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TARPON SPRINGS // Spongers want the district crown

(ran CTI LTCTNT HT)

The strong tradition at Tarpon Springs _ seven district titles in the past 12 years _ means the Spongers have one thing in mind when they start the season.

"Our goal is to win the district," coach Don Davis said. "That's what we prepare for. Anything short of that we consider not successful."

This year is no different, even though Tarpon Springs is now in unfamiliar territory. The team is staying in Class 5A, District 7, but the district has changed, with opponents now coming entirely from Pasco and Hernando counties.

Last year the Spongers went 8-4, won the district and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Davis said his well-balanced squad could do as well this season. He puts it simply: "I wouldn't want to defend us."

On the ground: Thousand-yard-plus rusher Hank Murray is gone, but senior Cory Cooper (800 yards last year) is ready to step in. He and fullback Nantez Harris will run behind the Spongers' usual group of big, talented linemen. All-Suncoast tackle Theo Mougros (6 feet 4, 270) is being recruited heavily as both an offensive and defensive lineman, and Davis sees All-Pinellas County Athletic Conference center Nikita Kavouklis (5-11, 200) as "the brainchild of the whole offensive line," in part because of his ability to read defenses.

Through the air: Tarpon Springs loses quarterback Pete Henderson, but senior Jeremy Phipps (6-3, 220) is ready to lead the Spongers' balanced attack. He'll try to make the most of all-conference receiver/defensive back Adryen Higgens' talents. Higgens is an exciting player who has scored eight touchdowns on special teams. Also watch for Cory Porter at receiver. Receiver/defensive back Calvin Ball, considered by some to be a Division I prospect, is academically ineligible for at least the first half of the season.

Defense, defense: Mougros at tackle, Kavouklis at linebacker and Higgens at safety are the three formidable returners. Add tackle Matt Leto and defensive end Terrence Williams and Davis has a nucleus that could bring the Spongers another district title.

Just for kicks: Leto has boomed two field goals of more than 50 yards in his career, so Davis isn't losing sleep over the kicking game. . . . The varsity squad has only three coaches (Davis and two assistants), but Davis isn't worried about that, either. In 1986, he points out, Tarpon Springs went to the state final with just three coaches. . . . The season opener against Dixie Hollins, which made it to the third round of the playoffs last year, is as big an early season test as the Spongers could have.

AT A GLANCE

Coach: Don Davis, third year (14-6).

Assistants: Mike Anderson, Bruce Buck.

Nickname: Spongers.

Stadium: Spongers Stadium.

District: Class 5A, District 7.

1994 record: 8-4. Wins: East Lake 17-14, Springstead 36-13, Countryside 27-3, Dunedin 30-3, St. Petersburg 21-19, Ridgewood 42-15, Pinellas Park 41-17. Class 5A state playoffs _ Gibbs 34-31. Losses: Gibbs 35-0, Clearwater 42-14, Seminole 17-10. Class 5A state playoffs _ Merritt Island 20-7.

Playoff history

1970: Lost to Punta Gorda Charlotte 26-22

1972: Lost to N. Ft. Myers 45-22

1975: Beat Starke Bradford 6-0; lost to Ocala Forest 29-7

1976: Lost to Starke Bradford 22-19

1980: Lost to St. Cloud 24-8

1984: Lost to Bartow 38-3

1985: Beat St. Petersburg 21-7; lost to Auburndale 29-3

1986: Beat Boca Ciega 7-6; beat Auburndale 21-13; beat Pensacola 13-0; lost to F.L. Dillard 14-6

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