(ran TP edition)
It doesn't seem as if a book on belly-option football belongs in the office of King coach Pat O'Brien.
In three years at King, O'Brien's quarterbacks have thrown for 4,655 yards. Given that O'Brien is a former quarterback, not many were surprised by such results, and there was little reason to think King wouldn't continue to be Pass Happy High.
But O'Brien spent the off-season assessing his talent, the strengths and weaknesses, and deduced that it was time for his aerial approach to go belly up.
With a line that averages 270 pounds and a defense that should be much improved from 1994, O'Brien decided to take a more conventional approach.
So he talked to coaches, went to clinics and cracked open a book by two Pennsylvania coaches who authored one of the industry's newest guides to option football. He's adopted many of the principles of the option attack, but with a split backfield, the offense isn't exactly something you would find in Chapter 6.
The result is a hybrid of all the knowledge gathered.
"It's not something we pulled out of a book, it's a combination of a lot of things," O'Brien said. "We're going to try and get to the corners, establish the fullback up the middle but with the split backfield it's going to make it harder for the linebackers to get a read on the running backs."
The unique formation also deploys two receivers and a wingback. Translation: the Lions haven't lost their will to throw the football.
"This offense won't allow the defense to gang up on the line of scrimmage to stop the run," O'Brien said.
After two consecutive 3-7 seasons, a balanced approach may help the Lions tip the scales in their favor.
Passing game: Nick Williams and Ryan Ayres, two juniors, are vying for the starting spot. Neither is steep in experience, so their success varies from day to day. Senior Mike Almeyda is the lone returning starter among the receivers. O'Brien sounds confident when he says passing won't be something his team does out of desperation.
Running game: Shane Riley was a defensive back who got a shot to carry the ball in spring practice. Coaches were pleasantly surprised at Riley's hard-charging style. Fullback James Purnell didn't play in the spring jamboree because of a bad ankle, but O'Brien is impressed with his skills. Don't be surprised if some unheralded sophomores emerge and get playing time during the season.
Offensive line: All but the center, Oronde Butts, have varsity experience. The tackles are immense with David Ayers (6 feet, 270 pounds) and Mike McCrackin (6-3, 290). Left guard Jason Brown (6-2, 252) is no lightweight, but the best of the lot may be right guard Karl Scholl, a hard-working junior who has bulked up and improved his quickness through wrestling.
Defensive line: O'Brien expects defense to be a strong suit and it begins with the experienced line. Tackle Bakari Robinson is a three-year starter while junior tackle Pieter Lyall and junior defensive end Titus Newborn also have played in varsity games. Senior Mike Bigos and junior Cemal Lazier will see playing time at the other end spot.
Linebackers: Senior Bart Banks leads the unit. Not the biggest or fastest linebacker, Banks, who plays the strongside position, compensates with intensity and instincts. O'Brien said he has an uncanny nose for the football.
The good news is that the Lions have four other quality players contending for the other two linebacker spots. Scott Kennedy looks solid at middle linebacker and Hector Guzman is penciled in at the weakside spot. But John Marshall and Eddie Williams also should see considerable playing time.
Secondary: Three of the four players return as starters. Deldrin Dix, a terrific cover corner, leads the group. Ansanto Thomas will play the other corner while Kevin Watts steps in at free safety and Hayes Thomas assumes the strong safety spot.
Kicking game: Danny Brenman, who started playing varsity midway through his sophomore year, looks to continue as a solid punter and kicker. O'Brien said Brenman will be a big key to the team's ball-control plan.
The coach: O'Brien, the son of former longtime county coach Dick O'Brien, has yet to recapture the success of his inaugural year when King went 6-4. But his knowledge in making the transition from pass-happy to option has been invaluable.
Outlook: King hasn't won a district game since a come-from-behind 21-20 victory against Sarasota on Nov. 6, 1992. O'Brien sees the unpleasant skein ending this season. While Hillsborough is everybody's pick to win, he thinks King will be among the contenders for the coveted runner-up spot and a trip to the playoffs.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Pat O'Brien, fourth season (12-18).
Assistant coaches: Steve Coleman, Earl Goodman, Jack Russell, Eric Thurston, Dave Tolley, Patrick Williams, Chad Wilson.
Colors: Blue and red.
Stadium: Bill Stewart Stadium, 6815 N. 56th St., Tampa.
Class: 6A, District 7.
Playoff appearances: 1972; 1976; 1978; 1981.
Last playoff appearance: Class 4A _ Lost to Dunedin 16-13.
1994 results (3-7)
Sara. Riverview 75-13 L
at Gaither 41-28 L
Bloomingdale 52-7 L
Chamberlain 32-7 L
at Plant City 21-20 W
at Leto 45-7 L
Tampa Catholic 34-27 W
Brandon 31-17 L
at Hillsborough 34-0 L
Armwood 30-13 W
King won the Class 4A, District 7 crown under Coach Jerry Durnin in 1981, but came up just short in the regional playoff. The Lions finished at 10-1 after losing to Dunedin. They could have tied the game at 14, but missed an extra point. Dunedin went on to a 16-13 victory.