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LECANTO PANTHERS // Panthers seek more than wins

(ran PT CI HT)

The quest continues.

Lecanto High still is looking for its first winning season, but this year with a new coach and an even loftier goal: to make the playoffs.

"I told them our goal for this program is to be in post-season play," said coach Dick Slack, who replaced Ron Cline after his five losing seasons. "We have to win _ no ifs, ands or buts."

Slack, a veteran Lecanto teacher and coach, takes the Panthers back to basics with an I-formation offense designed to eat yards and the game clock.

It's a philosophy that suits Lecanto's first crop of hulking linemen, and one that worked two years ago when Slack guided the junior varsity to the school's only winning football season, 5-3.

Here's a closer look at the Panthers' prospects:

Passing game: Slack's I-formation offense will not be as pass-happy as the recently employed run-and-shoot that made Tyler Hunsinger (44 catches, 15.3 average, 4 TDs) the leading receiver on the North Suncoast last season.

Sophomore Brian Furniss will be the quarterback of the present and the future for the Panthers. Richard Wright and Robert Hoki complement Hunsinger in the receiving corps.

Running game: Terrence Joyner returns to tailback for his senior season, a position he held two years ago on Slack's 5-3 JV team. As a backup last year, Joyner averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Joe Courter is this year's backup.

Ryan Pelky, the starting quarterback in spring drills, outgrew the position over the summer and moves to fullback.

Offensive line: Slack looks for this to be his team's most critical unit, with "big kids with the strength to move people off the ball."

Center Jerome Fleeman is the only senior on the line, and the only one under 200 pounds. Sophomore guards Frank Chelkonas and Jason Barber, and junior tackles Preston Pacrem and Brett Sisk average 6 feet, 240 pounds.

Tight ends Bill Bostain, Kaz Mays and Shandell Medd will be used depending upon the situation, but blocking will be the emphasis for this position.

Defensive line: Many of the offensive linemen will pull double duty on the defensive front, including Chelkonas, Barber, Bostain, Mays and Medd.

Linebackers: Pelky is the only member of the linebacking corps with experience. He is joined by Jack Sutter, Courter, Scott Hartman and Furniss, all of whom played on the junior varsity last year.

Defensive backs: Joyner is perhaps the best in the defensive backfield, but will see limited playing time there because of his offensive responsibilities. Wright and Hoki will play the corners, while Nathan Garcia and Hunsinger return to their safety positions.

Kicking game: Garcia returns as the placekicker. His field goal against Kissimmee Poinciana provided a 3-0 victory last season. Bostain will try punting and placekicking.

The coach: Slack, a 1980 graduate of rival Crystal River High, is determined to make Lecanto a winner, something none of his three predecessors was able to do.

Though he is untested as a varsity head football coach, he has proven his ability to coach winning programs. Along with his JV football work, he has guided the varsity wrestling team _ a program that he founded _ to its first district title.

Outlook: The Panthers' post-season fate could decided in the first four weeks of the season as two of the first four opponents are district foes _ Central and Crystal River. Preseason favorite Hernando comes in Week 6.

The second half of the schedule is decidedly easier, which means a win or two in the first half could provide Lecanto with the winning season for which it longs.

AT A GLANCE

Coach: Dick Slack, first season.

Assistant coaches: Varsity _ Don MaGee, Bruce Sheffield, Kevin Towne; Junior varsity _ Robert Dupler, Ron Allan, Greg Clark.

Colors: Green and gold.

Stadium: Panther Field, on campus on Educational Path off County Road 491.

Class: 4A, District 6.

Playoff history: None.

1994 results (3-7)

Dunnellon 26-18 (OT) L

Citrus 35-6 L

at Central 24-19 L

at Crystal River 34-0 L

Gulf 10-8 L

at Kiss. Poinciana 3-0 W

at Hernando 34-12 L

CC Catholic 15-13 W

at South Sumter 45-7 L

Hudson 48-20 W

Did you know?

Lecanto senior Mario Alonso Castro is an exchange student from Spain who played American football in his native country. Language, it seems, is the only barrier for the otherwise promising 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive lineman.

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