(ran PT CI HT)
They're moving on up, whether they like it or not.
When the FHSAA numbers crunchers nudged the Citrus High Hurricanes up a class to 5A, a collective groan could be heard throughout Inverness from fans of the black and gold.
The Hurricanes, once big fish in a small pond, suddenly found themselves in a much larger pool, the kind where lesser fish have been swallowed up.
Citrus head coach Ken Berry, though, has no intentions of wallowing at the bottom of the food chain.
"It's a pretty big step up, but it's going to make us stronger in the long run," he said. "We're going to be competitive, I'm confident of that. And I know we're going to be a better football team than we were last year, that much I am sure of. Whether our record will reflect that with the tougher schedule, we'll just have to see."
Last season the Hurricanes bolted to a 5-0 record, only to lose their final five games, four to playoff-bound teams.
The Hurricanes return eight starters from 1994, but just one from the offense.
While there are gaps to be filled, Berry says: "Our goal going into every season is to make the playoffs. That hasn't changed."
Passing game: Having a pair of veteran signal-callers back is a blessing, but if you must choose between the two it may seem like a curse.
Seniors Troy Waller and Brian Turner split time at quarterback a year ago, compiling remarkably similar numbers. Waller, who has the stronger arm of the two, completed 31 of 77 passes for 396 yards while Turner, the superior runner, made good on 33 of 82 tosses for 414 yards.
"I've got to get them both on the field," said Berry, who will go with Waller at quarterback but make excellent use of Turner's speed as the starting tailback.
Senior wide receiver Cory Williamson will likely be the favorite target. As a junior, he hauled in 23 passes for 294 yards, an average approaching 13 yards.
Running game: Junior Mike Coon, the Hurricanes' second-leading rusher from last season (33 carries, 176 yards) returns. He'll receive plenty of support from Turner, senior Jesse Butzer and sophomore Bryon Kline.
"It's a backfield by committee," declared Berry. "We'll have a lot of players getting some carries."
Offensive line: It will be an entirely new cast in the trenches, bigger than last year but lacking in experience. Manning three of the spots will be juniors TJustin Hedrick, Ryan Giddens and Ryan Brengle.
"We've not awesomely big or anything," Berry pointed out, "but we have got a couple of guys in the 250-260-pound range and a couple others around 200. We're not going to intimidate anyone, but we may surprise some people."
Defensive line: Junior Aaron Richardson returns at defensive tackle to a line otherwise hit hard by graduation. Senior defensive end David Barrett saw considerable playing time last season and also is back.
Linebackers: With three returning starters at linebacker, all of whom earned post-season honors in 1994, Citrus appears to be in excellent shape here. Butzer (77 tackles), Jody Gibson (67 tackles) and Kenny McKettrick (53 tackles) form the backbone of the club, according to coach Berry. "These guys have done a real good job for us in the past and I expect them to be even better this season. They're very aggressive, everything you like to see out of someone there."
Defensive backs: Again the Hurricanes are loaded. Two-way starters Turner, who had a team-high 94 tackles last season; Williamson (five interceptions, three fumble recoveries) and Waller (three interceptions) are back to provide the last line of defense.
Kicking: Turner will handle the punting, as he did last year, while Butzer, who was 16-for-16 on extra points, will take care of the other kicking duties.
The coach: Berry has had a long relationship with the 10 seniors who constitute the nucleus of his team. He guided the junior varsity when they were freshman, then moved up with them the following year when he took over the varsity reins.
"I love this group of kids," he said. "I've basically had them for four years now. They've got a lot of heart and you're going to see that out on the field."
Outlook: The Hurricanes came within a touchdown of making the playoffs last year, but with half of their 10 games this season coming against 5A opponents, they will need to run faster just to stay in place.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Ken Berry, third season (11-10).
Assistant coaches: John Bishop, Larry Bishop, Tim Cromer, Eddie Edwards, McKinley Franklin, Mike Taylor and Dale Walker.
Colors: Black and gold.
Stadium: The Citrus Bowl, on campus off Highland Boulevard in Inverness.
Class: 5A, District 4.
1973: Beat Mount Dora 27-6; lost to Blountstown 61-22.
1974: Beat St. Cloud 7-6; lost to Mont. Jefferson Co. 12-0.
1985: Lost to Starke Bradford 14-7 (OT).
1986: Lost to Alachua Santa Fe 14-10.
1987: Lost to Alachua Santa Fe 21-7.
1993: Lost to Alachua Santa Fe 50-7.
1994 results (5-5)
Williston 23-6 W
at Lecanto 35-6 W
South Lake 35-0 W
at Tavares 21-9 W
Lake Weir 21-19 W
at Vanguard 35-0 L
at Central 13-6 L
South Sumter 20-0 L
at Hernando 35-12 L
Crystal River 6-0 L
Did you know?
Junior Shaun Stokes, who broke his leg early in the season last year, will miss this season as well. Stokes, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound lineman, tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the same time his leg was broken, but the injury was not diagnosed, Berry said. Stokes is expected to have surgery soon.