Graduation is a fact of life in high school football, but it was particularly unkind to Citrus in 2001. Cruel, in fact.
Gone from the 2000 Hurricanes' 4-6 team were 16 starers, among them the quarterback and place kicker, both Times all-area picks. What was left was a roster that included 20 players who were sophomores or juniors.
"We knew we'd take our lumps," coach Larry Bishop said.
The lumps came in the form of a 1-9 season. But in the week since the 2001 season came to an end, frustration has turned to optimism. Citrus' youth this fall could be a blessing in 2002.
"Any time you keep more kids than you lose, it's a good thing," Bishop said. "We have a lot of young kids playing that have a year of varsity competition now, and that should definitely benefit us in the future. We're excited about the future because of the number of kids coming back."
Next season, Citrus will return seven starters on offense and seven on defense. Kicker Keith Zigler, who should be an all-area candidate, also is back.
Of those returning on offense, the headliners are running back Brendan Smith, quarterback Casey Snyder and Isaiah Webb, who plays quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
Smith and Webb combined for nearly 1,000 rushing yards and Webb led the county in receptions. Snyder, a sophomore in his first year as the starter, passed for more than 600 yards.
The offensive line, which struggled, returns three starters.
"We thought (the offensive line) would be a strength, but it didn't work out there," Bishop said. "We should be improved there next season."
Defensively, Citrus also figures to be better.
The secondary, which returns everybody, should be the strength. The Hurricanes also might be strong at linebacker, where Isaiah Webb, a junior, and Chad Webb, a sophomore, played well. Freshman Gene Himmel, a junior varsity standout, is another projected starter. Himmel was promoted to the varsity late in the season.
"What really has impressed us is that our kids never gave up," Bishop said. "It would have been easy for them to fold the tent. But not once, even in games when we were blown out, did they hang their heads or go through the motions."
Spring practice begins in May.
"We're really going to concentrate on the basics: tackling, running and blocking," Bishop said. "If we do those things well, everything else will take care of itself."
Citrus 2001 Results (1-9)
Central 34-14 L
Hernando 13-10 L
Lecanto 36-14 L
at Wildwood 25-12 W
at Deltona 29-22 L
at Springstead 14-3 L
at North Marion 56-21 L
Dunnellon 53-7 L
at Crystal River 62-0 L
Ocala Forest 29-7 L