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10 from Pinellas bidding for spots on NFL rosters

Ten former Pinellas high school athletes are battling for starting positions in National Football League training camps this summer.

For some, the goal is a place on the 45-man roster. For others, such as fullback William Floyd of the Carolina Panthers, it's a return to the Super Bowl and an opportunity for another championship ring.

Floyd, who played his high school football at Lakewood High and his college football at Florida State, is in his sixth season in the NFL and second with the Panthers, having signed on last year as a free agent. He has a reputation as an intense player who brings passion and a strong will to win to the offense.

His strengths lie in three critical areas: first-down yardage up the middle, fierce pass blocking and downfield blocking, and sure-handed receiving for short yardage.

Floyd will be reunited with his former 49ers coach, George Seifert, this season. Seifert drafted Floyd in the first round in 1994, the season the 49ers won the Super Bowl.

"(Floyd) is a versatile fullback," said Seifert, who has the highest winning percentage of any coach in NFL history. "He can be a power runner and I've seen him make some elusive runs as well."

Last season, when the Panthers went through a forgettable 4-12 season, was the first that the 6-foot-1, 242-pound Floyd hasn't been to the playoffs.

The Panthers played their first preseason game Friday night in Jacksonville against the Jaguars.

On Oct. 24, Clearwater High graduate Phil Nash hopes to be in the Detroit Lions' secondary when they host the Panthers at the Pontiac Silverdome.

However, being a free agent fresh out of Syracuse, Nash's realistic first goal is probably to make the final roster cut, which is set for Sept. 5. NFL teams must first reduce from their current squads of 80-90 players to 65 by Aug. 31.

Detroit's cornerback starters from the '98 season, Terry Fair and Bryant Westbrook, seem to be fixtures to start again. However, they need backups who can play special teams. Nash, a quarterback for coach Tom Bostic at Clearwater High, is ready to fill that role.

If his dreams come true, Nash will be in uniform with the Lions when they visit Raymond James Stadium to play the Bucs Dec. 12.

Cornerback Tom Carter, a former teammate of Floyd's at Lakewood High, is penciled in to start at left corner again this year for the Chicago Bears. The former Notre Dame and Washington Redskins standout is coming back from an injury-ridden season in which he played in only four games for the Bears.

Wide receiver Tony Bland (Pinellas Park High) is another area player in the NFL Central Division. The Florida A&M grad is back with the Minnesota Vikings for a second season, battling for a spot on the roster with the likes on Randy Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Bland may spend another season on the practice squad unless an injury to a starter opens a door for him.

The fourth Pinellas player in the NFL Central Division is quarterback Shaun King (Gibbs/Tulane), who was drafted in the second round (50th overall) by the hometown Tampa Bay Bucs.

Early indications are that King, two-time Conference USA offensive player of the year and 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting, will be brought along slowly this year behind veteran QBs Trent Dilfer and Eric Zeier.

There are three players in camp this summer from Tarpon Springs.

Center Mike Gruttadauria (6-3, 297), who only played one season for the Spongers before moving on to Central Florida, is No. 1 on the depth chart of the St. Louis Rams again this season. He's a four-year NFL veteran originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys and is known for his quickness off the ball.

Atlanta Falcons center Robbie Tobeck played one less year of high school football than Gruttadauria _ none. Tobeck attended New Port Richey Christian School and played basketball, not football, for the simple reason the school didn't field a football team. However, Tobeck (6-4, 298) had nine years of youth football under his belt from his earlier years in Texas, and spent two years there after high school playing junior college football before moving on to Washington State. Last year he started all 19 games for the Falcons, including their 34-19 loss to Denver in the Super Bowl.

Offensive tackle Kipp Vickers (Tarpon Springs/Miami), who spent four years with the Indianapolis Colts, is in camp with the Washington Redskins. Vickers stands 6-2 and weighs 298.

Jeff Mitchell (Countryside High/Florida) is a third starting center from the county in the NFL. A fifth-round draft pick in 1997, Mitchell (6-4, 300) started 10 games for the Baltimore Ravens last year.

Rookie offensive guard Marcus Jenkins, a former teammate of Shaun King at Gibbs, signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers this spring as a free agent after completing his college career at Central Florida. Jenkins stands 6-3 and weighs 282.

IN THE WINGS: Nine-year NFL veteran Pat Terrell (Lakewood/Notre Dame) is trying to catch on with a team this summer after being released by the Green Bay Packers last spring. He was the L.A. Rams' second-round draft pick in 1990. He has played safety for the Rams, Jets, Panthers and finally the Packers.

Quarterback Oscar Davenport (Osceola/North Carolina) is back in Chapel Hill finishing up his degree requirements. A former Gator Bowl MVP and bright NFL prospect, Davenport is still rehabilitating from an ankle injury and knee surgery.

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