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Talented players too good to take a seat

A radical occurrence took place in December when Largo coach Rick Rodriguez offered a suggestion to linebacker Mike Marry. The state semifinal game against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas was days away, but Rodriguez was in a bind at tight end. He simply needed more. As a linebacker, Marry started every game and played brilliantly. But Rodriguez knew Marry had other talents. In spot duty as a blocker on offense, Marry showed the ability to create big holes. Rodriguez had an idea. He wanted Marry to play tight end — a lot. Not only would such a move give the Packers more depth at the position, Rodriguez reasoned, but it would put the team's best athlete on the field for a few more snaps.

"He is the man," Rodriguez said of Marry. "You have to know where No. 9 is at all times."

On offense. On defense. Imagine that. And imagine this: Marry isn't alone. In a sport where specialization is everywhere, from cover corners, to rush ends to pass-catching running backs, Pinellas County continues to play football the old fashioned way: one-platoon.

The time commitment (double meetings, double film sessions) and the complexity of the modern game should make it more difficult to go both ways these days.

But there are two factors that account for the county's two-way trend: smaller rosters and the compelling talent of a few players. With the exception of a few programs, most teams in the county have about 40 players on varsity. The numbers, or lack thereof, force coaches to be creative.

One-platoon football is nearly a perquisite at the small, private school level. At Shorecrest, guys play offense, then defense, then offense. All night.

"The reason we have a lot of two-way guys is the dropoff from starters to backups," coach Phil Hayford said. "That's not so much in talent, but in experience. We could have a senior who is a starter and a freshman who is a backup."

At Northside Christian, there are not many backups. The Mustangs have 24 players, 18 of whom have practiced on a consistent basis this fall. "Here, it's Ironman football all the time," Northside coach Andre Dobson said.

Most two-way players get their additional minutes because they are simply too good to play for half a game.

• Northeast's Juarez Wynn is used as a running back, receiver and defensive back. "I know I'll be moved around a lot to create more mismatches and give us better balance," Wynn said.

• Dixie Hollins' Josh Brown is being recruited by colleges at three positions: quarterback, receiver and running back.

• Gibbs' Jarvis West never leaves the field, lining up at receiver, running back, defensive back and kick returner. "I guess I don't really have a position," West said. "I'm just an athlete."

• Lakewood's Jacquez Jenkins, a USF recruit, ranked among the top three on his team in rushing, receiving and passing last season.

The abundance of players serving as double threats creates more game-changing opportunities. But having too many of the same players on offense and defense can have drawbacks.

Largo found out the hard way.

Against St. Thomas Aquinas, the Packers used their best athletes on both sides of the ball in order to have their best team on the field at all times. It worked — for a half. In the third quarter, Largo watched its lead disappear as some of its stars began to cramp up or suffer nagging injuries. Because of that, many teams are trying to go to a two-platoon system when possible.

"I talked to Bradenton Southeast coach Paul Maechtle years ago about what the turning point was that made them a successful program," Countryside coach John Davis said. "(Maechtle) said it was when they stopped having players go both ways."

Still, coaches know an injury or a potential mismatch means putting their best athletes on the field at all times. Besides Marry, Largo also will have Sean Holte (fullback/linebacker) and Mike Lang (wide receiver/defensive back) pull double duty.

"We'd like to have Mike Marry strictly on defense," Largo defensive coordinator Matt Lepain said. "But if the situation arises, he'll be on offense."

Talented players too good to take a seat 09/04/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 3:47pm]
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