defense. Judging by the offensive onslaught led by rising senior Stevie Weatherford (11 of 17 for 351 yards, six touchdowns, one interception in two quarters), the Gators look primed for another playoff run.

Wiregrass, which graduated 23 seniors and has what Shobe said is an entirely new coaching staff, now sees just how far it is from contending with the area's elite.

Friday night in Dade City, Pasco rolled to a 56-0 victory over Zephyr­hills, running just 21 offensive plays including just three passes by quarterback Jacob Guy.

The Pirates scored in various ways, including three defensive touchdowns, a safety, a punt return and a kickoff return.

Despite the lopsided victory over the rival Bulldogs, the spring game provided many Pirates with opportunities they otherwise might not have had.

"Instead of just beating each other up for 20 days we got to play twice (including an intrasquad scrimmage)," Pasco coach Tom McHugh said. "It's hard when you have an intrasquad and it's all split up. I think you always look bad against yourself because you know what you're doing. You've practiced it 100 times. (The spring game is) something more to look forward."

In terms of entertainment, no fans were more pleased than those at Thursday's Gulf-Anclote game. This was a glimpse of what should grow into a nasty rivalry, and the Buccaneers' 24-21 comeback win did plenty to spice it up.

Gulf coach Jay Fulmer didn't squander the opportunity to try new things against an opposing defense early.

"We were doing some things with our passing game and trying to work on pass-blocking schemes and some things we haven't really spent a lot of time on," Fulmer said. "They were sending the house, and we really felt we could come out and power it at them. We wanted to get a little more out of it than just that."

And several new coaches got their first chance to establish themselves.

Only two of seven new coaches to play games won (Ridgewood's Kent Reed, Wesley Chapel's Ben Alford). None of Hernando County's new coaches (Nature Coast's Mark Nash, Central Mike Einspahr, Hernando Christian's Mike D'Ambrosio) won their games.

But Nash quickly learned he needed to make a change to get his playmaker, Ja'Juan Story, the ball more often. What better way than to move him from receiver to quarterback?

"It's tough to get the ball to Ja'Juan when he's out at receiver where he needs to be without time," Nash said. "… We were teaching (Brenton) Nuby how to throw the ball instead of getting the ball to Ja'Juan."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (813) 421-3886.

Spring football games offer insight for fall strategy 06/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:40pm]

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