(ran TP edition)
Fresh from their first playoff victory in a generation, Tampa Catholic returns 20 players, including 17 starters.
Optimism and expectations for the near future are surging, especially with all-around catalyst Kenny Kelly returning from a sophomore season in which he ran up more than 2,100 yards offensively.
TC went 4-6 during the 1994 regular season, but qualified for the playoffs as a district runner-up. The Crusaders then won their first playoff game since 1971, 30-16 against Wildwood before falling 38-24 at LaBelle in the next round.
This season, the Crusaders should return to the playoffs for the third straight year and fourth time in six seasons. And a move to Class 3A, District 5 should allow them to challenge six-time district champion Wildwood for their first district crown since 1990,after consecutive district runner-up finishes in District 6.
The curses of many small schools, small rosters and lack of size, shouldn't poison TC's chances, coach Bob Henriquez said, especially since TC has a knack for pumping players' weights up to football proportions.
The Crusaders boast several college prospects, most notably Kelly, the son of former Plant City coach Floyd Kelly.
TC's top senior prospect is Quincy Hipps, a big (6-4, 235), quick (4.7 speed in the 40), versatile (he'll start both ways) player who recorded 98 tackles and 10 sacks as a linebacker last season.
Passing game: Always a threat to break a big gainer when he runs the ball, Kelly is more than an adept passer, having thrown for 1,300 yards last year.
Darrell Jackson, one of the county's top three receivers last season, is Kelly's primary target. Lonnie Jackson, a senior who didn't play football last year, but was a leading rusher on the junior varsity two years ago and a track standout, will be the other wideout. Brian Davis will be the tight end, with help from Hipps.
Running game: When Kelly doesn't throw the ball or hang on to it himself (800 yards rushing last year), he'll hand off to tailback T.J. Hines, a speedy (4.5) converted receiver. Matt Martinez, who sustained a season-ending knee injury midway through 1994, returns at fullback.
Backups include Chris Morales (quarterback), Adam Stewart (fullback), Justin Franklin (tailback) and Bernardo McFadden "somewhere back there," Henriquez said.
Offensive line: Always a strong point for TC, the Crusaders lost several players here, but Henriquez isn't worried.
Jimmie Giles Jr. son of the former Tampa Buccaneers tight end, lost 30 pounds over the summer and is "down" to 315 pounds, making the big senior a more desirable college prospect and boosting the average weight along TC's front to nearly 250 pounds. Giles will move from tackle to guard, with O.B. Stander taking the other guard spot around center Jason Malouf, who crosses over from the defensive line. Alan Williams moves from tight end to offensive tackle, with Dan Cutter at the other tackle position.
Defensive line: "We're very talented across the front and we'll play a lot of different guys in there," Henriquez said.
Hipps (6-4, 235, with 4.7 speed) will play one end position with junior Alan Williams on the other end. Tom Toth appears to have earned one of the tackle spots, with either Giles or Cutter at the other tackle. Robbie Giordano should also see time on either the offensive or defensive line.
Linebackers: Junior Rico Martinez is the top returning player here and will play the strong side. The other two starters will be seniors, with Vince Lopez on the weak side and another experienced defensive player, Malouf (88 tackles, four fumble recoveries), in the middle.
Defensive backs: Jackson anchors a four-man secondary as the free safety. McFadden, a senior with 4.6 speed, is the strong safety. Ray Span and Morales will line up at the corners. Hines and Kelly will also see action in the defensive backfield, Henriquez said.
Kicking game: Kelly will punt, "a no-brainer," said Henriquez, who wants his star to have every chance to work his magic. Brian Paggio will be the placekicker and Hines (three returns for touchdowns as a sophomore) and Darrell Jackson will be the return men.
The coach: Henriquez enters his fifth season after four years as a TC assistant. A TC graduate who played football at Princeton, Henriquez is not a high school teacher but works for the City of Tampa.
Outlook: Wildwood has won its district six consecutive seasons, but the Crusaders defeated the Wildcats in the first round of last year's playoffs. TC appears strong in several key areas and hosts the Wildcats this season, so the Crusaders could win the district and should at least qualify for the playoffs.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Bob Henriquez, fifth season (22-21).
Assistant coaches: Bob Giordano, Doug Jones, Curran Lane, Calvin Magee, Darrell Vickers, Richard Wood.
Colors: Green and white.
Class: 3A, District 5.
Playoff appearances: 1971; 1976; 1990; 1993; 1994.
Last playoff appearance: Class 3A _ Beat Wildwood 30-16; lost to LaBelle 36-24.
1994 results (5-7)
Lakeland Jenkins 26-6 L
at CC Catholic 28-0 W
Bradenton Bayshore 34-8 L
St. Petersburg 31-18 W
at Cardinal Mooney 17-14 W
at King 34-27 L
at Fort Meade 34-17 L
Lake Placid 40-15 W
Frostproof 33-0 L
at Jesuit 34-23 L
Class 3A state playoffs
at Wildwood 30-16 W
at LaBelle 36-24 L
Tampa Catholic knocked off Jesuit at Tampa Stadium to end its 1971 regular season at 8-1-1. It captured its first-ever Sunshine Conference championship that year, but there was more glory to be attained. The Crusaders moved a step closer to a 3A state title with a 12-6 victory over Punta Gorda Charlotte the next week, but their hopes were dashed when Belle Glade Glades Central knocked them out of the playoffs with a 35-0 win.