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CENTRAL BEARS // Tailor-made for ball control

(ran PT, CI, HT editions)

Steve Crognale couldn't have asked for a better match for his first high school head coaching assignment.

Then again, he had a little something to do with it.

Crognale prefers a run-dominated, ball control-oriented style of play, and with solid returners in the backfield and on the offensive line, that's exactly what he has at Central.

Though this is his first season as a head coach, Crognale was an assistant for the past five years under Barry Gardner, who was fired in the spring. When Crognale got the nod shortly thereafter, he was well-attuned to the players he would oversee.

Crognale, however, worked as the defensive coordinator the past two years, and he has handed responsibilities for the offense over to assistant Phil Bell. Defense is where Central needs plenty of improvement and experience, and it is the focus of Crognale's attention.

"We've got a lot of key returners on offense, but not a lot on defense _ we lack depth," Crognale said. "It's a question mark."

The Bears appear primed to move the ball well enough, but whether they can take it back might be the difference as they consider the possibility of a top-two finish and a corresponding playoff berth in their new, easier district.

Passing game: Gardner's departure also cost Central its quarterback _ Gardner's son Jarret. Don Lupichuk is new to the position, but Crognale thinks he can handle the job: "He's getting pretty comfortable with it. He's working hard; you can tell it's important to him." Adam Bruzzi should be a chief target.

Running game: Senior tailback Mark Munford and senior wingback Elliott Coon are welcome returners to the backfield. They combined for more than 1,500 yards last year, though neither was Central's lead rusher. (Tellis Roundtree rushed for 863 yards to Munford's 829 and Coon's 672.) Fullback Mike Mallin rounds out the group.

Offensive line: Though returner John Maurer began the season with an injury, this is another strength for Central, boasting many returners. Senior tackle Alaric Thieshen can't be missed at 6 feet 10, 298 pounds. He is joined by returning center Mac Turner, guards Mike Cullum, James Fowler and Robert Gleason, and tackle Kenny Van Houten.

Defensive line: Cullum is the only returner. He's joined by Jason Joseph, Van Houten and Chad Maeder. The young line will get a tough initial challenge against Springstead tailback Andrae Brooks in the season opener.

Linebackers: This is a little better, with Mallin and Coon returning and joined by Munford, who was in the secondary last year.

Defensive backs: Lupichuk is a top performer in the back and is joined by new safety Teddy Martin and Bruzzi, who had limited time in the secondary last season.

Kicking game: John Dunford is the new kicker, Lupichuk will handle punts, and Munford and Coon are return threats.

The coach: Crognale, who grew up in Spring Hill and played high school ball at county rival Springstead, begins his first season as a head coach at any level. Before he came to Central, Crognale played at St. Mary's College in Dodge City, Kan., and was an assistant coach for one year at West Hernando Middle School.

Outlook: Central should be able to run well enough, but the passing game is an unknown and the defense will have to come a long way in a short time. The new district will work in Central's favor, and Lecanto is a welcome choice for the opening district opponent in Week 2, but Hernando follows in Week 4.

AT A GLANCE

Coach: Steve Crognale (first season).

Assistant coaches: Phil Bell, Dean May.

Colors: Navy and silver.

Stadium: Bears Den, on campus, 14075 Ken Austin Parkway, Brooksville.

Class: 4A, District 6.

Playoff history: None.

1994 results (6-5)

Springstead 15-7 W

at Hernando 34-21 L

Lecanto 24-19 W

at Pasco 53-12 L

at Land O'Lakes 23-7 L

Citrus 13-6 W

Zephyrhills 28-27 (OT) L

at Crystal River 7-6 W

Hudson 54-14 W

at South Sumter 34-21 L

Land O'Lakes Gator Bowl

River Ridge 22-21 W

Did you know?

Crognale was a lineman for the Springstead varsity from 1983-85.

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