Mike Galizia, the county rushing leader last season, was one of two Ridgewood seniors suspended for four games Monday for violating school rules.
Galizia and quarterback Justin Pena were suspended from school for a week and from football for four games after being pulled out of the Homecoming dance on Saturday, according to coach Troy Cornwell.
They cannot practice this week or play Friday against Gulf. They can return to practice next week but will miss games against Mitchell, Wesley Chapel and River Ridge.
Cornwell said principal Randy Koenigsfeld told him about the suspensions during a meeting on Monday. Cornwell said he could not provide details because of laws protecting the students' right to privacy.
Koenigsfeld did not return calls seeking comment.
"We're hurting a little bit," Cornwell said. "We're going to get a lot younger."
Galizia, who did not attend school Monday because of a mild concussion sustained on the final play of a 30-20 loss to Hernando on Friday, said he did not know about the suspension and was scheduled to meet with Koenigsfeld today. He said "a guy trying to mess us up for some reason" started a rumor that a group of students including he, Pena and cheerleaders from the school left the dance to drink alcohol.
"We went to dinner, came back and people said we had drinks at the dance," Galizia said. "Someone threw a rumor out there."
Galizia, the centerpiece of Ridgewood's I-formation offense, led the county with 1,190 rushing yards last season. He picked up where he left off this season, rushing for 333 yards in losses to Hudson and Hernando.
"He's pretty important to what we do," Cornwell said. "Our system is kind of built around our tailback."
Freshman David Williams will start in place of Galizia. Williams returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and ran 13 yards for another score against Hernando.
He showed promise in the preseason, scoring Ridgewood's only varsity touchdown in a win over Lecanto.
Cornwell hoped to bring him along slowly, with five to 10 carries a game and appearances at receiver and defensive back, but Galizia's suspension will mean more playing time now.
"Mike and Justin are real good players to our team," Williams said. "Hopefully, we can bounce back a little bit from the loss and, hopefully, I can do some real good things this week against Gulf."
Cornwell hoped to take advantage of the quickness Pena showed as a receiver last season as a quarterback running and throwing out on the edge. But through two games, Pena completed only four of 14 passes for 56 yards and two interceptions.
He will be replaced by junior Randy Thoma, a pocket passer with a better arm but less mobility. Jon Koenigsfeld, a former junior varsity signalcaller and the principal's son, will back up Thoma.
Despite the changes, Williams said Ridgewood isn't giving up on the season.
"It's hard to swallow going 0-2, but you can't get down," Williams said. "You've got to keep your head up. Coach tells us that every practice. The season isn't over yet. We're going to bounce back. We'll get some wins."