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GULF BUCCANEERS // Gulf returns to the district fray

(ran PT, CI, HT editions)

Gulf High returns to district play after a two-season record of 10-11 as an independent. The only title the Buccaneers had to shoot for last year was in the Sunshine Athletic Conference, where they finished a disappointing 2-5.

Battling familiar rivals _ Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Springstead and Tarpon Springs _ in Class 5A, District 7 "gives the kids something to play for," Gulf head coach Wilbur Lofton said.

With only 28 varsity players, Gulf may need some added incentive, especially if the team suffers any major injuries. Still, the Bucs could improve on last season's 4-6 mark if several two-way players perform well on both sides of the ball.

"We've got 15 to 16 pretty good football players but we don't have any depth, so some of these kids are going to have to come on," Lofton said.

Passing game: Senior quarterback Matt Stanton, a second-year starter who passed for 856 yards last year, will be throwing to Leo Martir, Eric Johnston and David DeLaura, who also is the backup signal-caller. Martir is the leader, having hauled in 18 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns in 1994. David Blow provides an outlet from the backfield.

Running game: Blow and John Fussel return with the addition of Martir's younger brother, Jonny. Blow scored eight touchdowns and combined with Fussel for more than 1,000 yards last fall, but Blow could do that alone this season.

Lofton is confident his running backs will find the holes. "If we get the blocking for them, they'll be able to move the ball," he said.

Offensive line: Shouldering that task are returning starters Eric Gazell at center, guard Jimmy Johnson and tackle Phillip Richard, the team's largest player at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds. Guard Carlos Santos, tackle Nick Park and tight end Ray Parzik round out this unit.

Defensive line: There won't be much rest for this group. The five-man front consists of Johnson, Parzik, Richard, Barry LeCavalier and Bill Kendrick.

Linebackers: No starters return here, so it is up to Santos and Gazell to watch the middle.

Secondary: This bunch has plenty of speed, but not much size. All are under 6 feet. Leo Martir and Fussel man the corners, Blow is the strong safety, and DeLaura lines up at free safety.

Kicking: Johnston is the front-runner at placekicker and the punting will fall to either Johnston, Blow or DeLaura.

The coach: Lofton has a legitimate shot at matching his season-high of six wins, although he is hoping for more in his 13th year.

Outlook: This could be the year Blow rushes for 1,000 yards. Leo Martir also could provide the big play, either as a runner or receiver. And with Stanton leading the offense, Gulf is bound to put some points on the scoreboard. Fatigue, however, could keep the Bucs from playoff contention.

AT A GLANCE

Coach: Wilbur Lofton, 13th year.

Assistant coaches: Buck Dewitt, Paul Girardi, Terry Graham, John Luoma, Keith Newton and Roy Wingo.

Colors: Green and white.

Stadium: Des Little Stadium, New Port Richey, on Madison, 1.5 miles north of State Road 54.

Class: 5A, District 7.

Playoff history: None.

1994 results (4-6)

Hudson 9-7 L

at River Ridge 27-7 L

Pasco 35-28 L

CC Catholic 21-0 W

at Lecanto 10-8 W

at Osceola 23-6 L

Ridgewood 23-18 W

at Crystal River 10-3 L

Lakewood 20-19 L

at Land O'Lakes 7-30 (OT) W

Did you know?

The brother of coach Wilbur Lofton is the head cross country coach at Gulf. He is Dean Lofton.

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