(ran TP edition)
After spring drills, Gaither senior Ryan Beaudoin figured he would start at free safety and handle placekicking duties.
Rumors about quarterback Steve Hillmon transferring from Gaither to Hillsborough began to circulate in the summer, but Beaudoin didn't think the potential change would impact his role on the team.
All that changed on Aug.
7. When Hillmon didn't show up for the first day of fall practice, coaches told Beaudoin to line up behind the center.
"The coaches said they wanted to get a look at me at quarterback," said Beaudoin, who played quarterback at Ben Hill Junior High as a ninth grader. "I was a little surprised. I just thought I would play free safety and kick a little."
As it turns out, Beaudoin's hands will be just as important as his foot. Hillmon has indeed left for Hillsborough after rushing for 700 yards in 1994. He was going to be the team's only returning starter in its Wing-T backfield.
Now Gaither coach Joe Severino is convincing his team the show can go on, and he says it's not a hard sell.
"I just told them it's a team game and one guy can't stop us," Severino said. "The main thing is we need people who have been here to carry the load and make plays, and we need sophomores to step up."
"We're going to be a blue collar team that works hard and has potential."
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Beaudoin has a lot to do with Severino's confidence. He doesn't have the speed of Hillmon, but Severino says Beaudoin can "execute the offense and has a nice arm."
It will be intriguing to see how Gaither deals with Hillmon's departure. Although Severino calls him "the county's most talented athlete," he isn't preparing concession speeches.
"At first, I thought it would have a big impact," Beaudoin said. "But I don't think it will affect us that much. He's a great player, but we're a tough-minded team."
Passing game: Beaudoin's strong throwing arm already has been noted, and Severino says he has myriad receivers, starting with wingback Johnny Highsmith. Terrence Williams, Kevin Sparkman and Chan Tatum also will be speedy targets, and Ben Raines is a capable tight end.
Running game: Tailback Jose Blair and fullback Brian Wyatt have graduated after combining for more than 2,500 yards during the last two years. To replace those two talents, Severino will tap the team's depth. Brian Young, Carlos Johnson, Josh Geary and Shemion Clemons should see time at tailback. Clint Moore, Denny Haywood and Jason Ancer, all defensive starters, will rotate at fullback.
Offensive line: This should be a team strength with center Mike Serge calling signals for a deep and experienced unit. There are six players who could start at the tackle spots, while Jason Jones and Jesuit transfer Shawn Granato are penciled in as the starters at tackle.
Defensive line: Moore, a highly touted transfer from Tampa Bay Tech, and Jeremy Smithberger will man the end positions, while returning starter Jason Hengst and Andrew "Warren Sapp" Young will play tackle in the Cowboys' 4-4 scheme. Granato and John Williams also should see playing time on the line.
Severino's emphasis on weight training usually produces solid, if not spectacular, play in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Linebacker: Ancer and Haywood will be the inside backers while Tamoris Heard will play one of the outside spots. Jason Hansen and Brian Sharman should see time at the other spot.
Secondary: Severino's confidence is also high with this unit. Beaudoin, Williams and Edsel Rodriguez will start, but there's depth at all three positions.
Kicking: Beaudoin may never leave the field, but at least he won't have to punt. Geoff Christian should handle those duties.
The coach: Gaither has enjoyed some of its best seasons under Severino, and Hillmon's departure may help him instill an underdog attitude that services the Cowboys.
Outlook: The Cowboys hope to be in the mix in Class 6A, District 7. Severino remained low-key about his team's chances, but didn't rule out the possibility of Gaither challenging Hillsborough for the top spot.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Joe Severino, fourth year (15-18, 39-35 in eighth season overall).
Assistant coaches: Tom Martin, Tom Baker, Gary Hallauer, Andy Martin, Ed Caldwell.
Colors: Navy, silver-gray and white.
Stadium: Cowboy Stadium, 16200 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa.
Class: 6A, District 7.
Playoff appearances: 1985, 1994.
Last playoff appearance: Class 6A _ Beat Orl. Evans 14-13; lost to Sara. Riverview 49-20.
1994 results (7-5)
at Bloomingdale 14-0 W
King 41-28 W
at Robinson 43-0 W
Leto 37-7 L
at Sara. Riverview 24-23 L
at Brandon 21-14 W
Hillsborough 21-14 W
Winter Haven 20-10 L
at Chamberlain 20-3 W
Plant City 29-15 L
Class 6A state playoffs
Orl. Evans 14-13 W
at Sara. Riverview 49-20 L
The Cowboys seem to be hitting their stride. Entering just its 12th season, Gaither has posted back-to-back seven-victory seasons and made the playoffs last year for only the second time.