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Coach: Tom McHugh (third season, 18-7)

Class: 3A, District 7

Stadium: W.F. Edwards Stadium, 1204 State Road 52, Dade City

Playoff history: 1977, 1983, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008

Last appearance: Lost 28-14 to Tallahassee Godby

3A state championship: 1992

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Building blocks of a good season

A. Skill positions: Yes, Pasco lost playmaker Josh Johnson (now at Purdue), but the Pirates are deep at the skill positions - mostly three deep according to coach Tom McHugh. These Pirates gained plenty of experience during a 14-game season, and for most it's their third year in the program. The leaders will be D.J. Clower, Chaise Dunn, Hakeeme Ishmar and Marcus Hicks. And look for Mike Clower, Rashawd Morrell and Jackson Johnson to be equally as good.

B. D.J. Clower: The quarterback is coming off a promising summer where he was selected to play in an All-America game and received a scholarship offer from Florida A&M. Without a proven running back, Clower could find himself carrying more of the offensive load. Last year, he threw for 1,199 yards, 18 TDs, three interceptions. He also ran for 168 yards and four TDs.

C. "Defense wins championships: "McHugh, also the defensive coordinator, has challenged the unit to equal or surpass what last year's accomplished. The return of top tackler Jamie Byrd helps, but the Pirates lost nine defensive starters to graduation. But don't dismiss the replacements. Because of the extended season, injuries and other factors, many of this year's starting defense saw plenty of action.

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123s Three potential pitfalls

1. Can the Pirates replicate 2008? In all, Pasco lost 20 players from last year's group. The '08 Pirates reached the Class 3A state semifinals - the first Pirates team to do so since the 1992 state title team. Now in McHugh's third season the question is whether Pasco's run was an anomaly. McHugh said the talent is there. "You try to get these guys motivated," McHugh said. "'Do you have the fire? Do you have the desire, the will to win?' That's my challenge to them."

2. Linemen: They're all young. The Pirates' probable senior starting linemen are Lee Wells and Dan Brown. The line was a strength for Pasco last year with guys such as Trevor Lane, Mark Christmas and Zach Faza. Who will fill those roles?

3. Friday nights: Last season included losing to Nature Coast on a two-point conversion and defeating Gulf on a missed extra point. There was the rise against North Marion and the fall to Tallahassee Godby. "I would say every week you have to learn and grow," McHugh said. "It's week to week. When you look ahead, that's when you get bit."

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Extra credit The X-factor

Heart and intensity. If Pasco can find it, bottle it and unleash it on Friday nights the Pirates will likely enjoy another run through the district, possibly the playoffs.

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Teacher's thoughts

Opposing coach's quotes

"I look at the job (McHugh) doing and he's one of the better coaches around. I hope that's where my team will be where he's sitting at. ...I think they should have great chance to get back to where they were last year." - Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeremy Shobe

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Final grade

A; The Pirates have just about enough talent to compete with anyone in the bay area, but unknowns on defense could ultimately decide where they finish in '09. One intangible is McHugh's ability to coach and inspire . His message is clear and his team gobbles it up. The proving ground comes with a series of games against Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills, Gulf and Land O'Lakes. Get through that stretch and win another district title. Slip up and even the playoffs are not a given.