(ran TP edition)
Everything was going perfectly for Temple Heights.
It had reached the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and it possessed two of the more promising players in Hillsborough County.
But suddenly, the head coach became an assistant at Armwood High, and Jason Hawsey and Brian Young enrolled in different schools, and it seemed as if a return to the playoffs would be out of the question.
"It did affect some of the players," first-year head coach Ray Rairigh said of the developments. "We had a couple of guys look at what happened and then leave. But the ones that did stay all made a pact. We're going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back and fight everything. We're going to play the game and walk off the field with our heads high, together."
Rairigh said the loss of such players as Hawsey is a setback, but at a school like Class 2A Temple Heights, where only 30 kids show up to practice, you have to work with what you get. That's a big change for someone who coached in Hillsborough County for 18 years at the 5A and 6A levels, most recently at Leto.
"This is a huge difference for me," Rairigh said. "But I'm committed to the kids and they've shown me they're committed to the program. They're showing me they have a lot of heart, and from Day One that's what I've tried to instill in them _ how well you play the game depends on how big your heart is."
Passing game: The quarterbacking duties will be handed to freshman Derek Tyson after the Eagles lost Kit Watson.
Tyson will be backed up by Brent Simpson, and the few times a game the Eagles throw the ball, wide receiver David Stickel, a transfer from Tampa Catholic, and Ryan Atwood will be the targets.
Running game: The running attack will be counted on to carry the offense. Fullback Brian Roche, who sat out all of last year with a knee injury, and Ben Lewis will try to fill the huge footprints left by the graduated Nate Dorsey, whose transcript problems forced a switch from Division I to Division III Bethany College, and Young, who transferred to Gaither.
"I really have a lot of confidence in our running game," Rairigh said. "I think that's going to the main part of our offense. We're definitely going to be a ball-control team."
Offensive line: Temple Heights' biggest asset will be the offensive line.
Led by Mike Pearson (6 feet 7, 235 pounds), the Eagles will be able to create some big holes for the running backs. Rairigh said Pearson could become one of the best offensive linemen to come out of Hillsborough County.
Backing up Pearson will Bobby Kruger, a transfer from Hillsborough; David Doan, a transfer from out of state, and Stephen Grubbs.
At center, Rairigh will start Ryan Tyson, who at 5-10, 170 will probably be one of the smallest linemen in his district.
John Kelly will start at tight end and be used mainly as a blocker.
Defensive line: Pearson will stay on the field to anchor the defensive line.
It appears as though Scott Weatherington (6-3, 270), Doan and John Butterfield will fill out the four-man front.
Linebackers: The linebacking corps will not be nearly as strong as the defensive line, but it will hold its own with Roche, Kelly and David Council.
Defensive backs: When you get to the secondary, the defensive inexperience really begins to show.
Rairigh will play Tommy Burch at one corner. The safeties are Lewis and Stickel, who add a little speed.
Kicking: Kelly provides Temple Heights with a decent 35-yard leg on field goals and extra points.
Coaching: To complement his offensive line, Rairigh said he has one of the "finest offensive line coaches in the county" in Jim Hutchinson.
Also helping out with the coaching duties is Rairigh's brother Pat, who brings Class 6A experience after coaching at Tampa Bay Tech and Gaither.
Steve Lewis will coach the linebackers and Jay Shannon assumes the running back responsibilities.
Outlook: Look for Temple Heights to suffer from the Hawsey and Young transfers and the loss of Dorsey and Watson. But it will benefit from a weak district except for Shorecrest, which should run away with the title again. The Eagles might be able to pull off a second-place finish, especially with Northside Christian losing 14 seniors and Santa Fe Catholic starting only two players with experience.
AT A GLANCE
Coach: Ray Rairigh, first year.
Assistant coaches: Jim Hutchinson, Steve Lewis, Pat Rairigh, Jay Shannon.
Colors: Red and white.
Class: 2A, District 6.
Playoff appearances: 1973; 1975; 1976; 1994.
Last playoff appearance: Class 2A _ Lost to Orl. Lake Highland 32-29.
1994 results (8-3)
SP Catholic 26-10 W
Indian Rocks Chr. 44-7 W
at Berkeley Prep 32-6 W
St. Aug. St. Joseph 37-0 W
Admiral Farragut 22-15 W
at Melbourne Fla. Air 28-12 W
Northside Chr. 13-0 W
at Shorecrest 19-7 L
at Jacksonville Trin. 23-9 L
Lakeland Santa Fe 34-14 W
Class 2A state playoffs
at Orl. Lake Highland 32-29 L
The Eagles went to the playoffs three times in the 1970s, although they lost each time in the first round. Last year, they made the playoffs again, getting nudged 32-29 by Orlando Lake Highland in the first round.