So much for the sophomore jinx. Pasco High's 10th-graders have helped the football team go 7-1 and clinch a state playoff berth.
And while this year's business is unfinished, there is talk of another state championship for Pasco when these sophomores become seniors.
"Don't ask me if we will go 14-0," said DeShawn Southward, a strong safety who is one of eight sophomore starters for the Pirates. "But by our senior year, we'll be even better and there is a good chance we'll be in the state championship."
But for now, the focus is on this season. Pasco has won seven straight games since an opening loss to Tampa Jesuit, with the sophomores making strong contributions and improving each week.
"I thought the kind of season we're having was possible," said Pasco coach Perry Brown, "but a lot depended on how our young players came along. Well, they have done the job and they are getting better."
Sophomore wide receiver A.J. Jones is a good example. Jones, who had not played football since middle school, has 18 receptions for 419 yards (23.3 average) and six touchdowns.
"Basketball and baseball were my main sports," Jones said. "I didn't decide to come out for football until the last minute. Now I'm glad I did. Football is my main sport now."
Jones runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and has good hands, Brown said. Jones also received help from former Pasco standout Chris Jones this summer.
"There's no relation," A.J. Jones said. "He was just dating my sister. He helped me a lot. He showed me some techniques and gave me some tips that have really helped out."
Chris Jones played for the 1992 Class 3A state champions who went 14-0. Two sophomore starters made an impact that season, Troy Hambrick and Page Sessoms. They are seniors now who know the value of a good sophomore starter.
"They play aggressive and they play hard," Sessoms said. "I wasn't sure at first if we could count on them, but they have really come through. It's a great thing for us that we have so many gifted athletes who are just in the 10th grade."
Three sophomores _ Southward, Cleo Stinyard and John Baxter _ spell Sessoms, Hambrick and Davis Womack in Pasco's backfield. Sessoms visited some friends from Zephyrhills this week and asked them how they thought they would stop Pasco in tonight's game.
"They said they were going to key on me and Troy," Sessoms said. "I told them that if they keyed on us, we had three or four more good backs to throw at them. They can't stop all of us."
Sessoms singled out the play of Baxter, who starts at defensive end and plays running back and tight end on offense.
"He has made a big difference on defense," Sessoms said. "And he has the ability to be a great offensive player."
But Baxter knows that seniors such as Sessoms, Hambrick, John Shireman and David Stalker are the heart of the team.
"The sophomores have played a part," Baxter said, "but not the biggest part. We just have to work hard and keep getting better."
Another two-way sophomore standout is Rob Roberts, who also started both ways as a freshman. Roberts plays tight end and defensive end. Brown said Roberts' biggest asset is his intelligence.
"He makes straight A's and he takes that to the football field," Brown said. "He's a heads-up player."
Roberts said he helps his fellow sophomores remember plays.
"I pretty much have all the positions memorized, so if someone forgets an assignment I can usually tell them what to do," Roberts said. "And I try to help players in certain situations."
As an eighth-grader, Roberts was one of the many fans who packed W.F. Edwards Stadium during Pasco's state championship season. He'd like to duplicate that team's success.
"I sat in the stands and just wished I could play for a team like that," Roberts said. "Now, we have the same potential as that '92 team. And by the time we're seniors, we have a great chance to have a great team."