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Tops on first-rate short list

This section puts the spotlight on guys like Canterbury’s James Goodwin, second from left, and Calvary Christian’s Zach Mueller. Though they may not overpower anyone, no one will question the size of their heart.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

This section puts the spotlight on guys like Canterbury’s James Goodwin, second from left, and Calvary Christian’s Zach Mueller. Though they may not overpower anyone, no one will question the size of their heart.

My first experience playing organized football was 17 years ago. I was a fourth-grader on the flyweights at Azalea.

The coaches decided to turn me into a 75-pound defensive tackle. I always came home with a few bruises and a few pieces of grass stuck beneath my helmet, the result of being in the trenches. And I practiced, played, even made a few tackles.

My football career did not last much longer. By the time I reached high school, I thought I was too small at 115 pounds.

But I've always had great admiration for the little guys who not only played, but shined on the field.

These players are on every roster. The pipsqueaks. The string-beans. The runts.

Sure, they might not be prototypical athletes. But those who lack in height or weight sometimes make up for it with blazing speed or incredible strength. Some simply have more heart.

And they all have an integral role in each team's success.

Largo has been a force using diminutive running backs such as Dexter McCluster and Marcel Durham. Northeast went on a county-record 43-game regular-season win streak relying on undersized linemen on both sides of the ball. Small private schools such as Shore­crest are successful with nothing but tiny guys.

That gave us an idea. We decided to devote this year's Pinellas County football preview to the small fries.

We photographed the smallest guy who would either start or see significant playing time from each of the 25 public and private school teams in the county.

But that would not be enough to fully illustrate how short some of these players were. So we needed tall guys in the photos as well.

The discrepancy in height caused a few double takes when the teammates stood next to each other. The first players to come in for a photo were from Tarpon Springs. Josiah Fisk was the short guy, a 5-foot-5 athlete who will line up in multiple positions on offense. The tall guy was Zach DeBell, a 6-foot-6 defensive tackle.

The exchange between the two was comical.

DeBell: "Hey, when Josiah stands next to me, his butt only comes up to my thigh."

One photo included a player bench pressing another. Another photo had a lineman holding a receiver in his arms.

And we weren't afraid of asking players for ideas for photos.

Perhaps it was a good thing Clearwater offensive lineman Mike Barber didn't discuss one of his ideas with photographer Edmund Fountain.

"I was thinking it would be funny to hold my smaller teammate upside down by his ankles," Barber said. "But that probably wouldn't work so much for a photo."

Tops on first-rate short list 09/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, September 3, 2009 4:30am]
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